Simon Lewis of The MindSmith Group On Becoming Free From The Fear Of Failure

An Interview With Savio P. Clemente

Savio P. Clemente
Authority Magazine

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The place to start is in recognizing that the task you are frightened of failing at is actually possible. Other people can do it without failing. In fact, some people do it really well, and feel great about doing it. So as long as the task or activity is realistically achievable, it’s not fear of the activity itself that’s holding you back, it’s fear of how you might feel if it goes wrong.

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 Simon Lewis.

Simon’s area of expertise was built in global hospitality and destination marketing. He combines 25 years experience in brand values, resort operations, management training and sales strategies associated with the travel, tourism and hotel industries. As a trainer of Neuro Linguistic Programming he develops creative solutions which achieve consistently measurable and often award-winning results.

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’?

In the 1980s I started out selling cheap flights in the travel industry from what was known in the UK as a bucket shop — although there were no buckets anywhere! The work was fast and frantic — like trading stocks on Wall Street. From there I graduated to creating package tours and eventually promoting luxury travel before becoming involved in destination marketing, resort management and hotel design, development and operations. The early days were a lot of fun, but I prefer the pace and elegance of prestigious luxury resorts! I’ve since learned the term ‘bucket shop’ referred to the bucket style seats those early airlines sat their passengers in.

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?

After a long and tricky hotel handover where the brand of a prestigious hotel had to be removed and another created on the fly, the departing management company terminated every one of the 500 employees without notice. At 5pm one afternoon they were led into the ballroom and fired en-masse on the spot. I couldn’t believe it! Whether the action was legally permissible or not that’s no way to treat workers who, through no fault of their own, were suddenly without livelihoods. Each one had mortgages, medical insurance, car payments, college funds, bills and groceries to buy — with no way of being able to pay for them. Of course, we hired as many as we could.

When we eventually launched the new brand to our team I was understandably nervous. After all, everyone knew who had caused the problem in the first place — me, or at least the company I represented.

But two things happened on launch day that I’ve never forgotten. The first is that the entire workforce burst into spontaneous song at our brand showcase. They were happy! They were so exuberant and excited, they just couldn’t help themselves.

The second was at lunch when I asked one of the team why they had chosen to risk staying with us. ‘There’s no way the CEO of that other business would stop to have lunch with us. You’re one of the guys, and I respect that.’

So my biggest learning, and it still embarrasses me to say this, is that employees are people too.

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?

Having integrity:

We were due to sell a hotel and the advice was, ‘don’t tell anyone’. The thinking was that if you tell the team, they will start looking for other work, meaning that operations will suffer. And if the deal falls through, you won’t have any staff left to pick up the pieces. So the advice was to keep it a secret until the last moment and along the way, if asked, lie. The advice made sense — but I disagreed.

As a business leader you expect results, you require commitment and you demand integrity. But integrity works both ways. Your team will only follow you into battle if they respect you.

So when we decided to sell, I told the entire team on Day 1 of the process. There were tears, confusion and doubts about what might happen next. But I was thanked for my integrity and honesty. And not a single employee quit.

Being authentic:

Businesses are synthetic manufactured structures often filled with needless rules, methods, and bureaucracy. Whilst it’s important for every business to have due process, it can really get in the way. Especially when the requirement to follow meaningless procedures prevents workers from giving their best.

I remember one hotel business I worked with had so much scripted verbiage, that employees didn’t have time to do their jobs because they were so busy trying to remember what to say! So let your employees be themselves. They already know how to do that, so they’ll have more time for other things. They’ll be nicer people too — which is why you hired them in the first place!

Using my intuition:

In my experience, most people completely misunderstand intuition. They mistakenly think that intuition is a magical dark art, only available to those with some kind of second sight.

Intuition is often frowned upon in the workplace because business needs facts, data and statistics. Now I’m not suggesting you ignore that data, I simply mean that there is more information out there that’s being missed. Tune into it and you’ll have access to more information with which to make a sound decision.

So what’s the secret to having and using intuition? Easy — just pay attention! This is something we do all the time, but either don’t realize it, or ignore it. For example have you ever walked into a room and noticed an ‘atmosphere’ in the room, even when no one is speaking. That’s intuition — noticing the clues.

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 is the combination of two subconscious processes. The first connects us to a previous experience when we failed and felt bad. The other is set in the future when we project the consequences of what might happen if failure happens again.

With the first of those, it doesn’t matter what the past event was, or why we failed. In fact, we may not even remember the event at all. We just know that deep down what we felt at the time was really, really uncomfortable. That discomfort will be different for everyone, but might have included fear, hurt, anger, embarrassment, awkwardness and so on. Whatever we felt was dialed right up, making our experience of the situation extremely unpleasant.

If this has ever happened to you, you’ll recognize that you don’t want to go anywhere near that feeling ever again, and rightly so! But the curious thing is that unconsciously you will adapt your behavior to make certain of it! So, in many ways the fear is actually self-preservation.

The fear of future consequences is simply an unconscious reminder of what we stand to lose by failing. That could be loss of stature, authority, standing or looking foolish in public. There are many other examples, but once again, the feeling is so exaggerated that it gets out of control, such as the idea that your job might be at stake meaning you won’t be able to pay the mortgage. When that happens, the idea of risking everything is a good reason to avoid failure. It’s self-preservation all over again.

Put those two subconscious feelings together and it’s easy to see how the fear of failure could be debilitating.

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

There are several downsides and the first is the unpleasant feeling of anxiety in anticipation of that fear. You know it will feel bad when it comes, and that feeling just gets worse as the deadline or event you fear approaches.

