University of Malaya students enjoying time together. Do not let fear of failing hold you back as university students . PIC BY ROHANIS SHUKRI

I HAVE always thought that fear should only be a dread of objects.

For example, I fear snakes. They slither sinisterly and have sickly yellowish eyes. They bite their victims with no mercy, slowly releasing venom into the bloodstream and destroying everything in its path. It does not help that most books and movies portray snakes, most notably Nagini and the Basilisk in the Harry Potter series, as evil.

Some of you may fear spiders or enclosed spaces, and trust me when I say that most men fear cockroaches (especially my immediate family members!).

But have we ever thought about our fear of abstract things? Such as fear of failing? Or fear of people? Or fear of making decisions? Do we realise that we even have such fears?

Maybe your answer is “yes”, which is good. At least you have identified your fears and hopefully have confronted them in some way. I just discovered my endless list of fears this past summer, and it may be one of the most important turning points in my life.

I came to this realisation when I met my mother’s friend, a dean at the National University of Malaysia, who had pursued her undergraduate and postgraduate studies in the United Kingdom. My mother wanted me to meet her for pointers to improve in my studies.

One of the first questions that she asked was “Do you have a fear of failing?”, to which I answered “yes”. “How about the fear of not doing well?” “Yes, 1,000 times yes.” “Well, you need to let go of your fear, because you should only fear God.”

At that instant, tears started flowing down my face. That statement shook me to the core because it is the ultimate TRUTH. I could see my first year of university flashing before my eyes — when I was afraid of asking my supervisor questions because I did not want to be ridiculed, when I was very anxious at not finishing my work on time, when I was intimidated by my British coursemates as they seemed to be so much smarter than I, when I cared too much about what other people think of me. The list went on.

And somehow with that one statement, a positive aura suddenly emerged within me. I felt lighter and the worry over nonsensical things slowly dissipated.

Why should I be afraid of asking my lecturer questions? Who cares if he looks down on me? What I care about is to gain knowledge from him. Why should I be intimidated by my British coursemates? They are also humans, just like me. In fact, I should ask them about the books they read and the websites that they frequently visit. Why should I put an extreme limit on the time taken to truly understand a subject? Term time is the period to truly understand the course material and holidays are for preparing notes and mindmaps, and going over past year examination papers. Why should I care about what others think of me, as long as I am confident and I do my best to be kind and compassionate? I should be proud of being a Muslim, a Malaysian and a woman.

After a rewiring of the brain, a lot of good things have happened in my second year at university. I have a fantastic room and friendly hall-mates (we cooked dinner recently!).

I study at the new Department of Chemical Engineering and Bio-technology building, and the students and staff are amiable and welcoming. I made amazing friends and I absolutely love my course. I even asked a lecturer a question at the recent Process Calculations lecture, and he said it was a good question! It simply showed a lot of my fears were irrational. God has made me realise that everything will fall into place as long as we pray, put in effort, practise istiqamah and bertawakkal.

Regardless of your faith, sit down and think about your fears. Let go of the irrational and negative. When it comes to, for example, fear of lack of money, deal with it in a smart, optimistic and assertive way.

An article on confronting fears stated that there are two ways of dealing with them. Firstly, the anxious person should determine the chances of his fears actually happening. In the case of cancer, for instance, it may turn out to be one in 10,000. The chance of dying in a plane crash is one in two million. Secondly, even if the danger is extremely unlikely, imagine the worst case scenario. If it is cancer, it can be treated. It is not always the end, as long as you have the will to fight.

My father once said, “F.E.A.R is oftentimes False Evidence Appearing Real”. It’s up to you to decide how to deal with it.

Nur Farhani Irfan Nor Azmi is a first-year chemical engineering student at St John’s College, University of Cambridge, UK. A Yayasan Khazanah scholar, she was a former student of Kolej Yayasan UEM and Sekolah Seri Puteri, Cyberjaya. Email her at

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