Author Robert Pardi On Becoming Free From The Fear Of Failure

An Interview With Savio P. Clemente

Savio P. Clemente
Authority Magazine

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The ultimate limit is not living a life in harmony with your uniqueness and the literal shrinking of the world you live in. Fear of failure helps build the walls of your comfort zone. The frightening thing about a comfort zone, at least from what I have seen with my clients, is a comfort zone will inevitably contract. Fear of failure leads one to seek certainty and breeds perfectionism. The truth is we can never be certain, the pandemic being a prime example, and we can never perfect anything. Therefore, over time, one’s world shrinks so as to create a false feeling of being more in control.

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 Robert Pardi.

Robert is one of those rare individuals who embraces change and lives by a philosophy which he calls Possibility in Action™. He is a three-time Author, compelling, International Keynote Speaker, Transformational Life Coach, and Adjunct Professor.

After his young wife passed away of metastatic breast cancer, Robert re-imagined his life to achieve new dreams. He chose to leave his comfort zone by changing absolutely everything. He now shares the many life lessons he’s learned through his work and fashioned his life as an example of Possibility in Action™.

Prior to his dramatic life change, Robert was a Senior Portfolio Manager for the Abu Dhabi Investment Authority, Co-Founder of Evolvence Capital, and mentor to many young business executives. He has lived in Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Rome, and now splits his time between his native New York and Abruzzo, Italy.

Outside of traditional coaching, Robert provides an array of interesting personal growth experiences such as intimate retreats, facilitated discussion groups, and video modules. You can read more about him and his work at www.robertpardi.com

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’?

Thanks for having me back. For those that don’t know me, my backstory starts with a boot camp on life lessons. I grew up having a very dysfunctional relationship with an abusive alcoholic father. Now, I know this is going to sound crazy to a lot of people, but I will be forever thankful to that experience for having taught me life skills to not only confront uncertainty, adversity, and difficulty but to leverage them for growth. It was the skills that I learned as a child that helped me support my amazing wife as she approached the end of her life after an 11-year journey with metastatic breast cancer. Those same skills helped me redesign my life by leaving investment banking to become a life coach as well as leaving everything I knew to move to Italy without knowing anyone, speaking the language or having a job.

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?

There are so many stories that I can share, but one comes to mind which I think is extremely relevant to our discussion. As I mentioned in my backstory, I am an ex-investment banker. After my wife passed, I decided to move back to Dubai, because we had accumulated a substantial amount of financial debt during her 11-year journey. While I was in Dubai, I felt out of sync. The journey with my wife, Desiree, changed my purpose and perspective. I then asked myself “what great would look like with respect to my life?”. That allowed me to envision new paths.

One lesson I learned is to not be confined by what we know how to do, but to embrace what we might be able to do. The other lesson I learned is not label things as a sacrifice when taking a chance. Instead, it is empowering to define things as investments needed to build something new.

The truth was I needed that job in Dubai. I had spent all of our savings helping Desiree live well and achieve her dreams. I knew if I was going to set off on a new path, it would require being open to do what is necessary to pursue the dream. To making investments. That required me to start off teaching English for eight euros an hour in Italy until I finished my coaching certification. The lesson was to focus not on the fear of failure, but on the excitement of potentially creating a new life.

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?

Great question! Humility, Resilience, and Grit.

Let me start with humility because without it I do not think we can harness the true power of resilience and grit. It is imperative that we view everything and everyone as something or someone to learn from. That we accept we do not and never will know it all.

I know I learn something from everyone I meet. Moving to Italy was a prime example. From one moment to the next I became an immigrant and understood why immigrants tend to group together in cities. There I was in Rome without any support, nor did I speak the language. The day before I was a highly successful investment banker. I learned I needed to ask for help, be vulnerable, and admit I was not able to navigate the incredible level of bureaucracy to get anything done in Italy. Humility opens us up to feedback from everything around us which, in turn, fuels growth. I realize you only asked for three but let me sneak in that humility is supported by self-awareness and emotional intelligence.

