A few months ago, when I was still employed at my previous workplace, I made a mistake – I sent an email to the CEO that should have been sent through an admin staff instead. My boss questioned me and I broke down. I was terrified and this bothered me throughout the rest of the day.
Since then, I’ve done some reflection to ponder upon why I am so afraid to make mistakes. When I was in Secondary school, I went on a field trip with my school to Taiwan. In Secondary school I had a good track record. I did OK in my exams, was never late for school, followed instructions, and was even offered to be an honourary student councillor. During the field trip, I was made a leader of my group. Quite a good student I’d think (haha self-praise). However, on this trip, something unfortunate happened. We went to taiwan to climb a mountain and on the way down, we stopped at a rest stop. In the bathroom, they had squatting toilets. I used the toilet, and pressed the flush… waited… nothing happened.. I pressed again… still, nothing happened. Only then did it occur to me that I pressed the wrong button, I pressed the emergency help button. This one mistake caused everything I worked hard for in my 4 years of secondary school to amount to nothing. I got stripped off the position of group leader, they wanted to ground me in the hotel, and they said I was a bad student and why would I do such a thing on purpose. I caused the teacher to be scared and caused them so much trouble. I cried for hours on end because I felt so bad and so wronged.
Even till today, writing this story makes me sad for my 16 year old self. This has shaped how I respond to mistakes. Any time I make a mistake, I get super fearful, that everyone is going to think I’m a horrible person, a failure, and that everything I have done before would amount to nothing. Even writing a blog post or posting something on instagram or medium, I have so much fear that I’m going to mess up. I have so much fear that my reputation is going to be tarnished. However, I still post it anyway. Whenever my friend sends me a message to comment about my post/story, my first reaction is FREAK OUT. What did I do wrong? Oh no, my reputation is gone. It’s all over.
What a Psychologist in Singapore says to overcome fears?
Personally, I recognise that I am afraid. I usually re-read what I write to make sure that I am satisfied with it before posting. I also quieten my mind through meditation. This helps me take a pause before responding to messages and jumping to conclusions. I also try practicing self-compassion, using the self-compassion break and soothing touch. I have also done work with my inner critic.
Do these things really help?
Of course my fears have not magically gone away. However, it has helped me become more aware of my fears, be able to create more separation between my feelings, thoughts, and self, and also slowly work towards being less reactive and jumping to conclusions as much.
Some takeaways from this:
- For those who fear making mistakes: You are not alone
- Don’t let 1 mistake or 1 wrongdoing taint how you see a person. Remember that 1 action does not define a person.
- Things that happen in childhood can have a big impact on a person’s life and adulthood
- We are all a work-in-progress. Even as a Psychologist, I am not perfect. I have my own flaws and I will make mistakes too. Just like you, I have fears. Just like you, I have doubts. Just like you, I want to live a better life every single day.