The fear of failure can make you feel stunted. I know this from personal experience. I’ve been afraid to start a blog, a podcast, a book — all the things. But if overcoming the fear of failure has prevented you from reaching your true potential, keep reading.
In this post, we’ll explore the realities of the fear of failure, and how to power through it to do the things you want to do regardless of the scariness.
Spoiler alert: You may never get over the fear, but the important thing is to not let it hold you back from a life of your dreams!
What is the fear of failure?
This may seem like an obvious question, but to learn about overcoming the fear of failure, you need to first get really clear on what it is.
At first blush, you might think it’s just the fear that whatever it is you want to do will fail. But the reality is, it’s sometimes a lot deeper than that.
Your fear of failure might be compounded into one of the following deeper issues:
- I’m afraid I’ll fail and end up homeless
- If I fail, my partner will leave me
- If this business idea fails, I’ll be bankrupt
- I’m afraid if I fail, I’ll be publicly humiliated
- If this book fails, I’ll never get another writing gig
- If I fail, I’ll lose x, y, or z…
The truth is, we don’t just fear that we will fail. We fear that failing will result in another negative experience beyond the failure itself.
Business consultant and licensed professional coach Olivia Smith shared with me that, “Knowing yourself is the key to understanding what’s behind your fear [of failure].” She explained that you must diagnose your problem and get a, “Deeper understanding of who you are, naturally, and leveraging that knowledge to develop key strategies to overcome the fear that are tailored specifically to you.”
Her recommendation is to take a personality test like a DISC assessment to figure out who you really are to better address your own failure fears so you can overcome them.
My failures looked like this:
- If I fail at my blog, I’ll never become a paid writer
- If I fail at my podcast, people will make fun of me
- If I fail at this article, my client will let me go
- If I fail at my business, I’ll have to get a real job
Perhaps you can relate to some of these fears. The good news is I’ve learned a few things about failure in my nearly two decades as a paid writer. I’ve also gleaned some important lessons from my fellow business owners and movers and shakers. Now, I want to pass these lessons onto you in hopes of inspiring you to see the fear, and act anyway.
Let’s dive in!
3 myths of failure
Myth #1: Everyone will make fun of me for failure
Nope! That’s not true. In fact, most people aren’t even watching what you’re up to.
Dr. Mike Brooks wrote an article in Psychology Today where he said, “The reality is that most people do not care that much about your presentation or, for that matter, think all that much about you.”
He went on to say, “I'm both sorry and happy to say that you are not so special that you get more attention than you give others.”
And thank goodness right?!? What this means is when we fail, unless we are constantly posting about it, odds are few people will notice.
And those that do notice? They are likely friends and family that will be compassionate and caring about when you fail.
Myth #2: I’ll never get another chance to….
Short of a mission to space, or running out of a rare element, you can always try again.
James Dyson of Dyson vacuum fame failed more than 5,000 times with the prototypes he was working on over the course of 15 years before his company became a global sensation. Today? It’s worth billions of dollars!
Michael Jordan famously said, “I’ve missed more than 9,000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. Twenty-six times, I’ve been trusted to take the game-winning shot and missed.”
I could keep going, but the bottom line is this: you’re going to fail a lot. And you can get back up the very next day and try again.
Sure, you might need to acquire more funds, or secure more time to try again, but as the old adage goes, “Where there’s a will, there’s a way.”
Myth #3: I’ll lose everything and/or never recover
That’s not completely true either.
I’m going to give you some tough love that no one wants to hear: With every failure, you might lose a lot on the way to success, but you have to decide what matters most to you.
It may mean redefining what success is to you. Perhaps success means making the next Facebook, winning an election, or creating a best selling video game and losing all your “so-called friends” along the way. Were they really your friends if they abandoned you?
Perhaps the more important question is if you failed and lost something as a result, did you really lose everything? Be really honest about this.
I’m betting that the answer is no…
You may be a different person on the other side, but you must take stock at what you still have. Things like:
- A purpose
- Breath in your lungs
- The belief in your project
- Your relationships
- Another day to try again
I’ve lost clients. But there were new ones. I’ve lost friendships, money, time, opportunities, etc… I even had to get a day job again for a little while. It sucked! But it lit a fire under me to try again at making my writing business a success.
Powering through the failure: Advice from people who have failed and tried again
I don’t want this article to be filled with my thoughts on failure alone. I am only one person, and my desire to be a successful writer might not resonate with you.
That’s why I reached out to my community to ask for their advice on overcoming the fear of failure. The feedback I received was amazing. Below you will find the lessons that people in several different industries shared with me.
Look at failure as a piece of a puzzle or a bridge to being a better version of yourself regardless of whether you succeed
Ideneth Vega is the SVP of Strategy, Revenue Growth, and Marketing for the plant-based nutrition company Zurvita, Inc.
She said, “Much like solving puzzles, we need a strategy, we need courage, focus and action. There are many ways to approach it, yet, when you have these ingredients plus you have the audacity to believe in your ability to execute you can achieve your goals.
The key to overcoming the creeping fear of a missed target or a puzzle piece placed in the wrong spot, is to have the ability to step back, take your time, shut off distractions, sit with [yourself], analyze and assess your steps… I like to call it self-debrief. Self-debrief is key to learning, to growing, to ‘failing-forward,’ pushing through shame or pride….”
