5 Tips for Overcoming the Fear of Failure
Because you want to succeed.
Get that great job. That new relationship. That business idea off the ground. And the boasting rights that come with it.
But what if it doesn’t work out? What does that say about you?
Your heart races. A hot flush is followed by chills. You’re mildly nauseous.
You still want it. But you’d rather wait until tomorrow to start the legwork. Or the day after.
You’d prefer to hang on to your dream and keep it unsullied by the cold reality of an outcome that might crush you. You need to keep your self-esteem intact.
You’re having a case of fear of failure, my friend. Let’s face it, we all go through it.
Fortunately, your dreams don’t need to end there.
You can defeat the fear that stands between you and your best shot at success.
#1: Why You Don’t Need Approval
Fear has a single purpose — to protect you from harm.
It tries to preserve your physical integrity. It’s necessary for your survival.
It does its job well when it tells you to look both ways before crossing the street. Or to avoid sticking your hand on a hot stove.
Sometimes, you ignore fear at your peril. You know that you should exercise more or lose weight and don’t. Fear of illness and early death fails to keep you in check.
At other times, fear tries to protect your ego. That’s when it goes awry.
It makes sense, because nobody likes to get their feelings hurt. But giving up your goals to avoid failure makes you feel like a loser, so it doesn’t work. And when fear conditions your actions on other people’s approval, it’s compromised your integrity. You feel icky.
Here, fear tries to exceed its purpose. It can’t control other people’s opinions to keep you safe from emotional hurt.
Besides, you don’t need to win other people’s approval. You’re not in high school anymore.
People who love you will continue to love you, failure or not. And those who try to put you down don’t deserve your attention.
The others are too busy worrying about their success to care about yours.
#2: How to Let Go of Outcomes
Jeff Bezos made billions of dollars of failures at Amazon.
Yet today, he’s the richest person in the world.
That’s because he accepts that experiments are, by their very nature, prone to failure. He pushes his staff to make bold bets because he knows that a few big successes are enough to compensate for dozens of things that didn’t work.
According to the mathematical law of probability, if you repeat an experiment enough times, an individual outcome (here, success) becomes reliably likely.
Bezos understands intuitively that once averaged, his bold bets pay off. So he focuses on taking steps towards success and trusts that success will take care of itself.
Your fear of failure, on the other hand, zooms on the thing you can’t control — individual outcomes — instead of actions you should take.
So let go of outcomes that are outside your control. Focus instead on consistent actions towards your goals and you’ll be amazed what you can achieve.
#3: Why Your Fear is a Thief
Most accidents happen because inexperienced pilots freeze at the controls or try a desperate maneuver instead of trusting the plane’s instruments and their training.
“Give into me and I’ll keep you safe,” your fear whispers. It poses as your fairy godmother when in fact, it’s the wicked witch. It takes away your dreams with nothing in return.
Like a junky, fear sends adrenaline through your veins and numbs your thinking. You obsess about layoffs instead of looking for a better job. Soon, you feel overwhelmed and sad. Fear steals your happiness.
You have limited brain space so indulging your fear steals your creativity. It keeps your life small.
In fact, fear steals your life. Constant anxiety weakens your immune system and speeds up aging. It can cause cardiovascular damage and early death.
Now, understand that you’re not the victim of an outside influence. You’re doing this to yourself. You’re robbing your own house.
The good news is that indulging your fear is optional. You can choose to disregard it as bad advice.
Focus on what you know you need to do today and leave tomorrow for another day.
#4: How to Find Who’s Hiding Behind Your Fear
Did you grow up with critical parents? Were you bullied as a child?
Then you may be projecting the past onto the present.
You’ve internalized other people’s negative opinion of you. And by succeeding today, you want to prove to your former detractors that you’re worthy of success. You’ll show them!
Except, it doesn’t work.
This is a new situation. It calls for its own solution, not a fix for something from years ago.
Besides, it’s not others you try to convince, it’s yourself. Because once you believe in yourself, it no longer matters what anyone else thinks.
Your deepest fear is that you don’t deserve success. That it’s for other, better people. So you guard against failure at all costs, lest your fear proves true. Ironically, you manifest what you fear the most.
There’s a better way.
Identify the past experiences and childhood trauma you’re projecting onto the present. Give yourself permission to feel your old pains so they can lose their grip and dissolve.
Then, understand that worthiness is your birthright as a human being.
And make sure the things you want stem from your own desires instead of looking for others’ approval. Because it’s hard to succeed if your heart’s not in it. And if you do, you won’t be truly happy.
Free yourself from the voices of the past. Once you know in your heart that you deserve to succeed, you’ll make it happen.
#5: How to Embrace Failure as Feedback
My friend Paul jokes, “if at first I don’t succeed, never try again.” In reality, people rarely win at the first attempt. Success mostly follows failure.
That’s because failure isn’t a temporary setback. It was built-in by design. It gives you the chance to practice and gain valuable experience. That’s how all learning works.
Learning merely tells you how to adjust course.
So it’s a bad idea to cling on to a specific notion of success because you may miss on something better.
Failure is not the end of the story, only the beginning. Like in a Hollywood movie, the good guy wins in the end. The trick is to stay the course, adapt and not give up early. You may lose a few battles but not the war.
Realize that failure is a normal and even desirable part of life. Your job is to learn your lessons and adjust so you get a better result next time.
The Way Forward
You can defeat your fear with a new outlook.
First, know that failure is nothing personal against you. You deserve to succeed.
Then realize that fear of failure is a mental attempt to control outcomes, which is futile. There are no guarantees so you’re wasting your energy, and your dreams, for an illusion of safety. Better let your Higher Power do the worry.
In fact, failure can be useful. If you’re willing to learn from it, it will take you to something better than you anticipated.
But the search for perfection never ends, so it’s better to focus on the journey rather than the end point.
When I ran the Paris marathon, my friends said they could never do it. In truth, almost anyone can run a marathon if they follow a four-month training program. The first day, you run for one minute, walk for one minute and repeat ten times. Then you slowly build from there. By the time you set off on those 26.2 miles, you’ve already done the hardest part — the training.
If you only focus on what you have to do each day, you’ll be amazed at what you can achieve.
Imagine that sweet taste of success. The satisfaction of reaping rich rewards instead of just wishing for them. And if you had to go through a few defeats to get there, then success tastes even better, because God damn it you did it. You have even more reason to feel proud.
Know that you already have in you everything you need to succeed.
All you need today is the willingness to put one foot in front of the other.