Fear of failing

Pai tū, pai hinga

18 August 2023

We might not often speak about it, but the possibility of failing can be right up there with the fear of spiders, clowns, or public speaking! Feeling anxious can cause us to avoid doing genuinely worthwhile things because we fear failing at them. Learn about the normal fear of failing and how to handle it.


Unfortunately, feeling anxious is not without consequences. Not only can it drain us of energy and steal our enjoyment, it can cause us to avoid doing genuinely worthwhile things because we might fail at them. 

Here's five things worth knowing: 

Some of the most meaningful things anyone can do in life involve the possibility of failing. As UC Chaplain Spanky Moore likes to say, we should think of failing as a form of feedback, and remind ourselves that if something is worth doing, it's worth doing persevering with until you get good at it.

Failing happens. Setbacks happen. Rejections happen. They happen to everyone, including very successful people. What can make an enormous difference when they do happen is how we choose to look at them.

Key to this is reflecting on what went wrong, working out a way to do things differently, and then doing it. What can we learn from failing? In looking to see what might have gone wrong, we can lay the foundation for future success.

It is entirely possible to experience failing and go on to greatly succeed in life. Indeed, sometimes it is precisely because we failed at something that our success eventually comes. Is failing a barrier or a stepping stone to success? We each get to decide. 

Feeling disappointed with setbacks is completely normal, but our value extends far beyond our accomplishments. While the attitude we take towards failing is important, so is the attitude we take towards ourselves. 


Whāia e koe ki te iti kahurangi, kia tāpapa koe, he maunga tiketike

Follow your treasured aspirations, and if you falter, let it be because of insurmountable difficulties

Get a bad mark? Practical suggestions to help bounce back

OK. You didn’t get the mark you wanted or expected. Now what? Consider these three strategies.


Support and empowerment

There are a number of ways to be empowered when it comes to anxiety about failing, and it could be that something small ends up making a big difference. 

  • Under pressure: Understanding assessment anxiety – An Ako Aotearoa resource intended to help students understand and take positive steps towards reducing assessment anxiety.
  • Pokapū Pūkenga Ako| Academic Skills Centre — The Academic Skills Centre is an advisory service and resource hub that focuses on academic writing and study strategies to maximise student achievement. Not only is it free for all students from first year through to PhD, the service receives virtually 100% positive feedback from students on their evaluation forms. 
  • Te Pōpū Rapuara | UC Careers — The UC Careers team help you with all of your career development and job search needs. Want to find out where your degree can take you? Need to hone your interview or CV-building skills? The UC Careers team are here to help you with these and many other career-related things. 
  • Atawhai Ākonga | Student Care — Finding life at university or home a struggle? Student Care offer free practical advice and guidance to all UC students. Whether you are feeling lonely, need help with time management skills, or have received a letter concerning your academic progress, the Student Care team are your 'go-to' team to talk it over with and look at practical options.
  • Mentoring Programme — Mentors are students who want to make a difference for others by sharing what they learned during their time at university. Benefit from the wisdom and advice of another student who has 'been there, done that.' It's also a great way to ask 'that silly question'!
  • UC Health Centre's Counselling Service — The UC Health Centre provides a free counselling service for all students.
  • Te Tari o te Amokapua Māori | Office of the Assistant Vice-Chancellor Māori — Provides support and services to Māori students, including mentoring, tutoring, pastoral care and guidance. 
  • Pacific Development Team — Provides support and services to Pasifika students, including mentoring, tutoring, pastoral care and guidance.
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