FOMM (aka the Fear of Making Mistakes)


So this is my first blog post in a while. A very long while actually. I’ve been meaning to resurrect this site again for ages, but I just never seem to have quite got round to it.

When I was thinking about it again recently, I thought, why is that? Is it because I’m too busy? Yes, it’s true, I’ve had periods of (crazy) busy work—January to April this year could only be written off as months of hell (note to self, crackers and red wine after finishing work at 11PM every night does NOT constitute a proper dinner). Yes, I love to travel and climb mountains, and that’s also taken chunks of my time more recently. Yes, life does get in the way, but should this really be an excuse for not writing a few hundred words every so often?

No, it shouldn’t. So what is it that stops me writing and posting? I have to admit it to myself. It’s a massive case of FOMM. You heard me right. Not FOMO (well, occasionally I have that too) but the Fear of Making Mistakes. I’m worried about putting myself out there in case I say something stupid or wrong. Or even worse to me, something obvious! The horror! But why does it matter so much?

This can creep into work life too. Agonising and deliberating over the wording of an email to make sure it sounds exactly right. Not speaking up as you don’t want to say the ‘wrong’ thing. Not putting yourself forward for a task as you’re worried you won’t do it right.

Failure or mistakes shouldn’t be shameful or worrying, but actually quite liberating and motivating. If you make a mistake, the only way is up, right? Looking at why it happened and what you’d do next time, you can actually learn and grow from it. And how exciting is that?!

So my FOMM has actually led me to making the bigger mistake of leaving this blog dried up and cobwebbed in the corner, whilst I’ve had a lot of ideas running around my head the last couple of years.

How do you beat FOMM?

Think about the worst thing that can happen. If it’s about what people will think about you, maybe someone telling you off or laughing or thinking you’re stupid, then put it in perspective. Think it through rationally in your head. Is it actually the end of the world if that happens?

Put it into a sequence. So:

  • I do something I’m worried about making a mistake on
  • I make said mistake
  • X thinks I’m stupid
  • I learn from my mistake, and try again
  • I’m not stupid as I’ve learnt something new
  • I can put it into practice next time
  • Win win!

Always try and rationalise those ‘I can’t do it’ or ‘What I’ve got to say is so obvious’ thoughts. Actually stopping yourself doing something is worse than doing it wrong and learning from it (well, in most cases, I wouldn’t recommend this approach for surgeons).

Be confident in your ideas

Let’s look at my example. In the world of PM, as our skills tend not to be as technical or specifically practical skills based, but more personal, organisational and communication based, I’ve always thought about my ideas as ‘obvious’. Writing my very first talk for DPM:UK in 2014, I practiced to my friend, and pretty much every other slide, I backtracked with a ‘This might be a bit obvious, but…’. My friend told me after: ‘Suze, who knows what is obvious to someone or not, don’t assume on behalf of the audience’. Whilst I might dismiss my idea or thought as obvious, someone else could easily learn from it. Be confident in your ideas, and don’t put them down as worthless. Yes they might not be relevant or useful to everyone, but even if only one thing resonates with someone, it was worth it!

Don’t dwell on mistakes

I attended a presentation skills course recently as part of work. When I did my presentation at the end of the it, as I hadn’t had time to practice it I made a few mistakes. Instead of moving on, I’d pull myself up on them, saying: ‘sorry, that’s not right’ and repeat it again. The feedback at the end was that I actually made everyone more aware of my mistakes by mentioning them, and they wouldn’t have been as obvious if I’d just carried on regardless. Don’t dwell on mistakes you’ve made, they’re made, in the past—so move on!

Everything doesn’t need to be perfect

Finally, I’m also guilty of a bit of perfectionism. I want everything to be properly written and thought through, every idea expanded on and read through a huge amount of times before I’ll put my words out there. So in the last couple of years I’ve created lots of initial drafts of blog posts when ideas have come to me, which have then been quickly assigned to the ‘needing a lot more work’ pile and never returned to. Your ideas don’t need to be fully expanded, thought out, with evidence, full structure, if you just want to put something out there. It can be a bit rough around the edges, you can even do a follow up if you want to improve on it. You don’t need to be perfect to be good or useful!

Here’s hoping it won’t be another two years till the next post :)