Author Michael Baldwin On Becoming Free from The Fear of Failure

An Interview with Savio P. Clemente

Savio P. Clemente
Authority Magazine
Published in
11 min readAug 2, 2022


Decipher every failure for the clues it may hold for you: be willing to think of present-day failure as a future dividend; being fired from my first job in advertising led me to a much better second one.

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 Michael Baldwin.

Michael Baldwin is an accomplished leader in the communications industry with more than 35 years of award-winning work in advertising. He is the founder and principal of the branding and communication firm MICHAEL BALDWIN INC, and the author of Just Add Water: An incredibly easy guide for creating simple, powerful presentations and co-author of Every Memory Deserves Respect: EMDR, The Proven Trauma Therapy with the Power to Heal. He lives in New York.

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’?

Mine was a distinctively non-linear career path. I was a pre-med student in college, got into medical school after three attempts, didn’t go, started a career in advertising at the age of 26, and stayed there until I reached my long-term goal: Worldwide Account Director on the $1 Billion global IBM account, at Ogilvy & Mather’s head office in New York. I left advertising and spent 3 ½ years training as a professional actor at the William Esper Studio in New York, worked as a presenter in the SoHo Apple store, ran the NY office of a UK-based executive development company, and then started my own consulting practice in communications coaching, storytelling, and branding. My first book is a primer on how to become a better speaker; the second is about trauma and the most effective and efficient trauma therapy, EMDR.

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?

The most memorable period in my advertising career was running the NeXT Computer account and having Steve Jobs as my day-to-day client. That “collective” learning taught me about the value of simplicity and the tenacity required to preserve the integrity of an idea. Although NeXT wasn’t a business success, it was a brilliant example of both. I also learned how much more important listening is than talking and how to distill my writing and speaking into the most succinct levels possible. Opening my mouth in a meeting with Steve Jobs was, in itself, an example of overcoming the fear of failure…so every meeting with Steve was an opportunity for growth.

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?

  1. Altruism — After three harrowing years of running the global SAP account, my team won the David Ogilvy Award, the highest award at O&M, presented by the Chairman (at the time) Shelly Lazarus. I decided with my senior team that none of us would accept any of the cash award and that I would deliver the award and a check to each member of the support team in the NY office. I will never forget the reception I received from every person when I showed up in their offices, and their genuine appreciation for the recognition we were giving them. It was priceless!
  2. Dedication — A CEO client wrote a letter to the principles of my advertising agency when I was getting started as an Account Executive. He wrote “You, personally, have made advertising fun again. Your emotional involvement with Claris’ success gives me the confidence that we are in the battle together. Please know that we respect your efforts, your ability, and your trust.” This is how clients respond when they feel a sincere, authentic level of dedication to them, their company, and their brand. I remember asking for my own office at their HQ offices and spending a couple of days a week embedded there — they quickly started to think of me as a member of their team.
  3. Fun — I think it is incumbent on any leader to create an environment that people want to be a part of every day. One important characteristic of that environment is FUN! On the Compaq business we turned the Weekly Status Meeting into a production with things like “Employee of the Week” that included a trophy and mandatory victory lap around the conference room, “Lose It!” the communal weigh-in for those trying to lose weight, and “Believe it or Roff” the weekly efficiency report from the billing/efficiency expert I hired to make sure all financial issues ran smoothly between the agency and client. It was unlike any normal, boring status meeting because in addition to being a necessary weekly bit of necessary hygiene, we made it FUN!

Ok, thank you for all that. Now let’s shift to the 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?

I think people think of failure as an indelible demerit, like points you get on your driver’s license for infractions and that remain there for years. They don’t think of it as one of the most valuable learning experiences we can have. Western business culture is focused on success, the seven characteristics of successful people, start-up successes, etc. There isn’t any well-known forum that explores the value of failure and the growth opportunities it offers all of us.

What are the downsides of being afraid of failure? How can it limit people?

The obvious one is that you keep yourself in a safe “box” of the known and comfortable — you never allow yourself to venture out into the unknown, untested. And that prevents you from connecting with things, circumstances, choices that you may have thought were too dangerous. It also means that you’re living your life assuming that you can accurately assess what is and isn’t good for you, what is and isn’t the right choice or move for you, when you could be 100% wrong and miss out on things that might have been unexpected but (turned out to be) perfect for you. Nothing ventured…

In contrast, can you help articulate a few ways how becoming free from the fear of failure can help improve our lives?

  1. Jump out of the plane — I Iearned this valuable lesson in acting school. When you’re in front of 22 of your fellow acting students, you have a choice: remain guarded and afraid to explore fear, or grief, or rage…or “jump out of the plane” and totally go for it and see what happens. Class was unforgettable when people had the courage to jump because they set an example for the rest of us: ignore the fear of failure and just go for it, body and soul. Everyone who took the risk ended up expanding their acting capacity, their connection to core emotions, and their confidence with the craft of acting.
  2. For my second book, I knew I had to engage a co-author who was a leading expert in trauma therapy and EMDR therapy in particular. It would have been much easier to have given up at that stage because who, on earth, in the clinical community would be willing to co-author a book with someone they didn’t know, wasn’t famous with a huge social media following, and they had never met? But I didn’t give in to the fear that I would come up empty-handed — I reached out to every single expert in the field, and after six months of discussions ended up with the best possible co-author I could have hoped for. If I had listened to those who said it would never happen and I was wasting my time; if I had been fatally discouraged by one “Thank you but I’m not interested.” email after another; if I had succumbed to my own inner voice of resignation I would never have connected with my co-author and wouldn’t have engaged a first-class publisher, and a one-of-a-kind book that has now been published in the US, Italy, and Greece.

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?

I think “failure” is a context and timeframe-bound concept. So often, what we experience as failure at one point in our lives ends up being later reframed in our minds as something seen as quite the opposite. I’ll use what might be characterized as my biggest career failure: the utter devastation I felt when I was laid off from my high status, high paying job at Ogilvy & Mather in New York, and the extreme emotional decline that followed, which made me realize something was very wrong with me and I needed to seek help.

That “failure” is what brought me to EMDR. At face value, it was an ignominious end to a 35-year career in advertising with spectacular achievements all along the way. At the time, it unquestionably felt like abject failure. But I now understand it was just the opposite because it paved the way for me to totally redirect my life, to uncover my personal history as a trauma survivor, and to create a book about trauma and EMDR for people all over the world who are suffering. I went from being a cog in an industry of (what I now view as) questionable merit to a person making a positive contribution to the world focused on helping others.

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 became a different person. EMDR therapy was a transformational experience for me that exposed a false persona I had created over decades and uncovered an authentic, true self that I have the pleasure of waking up with every day now. The lesson for me was that it is remarkable how disconnected we can be from our true selves and how dramatically lives can change when we reconnect. My advice to people would be to be on the lookout for life events that may be trying to tell you something. Maybe the course we think we should be on, the career we think we should be having, the lifestyle we think we’re supposed to have isn’t right for us at all. Perhaps what feels like failure at the time is really a message…and we should pay attention.

Fantastic. Here is the main question of our interview. In your opinion, what are five steps that everyone can take to become free from the fear of failure”? Please share a story or an example for each.

  1. Believe failure may bend you but won’t break you: losing a job and gaining a true self and my own consulting practice.
  2. Recognize that some of life’s most important lessons are sent to us through failure: sometimes you need help getting off of one path and onto another; my exit from advertising came like an axe but put me on a far better trajectory for a life that has meaning.
  3. Decipher every failure for the clues it may hold for you: be willing to think of present-day failure as a future dividend; being fired from my first job in advertising led me to a much better second one.
  4. Think of the fear of failure as merely the fear of the unknown, then go for it: be willing to jump out of the plane and not think about downsides and failure but only the possibilities no matter what happens.
  5. Believe you have nothing to fear except the fear of failure itself: since no outcome is pre-ordained, things can always go either way so accept that your fear is the fear of failure itself; cancel it and see what happens.

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?

I think he means it’s easier to land an arrow on the outer circles of the target than hit the center of the bullseye — it’s easier to fail (miss the target) than it is to succeed. Since I do a lot of speech writing for my clients, I’d say this quote refers to the process of writing draft after draft after draft until I’ve got a final version that the client feels is just right. In a general sense, because success has so many components, including luck and being in the right place at the right time, it’s more common to fail than to succeed. How many holes in one have you had in your life vs. time spent in the rough or the sand trap?

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 to encourage everyone to root out and eliminate all the inner forces working against them so they could approach every opportunity without self-sabotaging demons and handicaps. Trauma is a part of life — and comes in many day-to-day forms beyond combat and natural disasters — and leaves scars that limit us and warp our ability to see ourselves and the world clearly. But traumatic memories can be processed, it doesn’t take a lifetime, and we can all be free of the emotional charge that comes with them and be free to be who we are and make unencumbered choices in life. What an exciting and hopeful world that would be!

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 :-)

Because she has become a force in criminal justice and has an Instagram following of nearly 300 million people, I’d like to meet Kim Kardashian and talk about humanity, trauma, and helping to create a trauma-informed society around the world. I’d also like to share our book with her in hopes she might share it with her followers so more people could understand the basics about trauma and EMDR therapy, particularly those who have been incarcerated and their family members.

How can our readers further follow your work online?

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 to cultivate resilience in their mindset. Savio is a Board-Certified wellness coach (NBC-HWC, ACC), stage 3 cancer survivor, podcaster, writer, and founder of The Human Resolve LLC.

Savio pens a weekly newsletter at where he delves into secrets from living smarter to feeding your “three brains” — head 🧠, heart 💓, and gut 🤰 — in hopes of connecting the dots to those sticky parts in our nature that matter.

He has been featured on Fox News, and has collaborated with Authority Magazine, Thrive Global, Food Network, WW, and Bloomberg. His mission is to offer clients, listeners, and viewers alike tangible takeaways in living a truly healthy, wealthy, and wise lifestyle.

Savio lives in the suburbs of Westchester County, New York and continues to follow his boundless curiosity. He hopes to one day live out a childhood fantasy and explore outer space.



Savio P. Clemente
Authority Magazine

Board Certified Wellness Coach (NBC-HWC), Journalist, Best-selling Author, Podcaster, and Stage 3 Cancer Survivor