The second I would highlight is resilience. Resilience is not about bouncing back but bouncing beyond that which we thought would crush us while grit is that drive to move forward towards that dream. Resilience allowed me to redesign my life to live what many people believe are impossible dreams after Desiree passed, such as living in a medieval mountain village in Italy. Grit is what kept me moving towards what I believed was possible, such as becoming a Life Coach, Author, Keynote Speaker, Adjunct Professor, and Host of personal growth retreats in Italy. Many times, those all seemed out of reach, but grit told me to keep going because if one had accomplished similar goals, I could as well.

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?

Fear of failure has several sources, not all of which are obvious, making it a complex issue. There are many factors that feed into the fear of failure such as past traumas and learned limiting beliefs. For example, many of our beliefs are outdated or untrue. A great question to ask is “what is really true about this fear?”.

Personally, my work has shown me fear of failure tends to be a composite of the fear of being embarrassed, losing acceptance or recognition by a group, needing approval, and being burdened by a lack mentality. What I mean by a lack mentality is that many people are afraid of failure because they believe the failure will ruin everything. That they will never recover from a failure. I saw this a lot very early on when I started in investment banking.

Now as a life coach, I have come to understand that fear of failure grows from people’s detachment from their true identity. Instead, they have connected their identity to what they do and what they have. If you look at our society, we live in a culture where it is the stuff we have and the job we do that is what we lead with when we describe ourselves. Are we those things or are we something bigger? My work with many clients has revealed that their fear of failure is rooted in the fear of losing the identity communicated outward through their job and possessions. What if we go past our job and possessions and embrace the identity of the explorer, the experimenter, the scientist? I think those are much cooler identities.

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

Some of the biggest downsides to the fear of failure are:

  1. Not knowing what you are truly capable of
  2. Not living a life you want to and, hence, arriving at the end with regrets
  3. It damages our self-esteem and focuses on a locus of control outside of ourselves. This will cause a victim-like mentality and can lead to depression, shaming ourselves, anxiety, and panic attacks.
  4. Avoiding situations and feeling isolated from life
  5. Becoming indecisive
  6. Self-sabotage

The ultimate limit is not living a life in harmony with your uniqueness and the literal shrinking of the world you live in. Fear of failure helps build the walls of your comfort zone. The frightening thing about a comfort zone, at least from what I have seen with my clients, is a comfort zone will inevitably contract. Fear of failure leads one to seek certainty and breeds perfectionism. The truth is we can never be certain, the pandemic being a prime example, and we can never perfect anything. Therefore, over time, one’s world shrinks so as to create a false feeling of being more in control.

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

Certainly. The main way that becoming free of failure improves our lives is that it takes us to a state where we do not view life from a victim mentality. When we let go of fear of failure, we view everything as something to learn from. We move from life happening to us to life happening for us.

Another way it improves our lives is that we foster feelings of personal responsibility and accountability. We move away from blaming people and circumstances and focus on what is under our control. This empowers us and nurtures resilience and grit.

Finally, letting go of the fear of failure opens us up to many possibilities and opportunities. Another fear common today if the fear of missing out, but if you are afraid to fail you will certainly miss out on many aspects of life. As you let go of the fear of failure, you will become aware of all life has to offer.

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 have experienced many of what people would call failures and I think part of this whole article is to walk away from the label of failure. We will certainly talk more about that later, but for now let me highlight a recent failure. This particular failure happened during the pandemic. In September 2019 I made an investment in a tour company in Rome, Italy so that I could create transformational travel retreats. The idea was to use locations in Italy as a backdrop/metaphor for personal-growth experiences. In February 2020 I flew to New York to start marketing the product to various travel agents. As we all know, Italy was the first European country to explode with COVID in March 2020. The company had to subsequently file for bankruptcy. Both my investment and my dream vanished. Yet, as we will talk about, I had many tools in my utility belt to deal with failure and create something new.

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?

What was the biggest tool I used? Questions. Yes, I asked myself one of the most important questions we can ever ask, “What’s next?”. The rubble was there. Everything crumbled, but I had learned that we can always build a beautiful mosaic out of the rubble. What I saw in the rubble was I was given time to adjust my product for what would be a new market. I also had taken an easier route by making an investment and having partners. Yet, the lockdown provided time to fashion something I could sustain on my own, which is what the real dream had been. My dream was not to have partners but to be a solopreneur.

