Punch Your Fear of Failure in the Face

What really happens when you quit your job and switch careers

Changing careers can be scary. It takes a choice. It takes commitment. And it takes work. A lot of work. But one of the things that isn’t talked about as much is that it also takes courage.

The fear of failure prevents many people from taking the first step to make their dreams a reality.

Is the fear of failure stopping you from making the commitment to take a risk? If it is — know that you aren’t alone. As humans, we’re wired to have this response. The question is, will you let the fear of failure cripple you, or will you face your fear and go for it?

The fact of the matter is, committing to pursue a new career is a tough decision to make. How do I know? I’ve been there.

My Story

Not long ago, I was working full-time as a web developer at PayPal, which most people considered a success. I had worked as a web developer at a few companies, two of which were acquired for millions of dollars. I had an excellent work/life balance and my parents were proud.

I knew in my heart I wanted to start a company and that I loved teaching web development, but pulling the trigger by giving my two-week notice to start a business teaching web development was a hard decision to make. Not because I thought it was the wrong decision — but because I knew that building a business is a bit of a crap shoot — what if I failed?

I pulled the trigger and gave my 2-week notice. I told my friends, family, and coworkers — even though I was terrified. Some people believed in me. Other people didn’t. But I faced my fears and went for it.

From that point on, the question, “What do you do?” couldn’t be answered with, “I have a job,” the safe answer that everyone expects to hear.

But from that point on, I was committed. All in. Before this point, I was half in it. I was kind of productive, doing some work but not willing to go outside my comfort zone. Once the world knew, I had to do whatever it took to make shit happen.

The process of telling everyone what I was doing stopped me from caring about “how so-and-so would react.” I finally knew because I told them. Once the enormous mental overhead of thinking through random scenarios was gone, I could focus 100% on the only thing that mattered to me — building the best company I was physically capable of.

Before I knew it, I was running coding workshops with Marco at the best universities in the country, like Harvard Business School, Carnegie Mellon, Babson, Rhode Island School of Design, Brown, and more. Things worked out for me.

The process taught me a lot about making real progress toward lofty goals. The fastest way to achieve your goals is by living outside your comfort zone. A lot of times it’s easier said than done, and people give a lot of lip service to it, but instead of giving you a lot of “rah rah, just do it,” here are some realities that will help you face your fear.

3 Realities About Facing the Fear of Failure

Reality #1: It’s scary how little people care about what you do

People spend a lot of time thinking about how they look in other people’s eyes. The dirty secret is that we probably spend more time thinking about what so-and-so thinks of us than they spend thinking about us at all.

People’s lives are busier than ever. You’d be surprised (maybe even disappointed!) by the response you’ll often get when you bite the bullet and tell that person you’re afraid of failing in front of. In most cases, they’ll probably just say, “cool, go for it, but I’m busy worrying about stuff in my world over here.”

How you spend the hours in your day is a lot less important to most people than you think, and most people don’t even have the energy to judge you.

Reality #2: But if you’re lucky, someone will tell you that you’re an idiot and you’re f$@#ing your life up

Nothing is a better motivator than the desire to prove someone wrong. The sweet taste of being able to say, “told you,” in 6 months, 12 months, or 2 years will get you through the hard times — and there probably will be hard times if you’re shooting for something beyond your reach.

Let their disapproval be the engine that drives you.

Reality #3: You’re Definitely Going To Fail

Unlike Justin Bieber, you’re probably not a child prodigy who will have everything just “click” off the bat.

You’re probably going to mess up at first. The question is, when you do fail, are you going to keep going for it, or give up? It might take 10 times, 100 times, even 1,000 times, but if you fully put your heart into something, I strongly believe you’re going to win in the long term.

You need to be a cockroach. Something that never dies. Someone who never gives up.

Self-confidence is everything when you’re playing the long game

When rejection happens — which is inevitable — you can’t let it rattle you.

You’re probably going to get rejected from a job interview. It’s just going to happen. There are two ways you can frame it in your mind. Most people will lose confidence from the experience. They would think a little like this:

The fact that some random dude doesn’t think I’d be a good fit for this position means that I’m a terrible developer and not worthy of getting a job. I should just give up now. Maybe I should go back to work for a job I hate.

Self-confident people are wired differently. First, they’ll analyze the situation. Is there some logistical reason it’s not a good fit? Did they think you were an expert at MongoDB and require deep expertise that you just don’t have? The skills that you have, which are solid and super valuable, could potentially not be the reason you didn’t get the job offer.

Maybe there’s just a candidate whose toolbelt is more aligned with what the job entails. This does not mean your skills are poor.

But even if this isn’t the case — stop feeling bad for yourself and start feeling bad for the hiring manager.

It’s unfortunate the hiring manager wasn’t smart enough to realize how much I would knock it out of the park in that position. Given their judgement is so bad, I bet I probably wouldn’t be happy working there anyway.

You need to play the long game on full offense. If you haven’t spent 6+ months working, you should keep going. Let each setback push you to work harder, spending even more energy to get it.

If you’re shooting for a lofty goal, you can’t be half-pregnant — so let failure motivate you to come back with gusto, not demoralize you. Aim to quickly try and fail everything you think could possibly work. Rinse-and-repeat day-in and day-out.

You have one life. Don’t waste it playing it safe.

Playing it safe is overrated; the sooner you put yourself in a position to fail, the sooner you will be ready to succeed. You can either live your life trying to prevent failure, or you can live your life pursuing success, but you can’t have both.

That’s the secret guys, and it’s all there is. The sooner you put yourself out there, the sooner you will fail. End of story. When you get “punched in the face” by the day, are you going to get back up?

I want you to know that if you hate what you’re doing every day and are seriously considering changing careers, starting a business, or really anything, you should go for it.

Taking a risk today might just be the smartest, most practical decision ever. Even if the rest of the world thinks you’re crazy, I want you to know that I’m in your corner and I believe in you!

So who are you afraid to fail in front of?

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Written by Ken Mazaika, code mentor at The Firehose Project.

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