She went on to say that everything you want to do will take time, practice, and mastery, but you shouldn’t let fear stop you from going forward with your dreams. “Failure is the path to growing, learning, and to develop critical thinking and self-reflection.”
Music Therapist and clinical psychologist Dr. Bethany Cook echoes this sentiment. She said, “Once I became aware that I could choose how I view my ‘mistakes’ (opportunity for growth or embarrassment and failure) I realized that the only things stopping me were the limitations I placed on myself.”
Haley Slade, CEO and Founder of Slade Copy House, concurs. She said, “I believe failure is not the opposite of success, but rather a necessary part of the learning process. You have to reframe your relationship with failure, viewing it as an opportunity to learn and grow rather than something to be avoided at all costs.
If you want to be as successful as possible, embracing risk and being willing to make mistakes is part of the process. Period. Failure is not something to be feared, but rather a natural part of the journey to success.”
Measure what others say against your gut
When you confront your fear of failure, one big problem is that too many people will ask others what they think of a situation and then take the feedback as gospel. In other words, they will fail before they even begin simply because they are scared to move forward.
When Justin Draplin was building ECLIPSE Cottages he soon learned to recognize the importance of trusting his gut. When he was building the company, the idea of sustainable housing wasn’t as mainstream as it’s becoming nowadays.
He said, “In any industry an entrepreneur needs to trust their gut. There will be plenty of doubters, and there will be believers. Don't listen to any of them. Take their feedback and measure it against your own gut. No one knows exactly what you know.
Have faith. Believe and stick with it. I would say that to anybody starting something new. If someone would have told me those things earlier, ECLIPSE Cottages would have [launched] a lot sooner.
Inexperience doesn’t equal incompetence
When it comes to overcoming the fear of failure, founder of Dr. Dharius Daniels, of Change Church, says, "The truth is, you may be inexperienced, but that doesn't mean you're incompetent. The truth is that you may not have done this before, but that doesn't mean you can't do it. There's something in your track record or your previous performance that actually propelled you to this place."
That said, Dr. Dharius believes we must go beyond the “you can do it” way of thinking, and instead focus on the tools that are needed to help a person succeed. Luckily, RN Mary Yuter of Heart to Soul Cardiac Wellness shared some of the tools she recommends to succeed. They include, but aren’t limited to:
- Signing up for mentorship with the SCORE SBA program
- Purchase coaching programs or hire a business coach
- Tune your mindset
- Engage in personal and professional development
Keep your body in good physical shape
- Adjust your life thermostat for success - You cannot be who you were to become who you are meant to be
- Hire out talent for skills outside of your wheelhouse (for me, this was the tech of building a funnel and email campaign)
Above all, Mary’s best advice is this:
“Remember, you were gifted this idea for a reason. What is your ‘Why’ for doing it? You have an answer to a problem. Who are you helping and how? Imagine how you will feel when it is all clicked in and operating. Now imagine how you would feel if you quit. Don't quit! Most people quit when the next call, or contact would have tipped the scale!”
Remember that failure is a teacher and risk is a requirement for success
Adora Winquist shared a beautiful practice with me for moving through the fear and working on your dreams. She is the founder of The Soul Institute and co-author of Detox Nourish Activate: Plant & Vibrational Medicine for Energy, Mood, and Love. Here’s the practice that she calls “The Love Code Breath Technique:
The Love Code Breath Technique: Release, Forgiveness & Gratitude
In each moment we can let go over the thoughts, feelings, actions and activities that limit our joy and success.
- When you start to feel triggered, frustrated with and fearful, center yourself like a tree rooted in the earth and take a deep breath. On the exhalation, invite the intention to let go and release that emotion or thought.
- Then take a deep breath in forgiveness to bring that healing balm of grace through your mind, heart and body to dissolve the voice of your inner critic. Remember, no one else can believe in you until you do!
- Then close with a breath of gratitude, a sense of appreciation for yourself and your commitment to grow, heal and elevate to the best version of you living your biggest, brightest life.
You can repeat this breathing technique every time you are scared to act, and then move forward through that fear.
Closing thoughts on fear of failure
There’s been a lot covered in this post. From the myths of failure to the advice business owners shared about powering through the fear of failure. If you take nothing else from this post, I hope you will take this: Sometimes, you are going to be afraid to act because you’re scared you will fail.
The truth is you might fail. You might fail a lot. But as one of my favorite bloggers Ruth Soukup said in her bestselling book Do It Scared, “Fear can also be an invisible chain that ties us down and keeps us stuck. Instead of keeping us safe, it paralyzes us and prevents us from moving forward…I decided to stop letting fear stand in my way…I decided from then on, I would just do it scared.”
Here’s the thing: fear will always be with us in everything we do. When we want to ask that special someone out for a drink. When we want to ask for a raise. When we want to quit school and launch our own business.
We can let that fear be our own invisible chain, or we can do it scared.
I challenge you to start doing it scared.
You may never be less afraid of failure. I’m still scared every time I submit an article. I’m scared every time I hit record for a podcast episode. But I’m trying to get comfortable with the fear and do these things anyway. Why? Because like George Addair stated, “Everything you've ever wanted is sitting on the other side of fear.”