The advice I give my clients, which I will share here, is to ask, “What’s next?”. The answer, moving forward from any difficulty, is always action. Remember “move” is a verb. Asking “What’s next?” is forward looking and away from wallowing or crying over spilt milk. It is empowering because you start to see possibilities. That’s why my personal philosophy is called Possibility in Action™. We get sympathy when we wallow, but we will not get results. Results come from taking a new step, i.e., action.

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.

Before going on to my top five steps, I’d like to highlight something around being free from the fear of failure. I’d argue that it is more about learning how to move in the face of fear than becoming fearless. Fear can be a great tool for reflection. It can become a motivator, and, of course, it is also a warning sign. Many times, people hope that steps or hacks will create an immunity to fear. Then, when it doesn’t, they become demotivated. My steps are more about recognizing the fear, leveraging it, and eventually moving through it.

Recognize the opportunity cost of not attempting.

First, if you noticed, I used the word “attempt” and not “try”. That is because today the word “try” has become a word with a way out. It is a weak word, in my opinion. Underlying try are excuses of it potentially not working out. It suggests not being truly committed, serious, or interested in following through.

Now, back to the fear of failure. Ask yourself what you are losing by not attempting what you are afraid of failing at. Opportunity cost is a microeconomic theory which quantifies the loss of other alternatives when one alternative is chosen. By choosing to stay where you are due to the fear of failing at something new means you are losing out on new possibilities. When I set out for Italy, I asked myself that question. The answer was I would lose out on an amazing experience and seeing what I am capable of. My suggestion is to sit down and list all the things you might be losing due to the fear of failure.

Cultivate curiosity.

I think curiosity is one of the most important things we can embrace, or maybe I should say re-embrace. We are born curious. When we are children, we walk through life experimenting. It is that experimenting which teaches us to walk, to speak, to not touch a flame. As we age, we learn about “failure” and give up curiosity, but there would not have ever been one discovery if there was not curiosity. Therefore, a great tool is to think like a scientist. In science there are no mistakes — there are only data points. Everything is a result in science because data is neutral. Ask yourself the question “what if?”. I ask myself that question all the time, what if I can pull this off? That will spark curiosity, motivation, and enthusiasm to venture forward, not for the outcome itself, but for the journey in the “attempt”.

Highlight the benefits in past mistakes.

After reading this article sit down, take out a piece of paper and make two columns. In the first column make a list of all the failure you hold onto. In the second column write something you learned from that failure. Failure, when you remove the emotional attachment to it, is nothing more than a learning opportunity. Yes, again, we fall before we learn how to walk as children. Whenever I have what we would call a failure, I immediately open a word document I have and perform this exercise. There is always something to learn in those moments. It is when we put that learning point into action that we grow.

Admiration.

This is my all-time favorite exercise. Many times, I have been overcome by the fear of failure when embarking on something new or something so emotionally tied to my heart. If I find myself blocked, I ask myself, “what would a person I admire do in this situation?”. That immediately shifts my focus beyond my fear. Then I write down options my role-model might take. I then act on one of those options. This generates personal empowerment.

We have become a culture that has forgotten the benefit of admiration and role-models, and instead embraced comparison. Yet, when we admire, we have an example of someone’s behaviors and actions. We see that it could also be possible for us. I didn’t have great role models around me when I was a child. Yet, I could read about people that I admired. That I wanted to emulate. There are many times I find myself thinking about them when I venture towards something new. Try it, I am sure it will have an incredibly positive effect.

Death.

Yes, you read that right, death is the greatest tool to move through the fear of failure. There is so much to unpack here that it could be its own article.

First, let’s just talk about impermanence briefly, which means nothing stays the same. A lot of times fear of failure weighs on us because one believes if they fail, they can never recover. Yet, just follow the logic, if nothing stays the same, there will always be a point of moving past the failure.

But what I really wanted to talk about more is the fact that we will never be finished or complete when we pass. We will never know when the train we are on comes to our final stop. Therefore, we can never know if the actions we take will lead to success or failure.

Our brain is a predictive machine, and we fool ourselves into thinking we can factor in all the variables, but the one we can’t factor in is time. The precious time we have is a complete unknown. This led me to think as I ventured with my wife that the only real failure is to not live while we are alive. If we live in fear of taking a chance, we are actually missing out on the sweetness of the precious time we have been given.

