#survivephd15, Education, professional learning, Women and Leadership

Fear of Failure


‘You wouldn’t worry so much about what others think of you if you realized how seldom they do.’ E. Roosevelt

Women who aspire to lead, especially those in education are are often thwarted by fear of failure, fear of competition, fear of being found out to be an impostor, a fraud.

For some women educators this means that they never open their door to colleagues and for others they do not invest in relationships and building connections – face to face or online. Without the professional learning relationship, women worry about what others think. We allow fear of another opinion to stifle our own learning and growth.

I am interested in the many ways we allow fear to imprison and stifle our professional development. I see this all the time. Women questioning them self, second guessing their intentions, skill set or capacity to lead. In my reading around leadership and what ideas have supported women to confront their own fears to succeed I have found Tara Mohr.

In ‘Playing Big”  Mohr draws on two different ideas about fear identified by Rabbi Alan Lew:

Pachad is “projected or imagined fear,” the “fear whose objects are imagined.” That, in contemporary terms, is what we might think of as over reactive, irrational, lizard brain fear: the fear of horrible rejection that will destroy us or the fear that we will simply combust if we step out of our comfort zones.

There is a second Hebrew word for fear, yirah. Rabbi Lew describes yirah as “the fear that overcomes us when we suddenly find ourselves in possession of considerably more energy than we are used to, inhabiting a larger space than we are used to inhabiting. It is also the feeling we feel when we are on sacred ground.

If you’ve felt a calling in your heart, or uncovered an authentic dream for your life, or felt a mysterious sense of inner inspiration around a project or idea, you recognize this description.

We often conflate or confuse the two types of fear, and simply call what we are experiencing “fear.” But we can discern them more closely, and in doing so, more effectively manage fear so it doesn’t get in our way

I am sure you will agree that it is easy to recall examples of other women succumbing to Pachad, a projected or imagined fear that paralyses their ability to lead; perhaps it has been you. But for those of us who have been fortunate to inhabit  yirah, we know a fear that enlarges our world, energizes us and strengthens us for the job ahead. I wonder what your yirah moment has been? How has that fear allowed you to develop your leadership and learning?


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