Students’ Fear of Failure
I am a first-year student here at the University of Toledo. It is important that I address an extremely common concern that many first-year students encounter, specifically in their first semester, and that is the overwhelming fear of failure. For the majority of incoming freshmen there is always the feeling of expectations, not knowing what to do or how to exactly prepare for things like curriculum. There’s a huge difference between the last thirteen years of the average K-12 school day, then taking a leap into a pond full of big fish. For many incoming freshman, the adjustment to attending college can entail a whirlwind of emotions, often resulting in the fear of failure. This is such a common overlying feeling, yet it often goes unnoticed by a number of people.
The first year attending college is bound to come along with many highs and lows. There are so many strings attached and factors contributed when looking at the overall phrase that is “fear of failure.” Throughout this letter I plan to inform you, of the great number of freshman students who suffer from fear of failure, both mentally and emotionally. Being a part of the success coach family at UT, it goes without saying how important a person of influence is, like yourself. Guiding students toward success is within your job title. My end goal is to inform you as the audience, of the generalization that is fear of failure in any given college setting. Any information given that wasn’t previously known, can go the extra mile in providing help to first-years that need the assistance.
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Atychiphobia or the fear of failure, is the fear to stop any one person from doing the things that can move us forward to achieve our goals. Atychiphobia is a phobia, the severity of which comes along a wide spectrum, from mental instability to physical symptoms. Anything from feeling powerless and experiencing intense anxiety, to difficulty breathing and chest pain. There are a range of symptoms that prohibit certain cases from properly handling stressful situations in the correct manner. The fear of failure is one of many phobias not properly addressed to the public eye, resulting in improper steps to overcome such (Marcin, para 2).
There are numerous proposed questions regarding this topic. One that stands out among the many, is the correlation fear has with specific groups. This opens the table to a variety of people, taking into account their race, gender, religion, or even financial status. Test anxiety is a big contributing factor to performance in students. There was a study that took place at a University in Pakistan, conducting 126 undergraduate level students, testing their performance on an assessment that was given. Of these students, two thirds were male, the results concluded about 45% of the male students had high test anxiety. The remaining number that is female, showing much lower on the spectrum, resulting in overall better performance compared to the opposing gender. From the eight departments that were used in the experiment, some of them including computer sciences, psychology and statistics, half showed that the males were more prone to higher test anxiety (Ahmad, 297). Nasir Ahmad stated “Test anxiety results into high level of worry, fear and academic failure in competent as well as low-performing students” (Ahmad, 295). Many students coming from lower socioeconomic backgrounds, as well as minority groups who do suffer from test anxiety, many times result in failing or withdraw from that course (295, para 3). With this, opens the door for many more questions related to fear of failure.
With all the listed factors contributing to fear of failure, comes the logic behind this exact phrase. What does it mean to be so afraid of something that you are unable to complete that exact venture? For some it looks pointless and in some cases almost impossible to achieve what you had your mind set on at one point in time. The fear of failure goes so much further than test anxiety or categorization within a certain group. This itself does not stand alone, but also entails subcategories including, fear of change and fear of success. In these cases it is on the complete opposite end of the spectrum, yet the same path to unavoidable self sabotage. The fear of success, often referred to as its interchangeable name “imposter syndrome” (health line) affects people of all levels. This is the fear of not reaching your full potential, due to heavy doubt in oneself. Many times, these people surround themselves with others who think the same. It has been shown that of the people who overcome the fear of success, relate it to the unrealistic notion of what it means to be competent throughout their college career and future endeavors.
With fear of failure and fear of success, comes one that underlies both, that is fear of change. Overthinking is a characteristic humans share around the world. It is this very thing that causes people to never step foot outside their comfort zone, not having the inter-ability to pursue a task or job. This causes people to create a new comfort zone that was built around the already small chain of new experiences. Does fear of failure directly relate to current social standings, or previous home life as well? There was a recent study done in the United Kingdom through the department of Psychology displaying the possible relation to parent-child fear of failure. The data showed that it is fact possible for the fear to be passed down by generations. Parents that have had experience with fear of failure (FF), unknowingly passed it down to their children. Often times through the use of love withdraw in socialization (Sagar 178, para 2). Parental love withdraw can occur in response to the child’s failure. For many who suffer from extreme FF, a mistake or oversight does not get viewed upon as a learning experience, rather a long road ending with shame and embarrassment.
This also raises the question of the correlation amongst ethnicity and academic achievements or fear of failure. Race has always been a recurring question when referring to students ability to succeed. While there is no one straightforward answer to this proposal, there is research to further our knowledge on the topic. There are two main groups to be discussed and that is average white student, compared to great number of different races that make up a university population. African American, Middle Eastern, Hispanic or Asian, the list is endless when looking at the different cultural backgrounds that complete a college. The question stands, does the race or ethnicity affect the fear of failure each student experiences their first semester? The answer to which is much more complicated response, then just a simples yes or no. Research has shown the academic success of multiple ethnicities while completing college course work. Statistics show that students of different races are more prone to overall fear of failure. The 2013 total college enrollment rate for White 18- to 24-year-olds (42 percent) was higher than the rates for their Black and Hispanic peers (34 percent each). The White-Hispanic gap in the total college enrollment rate narrowed between 2003 and 2013 from 18 to 8 percent. However, indicator stated that the White-Black gap in the total college enrollment rate did not change measurably during this period. (national center 5).
Fear of failure is so much more than a feeling that will soon pass. It is more than your peers telling you to stop having anxiety about that one test, or that one assignment that’s due at midnight, you have yet to begin. This is a phobia so many students across the world experience on a daily basis, specifically first year college students. It’s not to say that one day the fear of failure will be greatly decayed in the student population, but for now there are so many steps one can take to help anyone who is experiencing this common fear. Through the survey I conducted, I proposed the question of how the University of Toledo could help minimize this fear. 50% stated that making tutoring a higher obligation would be most beneficial. This would give students the atmosphere with others facing the same problems, while getting the extra help they need in advance to offer counseling for those who often struggle academically, is a small step that can go a long way. This allows the student (first-years or progressed) to open up about how and why they are feeling this way. Some may not be able to identify why they are constantly in the realm of fear.
Speaking with someone who has either experienced similar fears or a professional who is able to give advice to help further their education without the constant worry of “what comes next” or “how am I going to complete this task?” is a huge asset. Meeting in small groups with people who share this phobia is an added factor, contributing to solutions that are needed when talking about this topic. From first-years to graduate level students, a conversation with someone who is or has experienced similar problems regarding fear of failure could be extremely valuable, when trying to cope.
The importance of addressing fear of failure was not only to inform you of a topic you may or may not already have knowledge of. In hopes, this letters’ goal was to bring to light how much impact this has on the vast student population. Ranging from first year to graduate level, this phobia affects a wide spectrum of students. There are an abundance of ways in which the university could lend a helping hand to someone facing this phobia, starting with awareness. From the outside this can be viewed as somewhat minuscule, but with the right team of people, this can be the extra helping hand so many students have been longing for without knowing.