How do I overcome the paralysing fear of failure?
Imagine how many times a day a three year old fails. Throughout this early stage of life there’s so much to learn and explore. Can you draw the letter S? Can you do up the buttons on your jacket? Can you close the zip on your schoolbag?
Chances are that as a three year old, these tasks will be pretty challenging the first time you experience them.
In fact, you’ll probably fail completely and either need an adult to guide you, or strong determination and persistence to achieve the task on your own.
As three year olds, we had permission to fail. How many times did you think you could run to the sandpit, when you ended up flat on your face because you tripped over your shoelace, a branch or perhaps you were running just a little too fast?
We understand that in order to learn we must fail. Whether you’ve been told in your life to ‘fail fast’ or ‘fail forward’, there’s a common understanding (and agreement) that when we experience failure, we’re moving forward.
Failure provides you with an opportunity to learn from your mistakes or uncover something new.
Just like when you were three and got frustrated feeding the button through the hole the first time, I’m sure you learn quickly. With guidance, practice and determination you eventually learned how to do up your buttons without effort.
As we grow up failure seems to come with more consequences and fears of self-doubt. We become afraid of failure.
What was a concept we once embraced as a way of learning, now becomes an avoidance. Why embrace failure when it’s possible to skip it and jump straight to success?
As adults, failure to us exhibits fear. Perhaps we can’t bear the embarrassment or humiliation that comes with it. Maybe we’re afraid of disappointing ourselves or others.
As creatives, we don’t want to risk thrashing our own ego or putting our confidence on the line.
But what would happen if we embraced this fear? If we accepted it as a part of the journey to success?
“Creativity is a path for the brave, but it is not a path for the fearless (…). Here’s how I learnt to deal with my fear: I made a decision a long time ago that if I want creativity in my life — and I do — then I will have to make space for fear, too”
– Elizabeth Gilbert, Big Magic
Only once Gilbert embraced fear as a critical part of her journey did she begin to overcome her feelings of failure.
Accept that failure is part of your journey, then learn to deal with it. Doing so encourages you to be open to putting yourself in risky situations in which you might fail.
It will feel uncomfortable, embarrassing and out of your comfort zone. You’ll try new ideas only to realise they don’t work. But you’ll learn too. You’ll learn what worked and what didn’t, and through those learnings you’ll be one step closer to success.
Is it possible to avoid failure all together?
To avoid failure would be to limit your actions to within your comfort zone. Rather than pushing your boundaries, you confine yourself to your known strengths. You say No to risks and new opportunities in order to focus on the guaranteed achievable.
Sound like you?
While it pays to be aware of your strengths, acting only within your strengths limits your potential in what you can create or achieve. Only once you step outside of this comfort zone will you begin to experience progress.
You’ll learn fast what you’re not good at, what you don’t like or what doesn’t interest you. You need to try a food before deciding you don’t like the taste.
Not all failure is good. If you’re experiencing repeated failure, stop. Quit what’s not working to create space for something that might.
We’re often taught that quitting is bad, but quitting also means being flexible and open to changing tactic or direction. Quit the things that aren’t working, aren’t important, aren’t providing benefits or aren’t challenging you.
Only once you give yourself permission to fail, will you be able to focus on the things that really matter.
“Only once you give yourself permission (…) can you make your highest contribution towards the things that really matter”
– Greg McKeown, Essentialism
Fear and failure means taking risks. How many times have you been afraid to try something new, only to realise after trying it, you were wrong in your assumptions?
Be open to play — explore and experiment. Try new challenges in new contexts. Work with people you haven’t worked with before, and don’t be afraid to seek help if you need it.
Your potential is limitless. You can achieve anything, but like Gilbert, you’ll need to make space for fear in your life.
Only once you do will you enable yourself to take creative risks, push your mind and uncover those hidden talents that lie within you.
The people around us, that we spend the most time with, can have huge influence on your ability to succeed. Who do you surround yourself with?
Do those around you challenge, encourage and motivate you? Do they believe in you? Do they tell you that you can do it?
Consider the type of positive (or negative) reinforcement the people around you offer. To be brave is to radiate and absorb positivity and energy. Surround yourself with these kinds of people and they’ll propel you forward.
Lastly, I want you to print out this quote from Cardone and stick it on your wall, in your journal, on the bathroom door, wherever so you can read it every day:
“If you aren’t experiencing fear, you aren’t taking new actions and growing”
– Grant Cardone, The 10X Rule
Don’t sit still. Life is scary and unpredictable. With that uncertainty comes fear and failure.
Take that hint of fear as a sign you’re on the right path — you’re challenging yourself and taking risks. You’re not sitting still, you’re living life to its fullest potential. You’re brave, daring and willing to take a risk to succeed.