Fear of the Wrong Answer

Apr 11, 2022
A doctor in a mask and goggles gestures stop with a

I remember my surgery rotation as a med student with great pride.  I recall standing in front of all the other med students as the Chairman of Surgery pimped me on an appendectomy.  I remember how exciting it felt to answer every question correctly and to look smart and impressive in front of my peers as well as my role model.  


I also remember how stupid and embarrassed I felt when I’ve given the wrong answer on rounds.  I hated it.



In medicine, we strive to be perfect.  A wrong answer can lead to a bad result, complication or failure.   We always want to have the right answer for our colleagues and our patients.  We will stand silent rather than admit a mistake.


From my training in medicine and adopting this goal, I became paralyzed in my life by FOWA.  Fear of the Wrong Answer.  


FOWA forced me to search for or even pretend I knew every answer and if I didn’t, to question the patient rather than simply admit I didn’t know. To label him or her as difficult, high maintenance or crazy.


Have you ever pretended to know an answer you didn't know?



In every aspect of my life and with every person I met, I strived for perfection.


It's not easy being a perfectionist.  I'd prefer not to see weeds in the garden, clothes on the floor, pictures hanging off center on the wall, words spelled wrong, or sentences that run on and on like this one!  


I truly try my best to make everything I do as excellent as possible.  In medicine, this medical mindset has gotten me far.


But the flip side is that there is so much out of my control that could drive me crazy. And does!


But I have discovered that failure and mistakes have value too.  If I have learned anything from all my crises, it is that those dark frightful periods in my life forced a change in me and led to choices which I never would have made otherwise.


When I fall or fail, I learn.

I grow. I improve.



Failure has become my teacher if I remember to view it that way.  I don't even have to call it failure. In fact, I don't call it failure.  I now call it fuel.


Because of this, l began to change how I spoke to my kids.  When they got something wrong on their homework or test, those mistakes weren't a delay in getting it finished, which is what they felt.  They weren't just a negative on their grade to beat themselves up about as I thought growing up.


Now I explain to them that those mistakes are the gold where they can learn what they don't know.  What they still need to learn.  Where we can push to the next level.


How do you view mistakes?


Here lies the difference of BOOMM from medicine. 

Life is different from medicine.  

We don’t always have to have the right answer.  

Leave the life and death decisions to the doctors who are practicing medicine.  

But every decision in life is not life or death, right or wrong, black or white.  Most are not.  


Outside of medicine, mistakes are part of growing and learning.


In life, the wrong answer can teach me where I need to be better, grow or change.  If I carry  my fear of the wrong answer from medicine to life, I find myself stuck , waiting to know everything and be perfect before I can advance. 


Rather than doing it over again the same way, I need to do it differently.  That is where change happens... at the hard stuff.  


Real failure is giving up.  I am not ready for that.  Neither are you.



Are you paralyzed by FOWA?

In life, my errors and mistakes are how I get better.  I understand that the problems I miss or get wrong are more than my “failures” but also my opportunity to get better, to grow and to change my life.  In life, I am OK with being wrong.  In life, I can set a goal, head in that direction, make mistakes and learn.


With this perspective the reality is that in life, there are no wrong answers.


The problem with FOWA is that it eliminates the possibility for vulnerability which is essential for connection, empathy and growth.  Failure is okay in life because it makes me stronger, more resilient, forces me to pivot and change from more of the same.

Failure in life is where my greatest growth has always occurred...  If I am open to a new perspective.  


I now regard my mistakes as feedback.  This has made me such a better father and human.  


The rest of life outside of medicine is not black or white, win or lose, right or wrong. In my life and quest for happiness, I choose to learn more, to be free to make mistakes and to grow and discover the value of the journey which is my life.


There is no perfect answer for my life or your life.


It has taken me decades to progressively release my unrealistic expectations of perfection on myself and others so that I can enjoy each day. 


In the end, no matter how passionate I am about my dream or obsessed I am with my goals or my lists, I realize that we should all be kinder to ourselves. 



Rather than chase perfection in every aspect of my life, I smile and try to discover the moment as perfect as it is.  And sometimes I even laugh at myself.


BOOMM is here to help you enjoy your life, laugh at your mistakes and be excited about what tomorrow brings.


BOOMM is the antidote to FOWA.


Where have you been paralyzed by fear of the wrong answer?

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