Atychiphobia – The Fear of Failure

This morning when I was in the lift, witnessed a parent thrashing her little one for the marks she had scored. This took me to my school days. Would you agree with me that fear of failure is inculcated by society right from the early stages of a child’s growth? An age when I dint even know how to pronounce this word, Atychiphobia – The Fear of Failure got deeply rooted into my system. From what I remember, it was during my 9th grade when I failed for the first time in Math subject. It was the first time I ever failed in any subject.

Failure is Needed

All exams over and we were back to school after the holidays. It was the day of paper distribution.  I was in my own world with no worries of marks. My Math teacher was on her way to our classroom with all the papers in her left hand and her red pen in the right hand. She entered the class and my instincts told me ‘It’s just not your day’. She started distributing the papers as per the roll number. As she was giving out the papers the marks were also announced.

My palms were wet as I heard my roll number. Before I could reach her, she had announced my marks – 31/100. My eyes were wet and my hands were trembling to look at that image on the paper with a red pen – 31/100. My teacher handed the paper in my hand with a stern face. I knew I had badly performed, but dint knew it was this bad. It was the first time when I experienced a classroom of people along with my teacher judged me at my failures. It was a day I can never forget. The first time I ever experienced failure in my studies.

Unlike any other child, I didn’t worry about my parent’s reaction. My parent’s philosophy towards our education was pretty straight forward. They would say – ‘It’s our duty and responsibility to give you proper education. It is up to you whether you make or break your life when you get this facility. Study hard today so that you will not struggle like us tomorrow’. So, I was pretty confident that my parents wouldn’t scold me and that’s exactly what happened. Rather, they just encouraged me to do better in future exams.

My fears were different. As I received the paper and walked back to my bench, my thoughts began to expand deeply. It was the first time I experienced failure in my life. I was dreading to look up to my classmates. I was wondering what would they be thinking about this failure of mine. How are my teachers going to react to my failure? Being a people-centric person, I was fearing to lose good relationships with friends and teachers. I felt my marks would determine my friendship. Though my friends tried to comfort me, all in vain. My thoughts were everywhere. I wanted to be invisible. My fears gobbled me completely and I felt there is no way I come out of this. It was the moment, ‘My Life is Done’. It was that day and today, this Fear of Failure hasn’t left my life. Not that I haven’t seen success. But the demon does come my way all the time.

We all experience these thoughts of fear of failure and its societal consequences. For an instant, before we even begin to implement any new idea, what we think: – what if I fail, how do I answer to the business losses, what would be the parent’s reactions, what would be our friends’ approach towards me post-failure, and the list is endless. It just culminates to ‘I can’t do this and this won’t work for me’ mode.

Mindset Change

In the present times, schools and parents are running behind grades and performance for good college seats and whatnot. The parents are constantly blackmailing the child with materialistic pleasures and say ‘You cannot fail’. The school is apprehensive about its brand image in the market. Amidst all this, the child’s dreams and areas of interest are faded out. In this whole chaos, the child never experiences the taste of failure, rather fear failure.

An age when a child is filled with a galaxy of ideas, we as a society, pose every threat possible. These threats are mentally disturbing the personality of the child. The bitter truth is, we teach our children, ‘Failure is the stepping stones to success’. But we cannot accept that our child has failed in one subject. We worry about what other parents are going to tell us, what the teacher is going to tell the child. We judge the kid as a person depending on these numbers.

I have a friend who hasn’t cleared his 12th standard, has so seen all types of failures in his life. But I can proudly say, he is one of the strongest threads of my life. I appreciate him for the person he is – the giving nature, the matured thoughts, and his sense of humor. When he is around, anyone and everyone is lost in the world of laughter and happiness.

Yes! It’s true that we want our kids to do well in life. But groom your child’s personality, not their gradings. Teach them to survive life and embrace the challenges of life with a smile. In short, feed your child with Vitamin F (Vitamin Failure) and give the best nutritional mental health for life.


  • Karishma

    Well said! Vitamin F should be given to kids at a young age so that they learn how to handle pressure with ease! It’s a great message for every parent!

  • Shilpa Shreevatsa

    An interesting and important food for thought. Like you say, your parents were liberal enough to not pressure you with the demons of marks etc. Yet, somehow you encountered the demon and succumbed to it.
    Yes, we need to teach through show and tell, through living as an example and much more.
    I personally feel that our community and society should be more open to thoughts just the way you say. Besides, the communication channels and support system should also work positively in reinstilling that extra belief , to stay motivated when needed and push through during such times.
    Am glad you were even then and today too are surrounded by good friends and support system to fight the demons.
    Lovely piece, Mins. Proud of you.

  • Saravanan

    Much needed article. Life lessons are something that are ignored completely. But want to add a few points. Firstly with every failure they should learn not to repeat it again otherwise no point of doing a mistake again. Secondly you can’t blame school and parents for everything. The present education system is grade based and biased towards engineering and medical sciences. So that requires a policy shift. Parents from lower income groups can not afford to ignore marks and just focus on life lessons as they want to see their kids move to upper strata of society. So I guess policy and government has the biggest role to play here.

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