Secondly, the fear of failure affects your behavior. You’ll go out of your way to avoid being put in the situation where you might fail. That means you’ll change your work patterns, habits, and actions. You’ll live a different life. Here’s an example; just suppose you had a fear of failing your driving test. It doesn’t matter why, but you fear failing. So you stop taking lessons and buy a bicycle. The life you live is now a different one from the one you may once have had. Whilst it may be true that your new behavior comes with certain advantages — such as fresh air and exercise — you are still limited because you have fewer choices at your disposal.

Finally, if you attempt to face that fear of failure without resetting your mindset first, i.e., knowing that you’ll fail anyway, you’ll prove yourself right! Telling the driving examiner that you’re a poor driver, getting flustered about what to do at a stop light or being indecisive in traffic will guarantee a fail. See? There was no point practicing because you were right all along!

Ultimately, fear of failure reduces choice.

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

Releasing the shackles of failure that once held you back can have a huge impact on the story of your life — and the stories of those around you. Books that might otherwise have remained unread will open to reveal entire new chapters that can change your personal story forever.

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 once worked with a professional soccer referee. Not only was football his passion, it was his livelihood too. He came to see me because soccer was his life and he thought his life was over. As a professional referee, he had to take an annual fitness test to re-certify his credentials — and he’d failed twice. He had one last chance to save his job.

“I’m really fit” he told me, “but on each of my last two attempts I got filled with doubt, anxiety and an overwhelming sense of failure. That made me doubt my ability. It just got worse and worse and the whole thing unraveled from there.”

I asked him what set it all off. “That annoying parrot sitting on my shoulder keeps telling me I’m going to fail”, he answered. Of course, there was no actual parrot — but that’s not how the referee felt at the time! Imagine a parrot on your shoulder during a fitness test and you’ll fail too.

Together, we had the parrot fly up into the stand for a bird’s eye view, which was the best place to observe and offer helpful advice. And of course, the referee passed with flying colors.

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?

The petrifying fear of failure is an irrational, subconscious response. That’s why my soccer referee imagined a sabotaging parrot. But no matter how odd that might seem to you and I, for him it was extremely real, and that’s why I helped him use his own imagination to solve the problem.

None of that would have worked if the referee hadn’t been fit enough in the first place. So my advice is; put the effort in to succeed and then just change your mindset.

By the way, do you know the one thing smarter than a talking parrot? It’s a spelling bee!

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.

The place to start is in recognizing that the task you are frightened of failing at is actually possible. Other people can do it without failing. In fact, some people do it really well, and feel great about doing it. So as long as the task or activity is realistically achievable, it’s not fear of the activity itself that’s holding you back, it’s fear of how you might feel if it goes wrong.

The good news is that changing how you feel is just a state of mind. You don’t need time, money or anything else to change how you feel. Want to feel happy? Be happy! Want to feel excited? Go on — you can do it now! Every feeling is a personal choice, so you just need to make the decision to take control of your own feelings.

Not many people know this, but I was once frightened of public speaking. I got anxious, scared, and frightened of making a fool of myself. But I got so frustrated at listening to really bad speakers, that I decided to have a go myself. I simply realized that I couldn’t possibly be any worse!

The secret to overcoming that fear is to concentrate on how great you’ll feel when you’ve conquered it. It takes a little practice, but soon becomes second nature. In my case, I quite liked the idea of hearing rousing applause at the end of a keynote (though I wasn’t yet at the stage where I could deliver an applause-worthy speech).

The next step is to take action. Many people find the fear of failure paralyzing and never get further than that. So the secret to overcoming that old fear is to do something — anything — about it. I bit the bullet and signed up for training in public speaking. I was very nervous but quite determined.

Whatever action you choose, notice what happens at every step. Are things improving? Great, keep going! Are they getting worse? OK, stop and be flexible enough to try something else. As long as you keep taking action, noticing the clues and adapting your method, you will always end up moving in the right direction. My public speaking training involved simple tools and lots of practice. Not all of it was easy, and some of my presentations fell flat, but I was determined to learn from the experience.

Finally, if you’ve put the effort in, you just need to believe in yourself! Think about it — if you don’t believe it, why should anyone else? So have confidence in your abilities and notice that your ‘audience’ will have the uncanny knack of believing you too. That’s what happened to me: I signed up for a major keynote in front of 500 industry peers, a group of people who really knew their stuff. Was I nervous? Of course. But I also smashed it — in fact afterwards many people came over to congratulate me on such a confident presentation. I was walking on air, I can tell you, and now I teach public speaking!

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?

Yes, but only in part. Many people — and I imagine this includes Aristotle — put a great deal of emphasis on defining success so specifically that it reduces the chance of getting exactly what they want. That house of your dreams would be perfect in every way, except the picket fence is the ever so slightly the wrong color. Sometimes we’re just too picky, and that prevents us from recognizing and appreciating our successes.

In contrast, understanding what outcome you really want is a sure-fire way of setting yourself up for success. For example, dreaming of ‘a home filled with laughter that my family can be happy in’ opens up so many more ways of finding the perfect home.

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. :-)

Happiness is a choice.

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 have loved the opportunity to meet her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II. She acceded to the throne at an early age and over seven decades devoted her life to the service of her country. As President Macron of France commented upon her death, she wasn’t just a queen, she was The Queen.

How can our readers further follow your work online?

You can find out more details by visiting themindsmithgroup.com where I post details of regular workshops and masterclasses about enhancing personal performance.

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.

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Savio P. Clemente
Authority Magazine

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