Dear Kelly,

I was just offered a great opportunity, but I’m scared about taking it. What if I fail? It doesn’t seem to matter what I have accomplished; I still have so much doubt in myself. Why do you think it is easier to doubt my abilities, rather than to believe in them?

When I received this email, I instantly felt a kinship to this person. I used to be the kind of person who would say things like, “No, I can’t,” or “I don’t see myself doing that,” or “Oh, no, not me!” when I was faced with new opportunities. It was strange that I felt that way because I am a hard worker and pour myself into everything I do. Why was it easier to lean toward doubt than to pounce at new opportunity?

I think the answer lies in the fact that it’s not about doubting your abilities, it’s about fearing the unknown. You know where you have been and what you have done. You know how success feels, but you also know how failure feels. Sometimes it’s easier to pass up the chance to experience success simply because we want to avoid the chance of failing. Therefore, when a new opportunity arises, something that we’ve never done before, we shy away because we don’t want to experience the feeling of failure.

It’s funny to me now that I always told my sons, “You’ll never know, unless you try.” Yet, I put off going back to school for 22 years because I feared failure. I often think where I would be now if only I had found the courage years ago to go back to school. But I didn’t. Instead, I surrendered to the doubt inside of myself.

Even when I enrolled in classes in 2017, I only enrolled in a certificate course at Southern Crescent Technical College. I remember the admissions counselor telling me all about the associate’s degree program, and I just sat there thinking, “There’s no way. One semester, that’s all I can handle.” The admissions counselor just had this smile, like she knew there was more inside of me and that I was about to discover it, but I certainly couldn’t see it.

That tiny step forward, however, changed my life in ways I never could’ve imagined. With each step outside of my comfort zone and every time I reached a goal or conquered a fear, the courage within me grew stronger and stronger and stronger. One day while looking in the mirror, I stood back and reflected on all the times I allowed my own self-doubt and fear of failure to get the better of me. On that day, I vowed that I would never let opportunity pass me by again, and I would at least try when new doors opened and new opportunities were presented.

Since then, I have accomplished incredible things! Four short years ago I was working part-time in a dead-end job with no benefits and no chance of promotion, and to be honest, I couldn’t see my own value. But by pushing through all of that doubt and fear, I earned my associate’s degree and finished at the top of my class at Southern Crescent and in the top nine of all technical college students in Georgia. I am now an honors student at Mercer University and just 1 1/2 semesters away from earning my bachelor’s degree in elementary education and special education. I have my very own column here on The Den, and I have spoken before the entire enrollment management team at Mercer and to the graduating class at Southern Crescent. I am a member of both the National Society of Leadership and Success and the Golden Key International Honor Society. I have multiple job opportunities and a bright, amazing future because I made the conscious decision to start pouncing at new opportunity and stop leaning into doubt and fear.

I know it’s not always easy to see your own potential. We can linger in the few times we’ve failed and completely ignore the many times we’ve succeeded. But how does that way of thinking help you? How does it propel you? How will that way of looking at yourself help you become the person you were destined to be? Clinging to doubt does one thing and one thing only: it keeps you from becoming the you that you were created to become.  

I believe Arianna Huffington said it best, “Failure is not the opposite of success; it’s part of success.” In other words, failure is nothing to fear; it’s something we experience, so we can learn, grow and transform.

You have the ability and capacity to accomplish incredible things! There is a world of potential within you, and all you need to do to become the you that you were meant to be is look past the doubt and fear, and just try. You’ll never know unless you try.

As always, I wish you health, happiness and continued success throughout your journey.

Do you have a question about coping with school in these challenging times? Each week Kelly Browning, an early childhood education/special education major and student ambassador at the Henry County Regional Academic Center, answers questions from the Mercer community. Email her at kelly.l.browning@live.mercer.edu or fill out our online form to submit your question anonymously.