Fear of Failure

When I ask my “single greatest questions” – one of which is “What is your single greatest fear regarding your business or career?” many times the answer is “The fear of failure”.

Today the negative news bombarding us every time we turn around can add to our fear.  We hear about all the bad things that can happen to us – and what has happened to others.  It’s easy to understand that playing it safe and not taking risks is a comfortable choice for many.

However, when I see the “fear of failure” as a strong fear for so many, it leads me to think these people want to do something and are allowing this fear to stop them from action.  Deciding not to act is an action in itself.  Following are some thoughts, if you decide to take a different action – these may be pretty familiar to you already.

Thought 1:  Opportunity cost.  Think about what you’re missing out on by allowing your fear to take over.  Your earnings might be less.  Your experiences might be limited.  You may not be considered for a promotion.  You may not meet your new employer.  Realize that missed opportunities come with a cost to you.

Thought 2:  The unknown.  When you don’t know what you’re dealing with, potential consequences can seem a lot worse than they really are.  Research all the possible outcomes – good and bad – so you understand what failing would look like and what the benefits might be.  Apply for the job you might want – failure would be not getting it – success would be starting something new.

Thought 3:  Enlist support.  Find someone who has done what you would like to do.  Talk to them, interview them, pick their brain.  Find out everything you can about how they succeeded.  Ask them how they got over their fears or if they even had them.  Too many times, we go it alone.  The most successful people I know always ask for help and use resources.

Thought 4:  Plan ahead.  When you understand what the worst thing that could happen is, you can plan to minimize the worst.  Perhaps you’d like to start a business and the worst thing would be the business would fail.  Plan ahead and make sure you have enough savings to weather the bad times.  For more tips on starting a business see my six part blog series “You want to be the Boss”.

Thought 5:  Take action.  When you’re starting something new you might find it difficult.  Over time, with repetition, it will become easier.  Start with small steps and build up your confidence until your fears are manageable.

Thought 6:  Burn the boats.  I don’t know if this is true, I read somewhere that when ancient Greek armies traveled across the sea to do battle, the first thing they would do when they landed was to burn the boat, leaving them stranded.  The only way home was through victory.  When success and failure are the only options, you have no choice but to follow through.

What do you do to work through your fears?  Do you have any tips that you can share?  Do you find fear is holding you back?  Leave a comment below.

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3 Responses to Fear of Failure

  • Thank you, Holly. One of the best presentations that I’ve heard of Thought 6 is on Nightingale-Conant’s “The 90-Second Rule” CD set by Jim Fannin. One of my favorite techniques for working through a fear is the “reframe” that I learned years ago from Tony Robbins — to reframe a “failure” as a “result” instead. Plus, when I can detach from judging a result as good or bad — and instead see it simply as more information — I truly have neutralized what I originally saw as a failure.

    • Holly says:

      Kirk –
      What a great tip! I love the reframe – really does neutralize the situation. Thank you for your thoughts!

    • Kevin Lewis says:

      Kirk, your point is so well taken. Failure is a BIG learning result…more often than success. We just need to not allow fear to capture our minds. This is something I fight when I am sitting in front of a prospective client. “If he knew how much I failed, he wouldn’t hire me for this job” creeps into my mind time and again. That is the fight for many. Batting 300 is still a great average. Just need to stay focused on the 300 and forget the 700.

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