Author Aishwarya Rajan On Becoming Free From The Fear Of Failure
An Interview With Savio P. Clemente
Be 100% honest with yourself. When I start something new, I always ask myself if I really want to do it. If I do, then I try to figure out ways to make myself more comfortable in that situation. This doesn’t mean you have to love what you do all the time, but it’s about being committed to something enough for you to not worry about the outcome. If you are not completely honest with yourself, then you will always operate from a place of fear. When you do that, you’ll not be able to give it your best and people can tell the difference.
The Fear of Failure is one of the most common restraints that holds people back from pursuing great ideas. Imagine if we could become totally free from the fear of failure. Imagine what we could then manifest and create. In this interview series, we are talking to leaders who can share stories and insights from their experience about “Becoming Free From the Fear of Failure.” As a part of this series, I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Aishwarya Rajan.
Aishwarya Rajan is a New York City based fiction writer and mentor for creative women. Her website is https://www.aishwaryarajan.com/ As a writer, she understands the inner challenges that arise as you start to do your life’s work. Through her healing journey, she has learned how to overcome these challenges and helps others do the same. Originally from India, her varied interests include reading and collecting books, Indian mythology and pursuing a holistic lifestyle.
Thank you so much for joining us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’?
Absolutely, thanks for having me. I grew up in India in a middle-class family. My father had a huge collection of books and he encouraged my love of reading. Being an introverted and imaginative child, the traditional schooling system bored me. I loved scribbling stories and letters to imaginary friends. Years later, I even did my bachelors in English Literature. I was naïve about career outcomes, but on hindsight, I did the right thing in studying what my heart desired. You would think that would’ve given me an indication. But no, I did many different jobs before I realized that no matter what else I do in life, I had to write and keep writing.
I was not very committed though until I had a health scare. It accelerated the process for me. I remember after weeks of struggling, there came a point when I was sick of being scared. Accepting where I was allowed me to be fully in the moment and helped me recover and regenerate. It was a wake-up call for me to stop caring what others think of me, make authentic choices and treat myself better. I decided that I had nothing to lose and started writing every day. I’m now writing the first draft of my novel and motivate other creatives to follow their heart.
Can you share with us the most interesting story from your career? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take aways’ you learned from that?
I was a flight attendant in my twenties. It taught me to be grateful for what I have and keep my priorities straight. On one hand it had elements of glamour, but on the other I would have to tend to a sick passenger or replenish the toilets. I realised that with everything you do, there will always be parts of it that appeal to you and then there will be parts that you’d rather not deal with. I also feel that sometimes you have to take up the job that is available to you and it doesn’t mean anything about your future potential. Even if you don’t completely align with what you are currently doing, there is always something you can learn in the whole experience which will come in handy at a later stage. In my case, living abroad alone in my early twenties made me stronger. My past experiences of travelling around the world and interacting with people from varied backgrounds helps me appreciate different perspectives in life, which in turn helps my writing.
You are a successful leader. Which three character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success? Can you please share a story or example for each?
- Open to connection: What I found from my own experience of writing, as well as working with some super talented women, was that connection is key. I do best when I am truly connected with myself, with others and with what I do.
- Curious: I am curious by nature and that has helped me not just with my writing but also with my healing and growth. I’m a work in progress and I try to learn new things and, put them into practice to see if it works. A lot of things fascinate me. I feel like we learn not just by reading but also by observing.
- Balanced: It’s important for me to take care of myself and not worry so much about doing. Yes, I know it’s counter intuitive but the reality is that a lot of us are busy doing things without really getting anywhere. When I prioritize my well-being, I find that I take aligned action and so the other things work out on their own.
Ok, thank you for all that. Now let’s shift to the main focus of this interview. We would like to explore and flesh out the concept of becoming free from failure. Let’s zoom in a bit. From your experience, why exactly are people so afraid of failure? Why is failure so frightening to us?
We are afraid of failure because it is hardwired into us as humans. Failure for early humans meant a failure to procure food or even protect their lives. Their entire identity probably revolved around trying to survive and help each other survive so that hopefully the debt may be repaid at some point. Times have changed, so now failure mostly means an inability to keep up with the collective, or in other words, society.
These so-called failures still put us in survival mode which in turn is entirely based on fear and shame. Most of us at some level understand that it’s for validation from others but it’s not only that. It still triggers a very deep part of us. The part that wants to be seen, heard and understood. Many of us go through our entire lives without having this experience, and it’s so common that society has almost normalized it. It can be frightening to not have that because it triggers feelings of being rejected and excluded.
What are the downsides of being afraid of failure? How can it limit people?
When you’re scared of failure, you don’t even start most of the time. That’s the biggest and the most obvious drawback. If you don’t start, nothing will ever happen. Perfectionism keeps you in your comfort zone which stops you from experiencing all that you want to experience in order to grow and be the best that you can be. The other one is, you don’t live by your own values. You don’t want to be seen as a failure so instead of figuring out a solution that aligns with your values, you live someone else’s life.
In contrast, can you help articulate a few ways how becoming free from the free of failure can help improve our lives?
When you overcome the fear of failure, you can be yourself. You take action and naturally operate in your zone of genius. You don’t get confused about who you are or what you’re meant to be doing. This is because you realise that there is no right or wrong step, anything you do teaches you something and you’re constantly discovering yourself in the process. You don’t feel scared reaching out to people for support or help. You build authentic connections with others. People start trusting you more, because you are not trying to project an image. They feel at ease around you because you feel at ease with yourself.
We would love to hear your story about your experience dealing with failure. Would you be able to share a story about that with us?
