3 Fears that Hold You Back – Fear of Weaknesses, Fear of Failure, and Fear of Who You Are



“Always do what you are afraid to do.” — Ralph Waldo Emerson

Does fear stop you from becoming your best?

Is fear an obstacle to building on your strengths?

Our fear of weaknesses can overshadow our confidence in our strengths.

Our fear of failure can stop us from giving our all.

The Ultimate Fear is the Fear of Who You Are

The ultimate fear that can hold us back is fear of who we really are.

I find that sometimes the most important growth is painful.  One of my mentors has a saying for this “… that’s what growth feels like.” 

I’m in a challenging environment and I see people fail all the time.

In fact, when people aren’t failing, they aren’t trying hard enough.  There is no failure, only lessons.  Sometimes the most difficult lesson is when somebody finds out they aren’t cut out for the job they’re in.

But even this usually turns out to be a blessing in disguise.  This is where I’ve seen people pick themselves up, dust themselves off, and follow a new path of their strengths.

In the book, Now, Discover Your Strengths, Marcus Buckingham and Donald O. Clifton, Ph.D., teach us about the fears that limit your potential.

3 Fears that Can Hold You Back

According to Buckingham and Clifton, the three fears that hold you back are:

  • Fear of weaknesses
  • Fear of failure
  • Fear of who you are

Fear of Weaknesses

We assume our weaknesses trump our strengths. Buckingham and Clifton write:

“For many of us our fear of our weaknesses seems to overshadow our confidence in our strengths.  To use an analogy, if life is a game of cards and each of us has been dealt our hand of strengths and weaknesses, most of us assume that our weaknesses trump our strengths.”

Weaknesses Get Our Attention

We see our weaknesses as opportunities, over our strengths.  That’s the pitfall — assuming that the weakness is an area of opportunity.

Buckingham and Clifton write:

“For example, if we excel at selling but struggle with strategy, it is our difficulty with strategy that gets the attention because an inability to think strategically will surely hurt us somewhere down the line, won’t it? 

If we build trusting relationships with ease but falter when it comes to making presentations, we sign up for the ubiquitous public speaking class because public speaking is a prerequisite for success, isn’t it? 

Whatever the weakness, whatever the strength is just a strength – to be admired and then simply assumed – but the weakness, ah, the weakness is an ‘area of opportunity.’”

Our Fixation with Weakness is Deeply Rooted

We learn early on to focus on what’s wrong with us, over what’s right with us.

Buckingham and Clifton write:

“This fixation with weakness is deeply rooted in our education and upbringing.  We presented parents with this scenario: Say your child returns home with the following grades: an A in English, an A in social studies, a C in biology, and an F in algebra. 

Which of these grades would you spend the most time discussing with your sons or daughter?

Seventy-seven percent of parents chose to focus on the F in algebra, only 6 percent on the A in English, and an even more minuscule number, 1 percent, on the A in social studies.  Obviously, the algebra grade requires some attention because to progress in school and secure a place at a college or university, the child cannot afford to fail a subject. 

But the question was phrased quite carefully:  Which of these grades would you spend the most time discussing with your son or daughter? 

Despite the demands of today’s education system, does the most time really deserve to be invested in the child’s weakness?”

Fixing Weaknesses Won’t Help You Reach Excellence

Fixing weaknesses simply reduces on path to failure.  Strengths are the path to excellence.

Buckingham and Clifton write: 

“Each of us has weaknesses, of course.  Activities that are effortless for some may be frustratingly difficult for us.  And if these weaknesses interfere with our strengths, we need to develop strategies to manage around them.   

To clear our skewed perspective, however, we must remember that casting a critical eye on our weaknesses and working hard to manage them, while sometimes necessary will only help us prevent failure. 

It will not help us reach excellence. 

What Seligman is saying – and what many of the excellent performers we interviewed are telling us – is that you will reach excellence only by understanding and cultivating your strengths.”

Fear of Failure

Some failure are easy to deal with.   Others cut deep.  Buckingham and Clifton write:

“All failures are not created equal.  Some are fairly easy to digest, usually those where we can explain away the failure without tarnishing our self-image.  It may sound a little different in kinder-garten (‘Hey, I wasn’t ready!’) than it does in the working world (‘I’m afraid that’s not my specialty’), but the principle is the same. 

When the cause of the failure seems to have nothing to do with who we really are, we can accept it. 

But some failures stick in our threat and lodge there.  Of this kind the most persistent and the most damaging are those times when we pick out one of our strengths, stake a claim, go all out, and yet still fail. 

The anguish that accompanies this kind of failure can be acute.  Do you remember the scene in the film Chariots of Fire where the runner Abrahams turns to his girlfriend after losing a race for which he had prepared diligently and in a stunned whisper confesses, ‘I just don’t think I can run any faster’?”

What If Your Strengths Aren’t Good Enough?

What if your best isn’t good enough?

Buckingham and Clifton write:

“Whether we are competitive like Abrahams or judge ourselves against our own standards, our sense of failure is most pervasive whenever we reach down, call upon our strengths, and they are found wanting. 

Despite society’s well-intentioned advice to ‘try, try again,’ at times like these we can start to feel a little desperate.  ‘I identified a talent, cultivated it into a strength, claimed it, practiced it, and still failed! So where do I turn now?’”

Your Strengths are Your Talents, Not Your Diplomas

It’s easier to point to external validation, than to trust your talents.

Buckingham and Clifton write:

“In part this explains why, when asked to describe their strengths, people rarely refer to their natural talents. 

Instead, they talk about external things that they have gathered during their life, such as certificates and diplomas, experiences and awards.  Here is the ‘proof’ that they have improved themselves, that they have acquired something valuable to offer”

Don’t Miss the Wonders of Your Strength

What if your best you stays shackled for a lifetime?  Buckingham and Clifton write:

“We do want to remind you, however, that if you stop investigating yourself for fear of how little you might find, you will miss the wonder of your strengths. 

We say ‘remind’ because so many of us take our strengths for granted.  We live with them every day, and they come so easily to us that they cease to be precious. 

Like the New Yorker who no longer hears the sirens and the horns, we are so close to our strengths that we don’t see them anymore.”

Key Takeaways

Here are my key takeaways:

  • Fear can hold you back.  Fear of weakness, fear of failure, and fear of who you are hold you back from becoming your best.
  • Improving weaknesses doesn’t make you great.  Investing in your weaknesses is not the path to greatness.  Fixing your weaknesses only limits your failure, it doesn’t improve your success.
  • Strengths are the path to greatness.  Shift from a weakness orientation to a strengths orientation.   The secret to improvement lies in understanding your strengths.  When you follow your strengths and you fail, it might be the wrong time, or the wrong place, or just the start of your journey.
  • Leverage and lead with your strengths.  Accept your weak points as is, leverage and lead with your strengths.  Unless you have significant liabilities, in which case, work on your weaknesses but that isn’t enough, it’s more important to find where your strengths work.

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  2. […] Masculine personality type puts masculinity first. He’s very dominant, and he has a fear of weakness. He can sometimes appear fairly one-dimensional because he only allows certain traits and emotions […]

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