Jessica Stratton: How To Overcome The Fear Of Failure

* Jessica Stratton finds time to smile during a train run

Jessica Stratton - Old Saybrook (CT) High School, Class of 2019

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    I normally carry a great sense of confidence when I line up to race.

    I enjoy being competitive and I believe in myself. I don't have to do much self-convincing before a race. But going into each of my races as a senior at the University of Delaware this year, I was feeling a sense of fear that I had never felt before.

    Not only was this my last season as a collegiate athlete, but it was also the first healthy outdoor season I have had in college. Ultimately, I realized I was putting a lot of pressure on myself for it to go well. The remainder of my career felt so time sensitive, and so deep down I felt as though I was nowhere near achieving what I had hoped and dreamed of in my earlier years.

    All of the hard work I was putting in needed to pay off now.

    You may not relate exactly to my experience, but you may relate to the pressure we all put on ourselves to perform well under certain circumstances. In some ways, it stripped away the fun and joy of racing. I was trying to force outcomes upon myself.

    I realized that instead of going into races with excitement to reach my potential and test my limits, I was going into races full of fear. I didn't believe in myself, but more importantly I was afraid of failure. I was miserable leading up to races.

    I was already preparing for a disappointing outcome before the race had even happened. I told myself "I'll be okay no matter what." I expected failure and I started coping with it before each of my races.

    While I would have been OK if the race went poorly, I also felt like I was putting too much on the line. For some reason, being afraid of a bad outcome makes me feel like I have to remind myself that I'll be okay, which sort of gets me in a mindset of not caring how the race will go, one way or another.

    I've learned that this mindset of preparing for disappointment, will do just that. In my case I was mentally preparing to fail, which made the outcome more likely to happen.

    But what if I had prepared my mind and body to believe in myself and was excited to test my limits with a specific goal in mind? I probably would've been in a much better state to race.

    It's made me realize that our mind-body connection is amazing. Do not underestimate its power, especially in competitive running.

    The next important thing to ask yourself is that, if this is an issue you have felt before, what IS failure to you? When we talk about a fear of failure, we have to define what failure is to us personally. Failure itself is arbitrary, yet it holds so much power.

    In reality, we aren't really afraid of failure, but we're afraid of what failure means to us. Maybe for you that's running a bad time, or not scoring for your team or getting a certain place, of not achieving a goal. The list could go on. A lot of athletes feel a pressure to succeed, which often contributes to a fear of failure as well.

    But consider this new perspective: When you break down what failure means to you, would you realize that you really aren't failing? That really, there is nothing to be afraid of and you can release this limiting mindset? Even after a disappointing outcome, we still hear the best athletes say that their biggest accomplishments wouldn't have happened without their greatest failures.

    What feels like a failure is an essential part of our process. It builds toward the next phase, which is hitting that big goal. If you can start viewing your failures as a means of moving forward, they might not seem so scary anymore.

    A long-term approach and process-oriented thinking will make you a better, stronger, wiser, more durable athlete.

    The happy ending to my fear of racing this season is that I got to run a time trial at practice where I actually PRed in my event. Did I think I do that beforehand?

    Maybe not. But I did. This was a huge accomplishment for me because the only reason I was able to do this was because I overcame my fear of failure before I even stepped to the line. I ran free. I was intentional about what I wanted and was suddenly confident that I could hit challenging paces.

    Something about the race setting was throwing me off -- and inducing anxiety -- but my time trial proved what I was capable of without these mental blocks.

    It helped me realize that I need to expect good things to happen in order to even give myself a chance. I hope this story inspires you to take the pressure off yourself and go after your biggest goals without fear of failing.

    Jessica is a 2019 graduate of Old Saybrook (CT) High School and a senior at the University of Delaware.She was a multiple-time CIAC State Open and CIAC Class Class S Championship qualifier and placer, and held PRs of 2:22.78 in the 800m and 5:07.42 in the 1,600m. This past spring, she was named on the CAA's Commissioner's Honor Roll. This is a monthly series where Jessica writes about important and wide-ranging subjects involving young and developing runners.