Dear Clarity in Chaos: How do I deal with anxiety over my fear of failure?

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Advice for navigating transitions in work, life, and relationships from Dr. Loretta L.C. Brady and her team members at BDS Insight.

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Dear Clarity in Chaos,

Screenshot 2015-01-13 at 10.40.34 PMI recently got accepted into Vet school. I have been working hard towards this goal for many years. I can’t believe it’s all happening! I know I want to do this, and I know they must think I can do it, but I am starting to have anxiety attacks where I think about how I will fail and probably not be able to become a Vet. Any tips? I had similar feelings years ago when I first started taking classes to prepare for Vet school but this is the first time they have come up again. Maybe this isn’t the best idea after all?


Anxious Animal Healer

Dear AAH,

Congratulations on an impressive accomplishment. I just googled “Vet School” and saw a page of “Harder to get into then Med School” and “Only 28 accredited programs in the U.S.” and “Do I have a shot at Vet School?”  Clearly you have accomplished something that is both difficult and greatly desired. This is a powerful and impressive combination.

I am guessing all this factual gushing isn’t helping much with the anxiety, huh? Maybe even feeling MORE anxious as you let that all sink in? Well, keep reading, because I promise I won’t praise your Vet Schoolness anymore. I will praise your persistence, however.

Your letter revealed some very important information. You told me that you set a goal, reached the goal, and along the way learned something about yourself. You know these feelings, you also know from past experience that they pass. You know they are temporary, at least based on past experience, and you know that even when you have them you are still able to do the work you need to do well enough to meet your goals. While the scary feelings you had before were probably terrible you cared enough about your goal that you kept pushing through anyway.

This is really important information to have about yourself. Because the truth is, anything worth doing tends to be terrifying. And while I know some fellows who boast they never doubt their own certain success, I know 100 percent of those are also liars. Really.

If you are feeling anxious after months of feeling confident, or at least neutral about your own abilities, take this as a signal that you are on the right track.

Screenshot 2015-01-13 at 10.25.45 PMYou are aware of the work to be done, it is exciting and terrifying, and it is precisely this combination that will help you tackle the challenges ahead. Why? We are funny creatures. We think we want to be calm and that being calm will make us succeed. But being calm tends to make us complacent, and when it comes to achieving a goal, we need a bit of excitement to reach our mark. The trick is finding the sweet spot between calm and absolute terror. Too much calm, we stay on the couch watching “Facts of Life” reruns when we should be studying. Too much fear, and we stay on the couch watching “Facts of Life” reruns.

No, that wasn’t a typo.

Fear tends to paralyze, and calm tends to rob us of motivation.

I can’t think of any good thing I have that I wasn’t absolutely convinced I would never be able to have or certain that if I got the chance I would fall short. The trick to moving through the uncertainty is adopting the right strategy. There are practical reasons to be anxious about your next career stage. You will have to learn quickly and pass tests. That may be harder in some subject areas than others. But harder doesn’t mean impossible. Take the anxiety as a cue to learn more about what resources you can make use of if you need them. That way if you get feedback that you’re not performing well you will know where to turn for more help.

Self doubt is just a feeling, and feelings are temporary. Even great feelings don’t last. Think of these anxious feelings like burps. They come up, can be embarrassing, and pass quickly.  Excuse yourself and carry on.  And when you stop feeling anxious about things, take a look to make sure you are living adventurously. If you find the anxiety makes it impossible to enjoy your adventure, and robs you of more than a little sleep or good times, consider reaching out to a professional who can offer some regular tips for getting it under control. And, finally, celebrate your admission. Always celebrate the steps you make to change your life.

Alright, it’s your turn. I hope you’ll join me in seeking clarity for the shifts you are navigating.

Readers of Manchester Ink Link seek relevant, local, and pragmatic reporting. Editor Carol Robidoux provides layered reports that allow all of us to feel not only part of the story, but partners in resolution. My hope is that this column will serve as a compass for readers seeking clarity in the chaos of their businesses, personal lives, or relationships. From time to time we will have guest columnists offer their insight on a challenge. This information is simply opinion, but I hope you will share your stories so that others can gain clarity for themselves. Questions are powerful. We hope you will share yours here via this link.


Loretta L.C. Brady
Loretta L.C. Brady


Loretta L.C. Brady owns BDS Insight a culture, crisis, and conflict management firm in Manchester.  She is an Associate Professor of Psychology at Saint Anselm College. She, her husband Brian Brady, and their 5 children live and work in Manchester.



The opinions or views expressed in this column are not intended to treat or diagnose; nor are they meant to replace the treatment and care that you may be receiving from a licensed professional, physician or mental health professional. This column, its author, the newspaper and publisher are not responsible for the outcome or results of following any advice in any given situation. You, and only you, are completely responsible for your actions. Dr. Loretta L.C. Brady, clinical and organizational psychologist, offers her and guest columnist opinions on a variety of current event and reader submitted subjects. She and they are expressing personal and professional opinions and views. Manchester Ink Link and Dr. Loretta L.C. Brady are not responsible for the outcome or results of following the advice of this column in any given situation.


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Longtime NH journalist and publisher of Loves R&B, German beer, and the Queen City!