Ask Jigsaw: Fear of failure

Ask Jigsaw: Fear of failure

Wednesday, 22 July 2020

Do you have any info as to where a 25 year old male could get advice about finding a job? His anxiety and depression means he has never succesfully held down a job.

Fear of failure stops him from giving anything a fair go but not having a job adds to his sense of worthlessness. He says he would like to find a foolproof job that he couldnt make a mistake at. He is in cork area.


Hi Alfie,

It sounds like your friend is stuck in a bit of a negative cycle. He doesn’t believe he can be successful in a job. This worry or fear then becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Jigsaw Clinician
Focusing on what is preventing your friend from managing in work might be a good first step.

You are wondering about where to get advice about finding a job, however, I wonder whether focusing on what is preventing your friend from managing in work might be a good first step? You mention that he is looking for a job that he couldn’t make a mistake at, and as we know in reality there is probably no such job. Making mistakes is a normal part of life, and part of what makes us human.

Fear of failure

‘Fear of failure’ is not an uncommon feeling and it can hold us back from trying new things. We worry about getting things wrong or making mistakes, and this creates a feeling of pressure. Sometimes it feels easier to opt out of trying something than to risk getting it wrong. However, this can leave us feeling stuck. As you said, it can create a sense of worthlessness.

In order to begin to address this, it might be worth talking to your friend about what he considers to be a ‘failure’ and what is a ‘success’. Some people feel that ‘success’ means doing something perfectly and ‘failure’ means something not working out. However, if we only attempt something that we know we can do well, how can we ever try something new?

We could redefine success as doing the best that we can in the circumstances we find ourselves. Even though the jobs your friend has tried haven’t worked out, the fact that he looked for a job or started something, despite feeling anxious and depressed, could be seen as a success. Failure can be failing to start or try something.

Jigsaw Clinician
It is important to know that ‘failure’ is not a personality characteristic.


When we are struggling with a sense of worthlessness, we are often very hard on ourselves. Learning to deal with self-criticism can be helpful. It is important to know that ‘failure’ is not a personality characteristic. Just because something goes wrong, it doesn’t mean that we, as a person are a failure. Identifying and focusing on our strengths can also help.

You don’t mention whether your friend is already receiving support for his mental health, but given how much it seems to be affecting his life, it would be worth considering this. You can find a list of support options here.

Employment support

In terms of employment support, Intreo is the government’s single point of contact for employment support.  Your friend may potentially be eligible for support from Employability service, who provide employment support and advice for people with a health condition.

Alfie, this person is lucky to have you as a support in his life, and the best of luck to him in his journey in to employment.

Take care,

Jen, Jigsaw Clinician

You may also like