There is a great quote by Eleanor Roosevelt which states: “The purpose of life is to live it, to taste experience to the utmost, to reach out eagerly and without fear for newer and richer experience.” Think about that — if we do not attempt because of the fear of failure, we do not get to taste something new. Yes, maybe we will taste something sour at times, but that is just one of those data points not to bite that apple again.

Therefore, my suggestion is to remember that time can never be renewed or regained. Life is about taking the chance, not waiting for the right moment. There is no right moment, there is only right now. Anything that seems to be a failure right now might be the beginning of something bigger. Look at the outcome of my investing in the tour company in Rome. I am now hosting retreats in Puglia. It also led me to think how else I could reach clients and I now have video courses. The failure was the start of a new path. Failure is always the start of something new. Recall the rubble I mentioned earlier. That rubble provides unlimited combinations to create a beautiful mosaic.

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 am a big fan of all the ancient philosophers, especially the Stoics. Aristotle has left us so much wisdom, but this statement does not resonate with me.

First, because I think there is only one way to truly fail and that is to not live while alive — to not attempt. So, I disagree with it is possible to fail in many ways. Everything is a learning opportunity, but if we do not take action and step into life — we miss the gift we have been given.

On the other hand, I believe success is expressing who we are and following our passion while we are here on this earth. Therefore, I’d agree with the concept to succeed is possible in only one way. That would be to take action while embracing your uniqueness.

Think about it this way, every work of art is unique. In fact, there is no failure in the creation of art, there can’t be. Art is pure expression. Yes, people can say, “oh, well that artist could not sell his or her paintings”. But contemplate this: is success measured by the sale, or is it measured by the creation? Food for thought.

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. :-)

This is something I mentioned in the past, but it is something I truly believe could create something so wonderful for everyone.

What if we use the feeling of hunger as motivation to do something about it? What if we walk in the shoes of those who are hungry?

My wife and I developed this idea after traveling to India. We called it Friends for Food. It is not a charity but a movement, a concept, a philosophy. What if you took that feeling of hunger and used it to motivate yourself to end hunger? Its mission is straightforward. “Choosing to be periodically hungry to rid the world of hunger.”

How many people fast today because it is trendy or because they have learned about its health benefits? Yet, I doubt anyone has given thought to the amount of money they are saving the day they fast, which makes sense because their motivation is not about saving money. Yet, what if we choose to fast so we understand hunger and put what we would have spent that day aside to donate to a food charity? My wife and I practiced it up until her passing, despite her having been under chemotherapy for multiple years. I, as do many of my friends, continue to practice this idea and I would love to see it become mainstream.

Steps:

  1. Find a jar, box, or can. Personalize it if you are a creative person.
  2. Place it somewhere visible.
  3. Choose a fasting routine that feels best for you.
  4. The day you fast, calculate what you normally would have spent on food and place that amount in your jar, box, or can.

You will soon realize, over time, that you have a nice sum of money put aside. Go to a food bank, a church. Donate it to a food charity or wait until the holidays to buy meals for others. You decide where you want the money to flow. She and I would buy proper Thanksgiving meals for families.

Because it is an experiential experience, it has a profound impact on building empathy and generating feelings of gratitude by cultivating a greater sense of authenticity in your own experience of appreciation.

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 always find these types of questions difficult to answer because there are so many people that I admire and would love to chat with. That being said, Oprah Winfrey comes to mind as she is someone that moves forward despite fears. I actually had the opportunity of meeting her when my wife was a guest on her show in 2002. She and I actually joked with each other briefly, and since, I have always thought it would be an incredible experience to get to know the person who is Oprah, not the celebrity.

How can our readers further follow your work online?

The best place for someone to learn more about me and how to grow your life forward with Possibility in Action™ is on my website www.robertpardi.com. My three books are all on Amazon and as for social media, I am most active on LinkedIn: robert-pardi, but I can also be found on Facebook and Instagram.

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for the time you spent on this. We wish you only continued success.

Thank you so much for giving me the opportunity to contribute to such an important topic.

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Savio P. Clemente
Authority Magazine

TEDx Speaker, Media Journalist, Board Certified Wellness Coach, Best-Selling Author & Cancer Survivor