Sure! A few years back, I found that I had lost my college degree certificate so I went to my university to get another one issued. They couldn’t find it and said I was not on their records. I was shocked because I wasn’t expecting that. But it kind of dawned on me as to why that may be the case. You see, my college education was interrupted due to my dad’s passing, and we had to move to another city. So I finished my college long distance through the open university. Somehow in that whole process, they forgot to update their system which they later confirmed. Meanwhile, I was a nervous wreck. I went through all sorts of emotions, a lot of repressed memories came flooding back. I remember feeling lost and insignificant just as I had so many years ago.
At some point however, better sense prevailed and I realized I was attaching a lot of my identity to a piece of paper that had no meaning and worse, making it mean something about me. After giving it a fair shot, I decided to step back and stop pursuing the matter. I was not going to have a lack of proof of my formal education define who I am. I’m more than what I have or don’t have. I knew I will be fine, no matter what. I told myself that I will find other ways to contribute. Coincidentally when I decided that, within a day or two, I got an email from my university that they had found my records and were going to send the certificate by post.
How did you rebound and recover after that? What did you learn from this whole episode? What advice would you give to others based on that story?
I found that the moment I let go of the need for external validation or wanting a certain outcome, things started working in my favour. I learned that I am more than what others think of me, for that matter I am more than what I think of myself. I am more than my imperfections and my failures. Based on my experience, I would say redefine what success means to you based on your values, not external factors and pursue that fearlessly.
Fantastic. Here is the main question of our interview. In your opinion, what are 5 steps that everyone can take to become free from the fear of failure”? Please share a story or an example for each.
- Be 100% honest with yourself. When I start something new, I always ask myself if I really want to do it. If I do, then I try to figure out ways to make myself more comfortable in that situation. This doesn’t mean you have to love what you do all the time, but it’s about being committed to something enough for you to not worry about the outcome. If you are not completely honest with yourself, then you will always operate from a place of fear. When you do that, you’ll not be able to give it your best and people can tell the difference.
- Get clear on your values. Initially, it was scary for me to accept that I was a writer. I was confused and applied for jobs that weren’t a fit only because I felt I was supposed to do that, even though I had other plans. When I got clear on my values, it gave me a sense of direction. That in turn made it easy for me to understand my journey and my purpose. If you know your values, then it won’t matter whether you succeed or fail, you’ll keep going. You will know instinctively that this is what you have to do. You’ll have the courage of your conviction which helps you get true success.
- Do the inner work. I was carrying so many limiting beliefs about myself that I didn’t even want to start anything. Fear of failure is actually a fear of success for many people. You feel unsafe if you come out of your shell so you want to keep hiding there forever. Except that also makes you feel empty and stuck. As I started to heal, I felt more comfortable being seen. Do the inner work so you can do your life’s work.
- Speak your truth fearlessly. And that includes your failures. When I started talking openly about my failures and what I could’ve done better, that’s when people started relating to me. I realized that a lot of people feel shame in accepting the not so perfect parts of themselves and when we speak our truth, we’re also creating space for others to speak theirs.
- Be balanced. Don’t get me wrong, you do need moments of deep focus to get things done. But if you attach too much importance to any one project or a particular aspect of life, sooner or later you start attaching your identity to it. That’s when the fear of failure takes over whether we realize it or not. It’s best to have a balanced life to keep things in perspective. Always remember that you are more than your success or failure. That’s when you will be focused on the process, not the outcome. I always do my best work when I’m not thinking about the outcome. When you are focused on the process, you don’t get caught in the fear cycle.
The famous Greek philosopher Aristotle once said, “It is possible to fail in many ways…while to succeed is possible only in one way.” Based on your experience, have you found this quote to be true? What do you think Aristotle really meant?
While this quote can be interpreted to mean that it’s only possible to succeed in one way for an individual, I’d like to think that Aristotle was wiser than that. My interpretation is that he is talking about the success that comes from doing something that is in alignment with your values and inherent nature. Most of the time we want to succeed in order to fit in with our environment. We try many things, sometimes we succeed and sometimes we don’t. But if you act contrary to your true nature, then it doesn’t really matter if you succeed externally, because it doesn’t help you move towards your higher self. It won’t give you true satisfaction. That kind of success is a failure in it’s own way, so the only way to succeed to be true to yourself.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the greatest amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)
My movement would be taking the time to connect with our breath. If we could all be silent and present with our thoughts, feelings and triggers, the world would be a much better place for all of us.
We are blessed that some very prominent leaders read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US, with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them :-)
I would love to sit down and have a conversation with the author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. I think she is strong, warm and gracious, and of course a brilliant writer.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
I’m on Instagram at https://www.instagram.com/iamaishwaryarajan
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for the time you spent on this. We wish you only continued success.
About The Interviewer: Savio P. Clemente coaches cancer survivors to overcome the confusion and gain the clarity needed to get busy living in mind, body, and spirit. He inspires health and wellness seekers to find meaning in the “why” and cultivate resilience in their mindset. Savio is a Board Certified Wellness Coach (NBC-HWC, ACC), #1 best-selling author, syndicated columnist, podcaster, stage 3 cancer survivor, and founder of The Human Resolve LLC. He has interviewed notable celebrities and TV personalities and has been featured on Fox News, The Wrap, and has worked with Authority Magazine, Thrive Global, BuzzFeed, Food Network, WW and Bloomberg. Savio has been invited to cover numerous industry events throughout the U.S. and abroad. His mission is to provide clients, listeners, and viewers alike with tangible takeaways on how to lead a truly healthy, wealthy, and wise lifestyle. Savio pens a weekly newsletter in which he delves into secrets to living smarter by feeding your “three brains” — head, heart, and gut— in the hope of connecting the dots to those sticky parts of our nature that matter to living our best life.