What if I Fail?
How To Overcome Your Fears To Get The Career You Want
When you tell someone that you are planning to try something new, what is the first thing they say? More often than not, it is something like, “But what if it doesn’t work out? What will you do then?”
In this post we’ll be looking at how we define failure, how and why your perception of failure is purely subjective, “successful” failures, and finally we’ll be offering you practical steps to help you overcome your fear of failure, so you can get a job you’ll love.
While it is normal to ask, “What happens to me if I fail…what if it just doesn’t work out?”, it’s important that the fear of failing at something doesn’t keep you from ever trying anything new. Where would we be if nobody ever tried anything new, or took themselves out of their comfort zone?
If you’re unhappy in your job or career, overcoming your fear of failure is as crucial a step as getting the right skills, polishing your CV, or taking a course. If you start this process thinking you are going to fail, chances are you will.
In the following paragraphs we’ll be diving a little deeper so we can help you avoid the pitfalls of negative thought patterns when you decide it’s time for a change, and help you realise that even if you do ‘fail’ it was worth it for what you learned while doing it.
What is failure?
First of all let’s define ‘failure’. Failure [feyl-yer], noun:
- nonperformance of something due, required, or expected:
a failure to do what one has promised; a failure to appear.
- a subnormal quantity or quality; an insufficiency:
the failure of crops.
- a person or thing that proves unsuccessful:
he is a failure in his career.
What’s important to remember is that one person’s failure is another person’s learning experience. It’s completely subjective, dependent on our own experiences from childhood onwards. What you might consider to be a failure, someone else might consider just a blip in a longer process.
These definitions can seem rather abstract. Let’s take a look at something that might be a little easier to grasp. There are several very well-known people who, by most accounts would be considered very successful.
Even though they are widely seen today as anything but failures, the following people ALL had major setbacks before they became the wild successes we know:
- R.H. Macy had a series of failed retail ventures throughout his early career. But at the age of 36, Macy launched R.H. Macy & Co., which grew to become Macy’s, one of the largest department store chains in the world.
- Sir James Dyson’s big idea was to use the concept of cyclonic separation to create the world’s first bagless vacuum cleaner. It took Dyson 5,126 failures to finallyget it right.
- Steven Spielberg was rejected by the University of Southern California School of Cinematic Arts multiple times. He went on to create the first summer blockbuster with “Jaws” in 1975, has won three Academy Awards, 4 Emmys, 7 Daytime Emmys, and his 27 movies have grossed more than $9 billion.
Why failure can be a good thing
We often learn the most from the things we tried that didn’t work out. Mistakes are the most valuable way for us to learn, as it is only when we are sent back to the drawing board that we begin to really perfect an idea or a creation. If not for that failure, there would have never been any reason to keep working on something until it was the best it could be.
How do you overcome fear of failure?
There are many ways to help yourself to become more able to use failure to your advantage. Here are a few of them:
- Change your mindset; view failure as nothing more than a part of the learning process. Failure is life’s greatest teacher. You won’t forget the mistakes you made the first time when you are attempting something for the second time, because you won’t want to “fail” again. If you do fail again, it’s because you’ve got a bit more to learn! Failure is the best reminder and motivator there is to get it right, even if it isn’t first time around.
- Take baby steps towards the thing you want to do, rather than one huge leap. This will make any failure you experience much less significant, it will also help you discover what it is you really want to do. For example, if you’re interested in becoming a web developer, try Codecadamy and see if you enjoy coding. If you do, move onto the next step, like going to a tech meetup and speaking to some web developers or recruiters.
- Be open to constructive criticism. The ability to take onboard fair criticism of your new venture is a necessity for anyone who is attempting something new. It will also mean you are less likely to fail, as you are taking advice from someone who has probably been there and done it.
- Just because you’ve failed before does not mean you will always fail. When an assumption arises in your mind, challenge it with: “Just because this has happened in my past, why should it happen in my future?” Remember your future will only repeat the mistakes of your past if you choose to let it! Take a positive action instead of believing the assumption to be true.
- We all have a “gremlin”, a little voice in our head telling us we won’t succeed at something. When your gremlin starts filling your brain with fear-based chatter, give him a name, draw a picture of him, or simply see him in your mind. By fully identifying him and giving him a visual representation, you are separating yourself from him. You are sapping his strength by seeing him in objective terms.
Then when he starts telling you that you are unable to achieve something, that you will fail, or you are not good enough for something, say to yourself “Oh it’s just my gremlin saying that, not me.” Or if you’ve given it a name, you can address it by saying, “Thanks, Fred, but I’m going to change my career.”
Next steps for your future success
So far, we have learned about what failure actually is and noted some familiar faces who have suffered their fair share of it. We have also talked about ways to overcome the fear that whatever your next venture might be, it could fail. Taking away the power that the fear of something has over you by accepting failure as just a normal part of the learning process is the best way to take the next step in the right direction with clarity and confidence.
Taking the leap into the unknown is scary, and that is just the plain truth of the matter. Making a major career change will, and to some degree SHOULD scare you, at least a little. Let’s take a look at some resources that will help you to see that you are not alone with whatever fear you may be feeling in the face of a major life or career change. And remember, the number of people who are doing this after the age of 30, 40 or older is growing incrementally.
Tips on starting a new career successfully:
Starting over after 30
Thinking of a new career? Check out these free short courses in the following disciplines to see if they’re a fit for you: