Stella and the performance bubble

Afraid to fail #2

Everyone is successful and knows what they want. Except for RUG student Stella Vrijmoed. Stella doesn’t know what she wants. Stella fails all the time. Or so she thinks. For the UK, she wrote a short series of personal stories about the performance bubble and the fear of failure. Part two.
By Stella Vrijmoed / Photo Leonie Coppes / Translation Sarah van Steenderen

And, have you identified any portholes since my last blog? Have you tried utilising a growth mindset rather than a fixed mindset? It may sound easier said than done. So here’s a little extra push, to help you be unafraid to fail.

I spoke to Mark Sekuur, who initiated the Screw Up project. They organise events throughout Groningen, where business owners tell people about their failures. Mark and his colleagues also provide workshops for businesses, trying to make the culture more fail-friendly. I asked him about his advice for students like me, with a fear of failure.

‘Try to stop and think about what you just did more often’, he says. ‘Instead of working yourself to death, think about what you could learn from what happened. What went right, what went wrong? Talk about it with a friend, take a short walk. Only start your next task after you’ve done all this.’

Worst mistakes

Ewa Scheifes, who I spoke to later, agrees with him. Ewa organises Fuck up Nights, the project that inspired Mark to start his Screw Up project. At Fuck up Nights, people talk about the worst mistakes they’ve made in their professional lives.

The phenomenon has spread to eighty countries, and Ewa organises the Dutch version in Amsterdam. ‘Yes, take that walk, take the time to reflect.’ She adds: ‘And try to leave your comfort zone, even just a tiny bit. Do things that scare you, only to learn that it’s not so bad when things go wrong.’

I’m reminded of one of the first sessions with my psychologist, when she drew a mountain on her whiteboard. She drew a straight line from the bottom to the top. ‘That’s the road you want to take’, she said. Next, she drew a more meandering road. ‘You have to take small steps, enjoy the here and now.’

Identity crisis

The here and now… what the hell is that? I thought. I couldn’t make heads or tails of it. I’d been referred to this woman by my GP, their letter saying something about an ‘identity crisis’. But after a few months, I started to get it. I started to learn how to live in the now, and stopped panicking whenever I thought about the end results.

And I never forgot about that mountain that my psychologist drew. It’s an image that keeps returning, also during my conversations with Mark and Ewa.

According to Ewa, the university is a safe haven where you can start to climb that mountain. It’s a place that allows you to fall, to fail, and to get back up. It provides guidance. But her biggest piece of advice is the following: ‘Stop comparing.’


If you keep looking to others to try and determine your goals, you’ll lose sight of your own journey. What do you want, what inspires you? I believe that failing becomes much easier to handle when you do something you actually enjoy, something that’s close to your heart. In short, when you stop trying to look through other submarines’ portholes and start listening to your own internal compass.

Initiatives such as Screw Up and Fuck up Nights are helping me get over my fear of failure. I’m so glad someone is talking about it. I’m not some lonely, failing little student. I’m just someone who’s only just started her career and who still has a lot to learn. And mistakes are a part of learning. The fact that people like Mark and Ewa are working to make those mistakes acceptable is amazing.

Let’s fuck it up!

Stella also writes a blog about this theme, called Submarines.


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