Let’s Get Real: Fear of The Unknown and Fear of Failure


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Adulthood is incredibly scary. You have to make many decisions that not only impact your life, but also the lives of others. There are so many things to choose from, things that can go wrong, and there is always the lingering fear that you will never reach your goals.

Stepping into adulthood is unknown territory; few people are prepared for its demands and responsibilities. Many people ‘make it up as they go’. Some, however, come to the realisation that adulthood means looking at each day as an opportunity to build a life, and becoming a person they can be proud of.

One of the first opportunities you have as a young adult, is deciding how you will make your living. Your decision largely rests on what you value in life, and how you see your future. Although, it may also be that you have pressure from family to pursue a certain career, go to a specific educational institution, and live the life they have set out for you.

Faced with figuring out your own values and goals, together with family pressure – and all the other pressures a Matric year holds – may leave you feeling overwhelmed, anxious and fearful.

What if what you want from life is wrong?

What if you try something and fail?

What if you will never go beyond your current circumstances?

What if you really don’t know what you want to do?

This burden and fear of making the wrong choice can drain you emotionally, and you might feel so scared to choose that you eventually don’t make a choice at all.

Not making a choice is the worst thing you can do for your future. You will quickly find that others will start making choices for you – choices that may not necessarily reflect your own values and future goals.

Even if you aren’t sure of what you want, you can do certain things that will lay the foundation for a future you can be proud of.

It’s called ‘cultivating good habits’ – meaning, you start doing things every day that have a positive impact on your life. 

These are things like:

  • Learning how to motivate yourself – Don’t wait for other people to tell you to do something, push yourself to do important things, like studying for your exams.
  • Learning discipline – Learn to finish something you have started, even when it becomes hard.
  • Delayed gratification - Learning where to invest your time now to get the maximum benefit later. Like, missing a party so that you can study for your exam and get a good result. And then going to a party and enjoying yourself without worrying about failing.
  • Managing your time and finances - You don’t need a lot of money to make good financial decisions.
  • Physical exercise – Exercise makes you feel good now, and keeps you in good health for the future.
  • Building healthy relationships with other people – Study is important, but you also have to make time for the important people in your life.

These are only a few examples that will help you reach your future goals – there are many other skills you can learn, like formal education, and character traits you can strengthen and build on.

Anxiety, Fear of Failure and Worry

“I learned that courage was not the absence of fear but the triumph over it” - Nelson Mandela

We all deal with feelings of anxiety, fear and worry at some point in our lives. When we face periods of change, these emotions tend to intensify. Your Matric year, and finishing your school career, is an important period of change. For some it will be their first big life change and for most Matrics this is the big leap from childhood to adulthood.

Worry, anxiety and fear are normal by-products of this period. It is important to remember that change is an inevitable part of life, and you will have to make a choice. Will these feelings stop you from acting, or will you push through? Your choice will determine the type of life you lead.

View change as an opportunity; a challenge to prove to yourself that you are capable of achieving your goals.

Here are some practical ways to combat anxiety, fear and worry.

Ways to Combat Anxiety


  • Eat well – healthy meals that include vegetables and/or fruit and protein
  • Get enough sleep
  • Exercise
  • Cut out things like caffeine and too many sugary treats or drinks.

Mentally and Emotionally

  • Talk to someone – Talking helps to put your anxieties into perspective.
  • Find the root cause of your anxiety– Learn to name why you are feeling that way, and determine whether it is just a by-product of the change you are going through, or if there is a bigger cause.
  • Laugh – Humour relaxes you, steers your mind away from anxiety, and helps release tension.
  • Set definite and attainable goals – Write down your goals, how you will reach them (sometimes you’ll have to do research to find out what avenues exist) and how long you have to reach them.
  • Do something small every day – Doing little things every day add up to massive accomplishments over time. This could mean studying every day, running, playing a sport, or exercising another talent like singing.

Ways to Combat Fear of Failure and Worry

  • Find the root – What causes you to fear failure? Have you been taught it’s a bad thing? Have you been told that it defines you as a person? Once you find the root you can begin to change your thinking about failure.
  • Failure doesn’t define you-  You are not your mistakes, your failures, nor your shortcomings. There is always a way of fixing mistakes, as long as you are learning and making progress.
  • Simplify – Break choices, tasks etc. up into smaller, manageable parts
  • Accept that at some stage you will fail and that it’s okay – Failure, mistakes and shortcomings are an inevitable part of life. Some will be small and have fairly insignificant consequences, and some may be big and will have larger consequences. Deal with the consequences, learn and move forward. Contrary to popular belief, it’s not that easy to ruin your life, although consequences can make life more difficult.
  • See failure as an opportunity - Every failure is an opportunity to re-evaluate and begin again – this time wiser and more experience.
  • See failure as growth – Growth in wisdom, experience and character.

Don’t dwell on past mistakes or future ones – we can’t live in the past and we can only plan for the future.

Remember, do what you can today; each day is an opportunity to do something your future self will thank you for.


 “Life is inherently risky. There is only one risk you should avoid at all costs, and that’s the risk of doing nothing.” -  Denis Waitley


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Disclaimer:  Martin and Desi are fictional characters created by College SA for educational purposes.