It’s not an exaggeration to say that when I moved to New York City with $200 and a suitcase, I was full of fear. As you know, $200 is enough for a few overpriced meals and not much else in the Big Apple. And that degree in English? It’s not exactly what Wall Street looks for when they say “you’re hired.”
So yes, I had a dream to change the face of Wall Street, but I was also initially pretty fearful.
In the end, it turned out that all the symptoms of fear were pointing to success — I just needed to ignore that irrational voice we all get in our head and put in some elbow grease.
Whether it’s opening a new business or simply applying for that promotion you’ve been dying to get at work, we have all had moments where our fear of failing stops us from taking the first step towards a better life.
Let’s pause. That seems pretty irrational doesn’t it?
Why do our brains sometimes ignore how talented, successful and fantastic we are and focus instead on our anxieties and fear of failure?
Why Is Fear Louder Than Success?
Let’s get one thing straight: a lot of the fears we experience today are irrational. If you’ve ever been afraid to deliver that power point presentation in front of your peers, you can thank irrational fear for that icky sensation.
So, why do you get clammy hand syndrome when you’re suddenly asked to speak in front of a crowd? Or why does your stomach drop when your boss says, “can you step into my office, please?”
You can thank your ancestors for that.
Thousands of years ago our cave(gal) ancestors were far more concerned about surviving in the wild than getting a promotion.
When your great-great-great (etc.) grandmother spotted a tasty fruit and felt a rush of adrenaline when she noticed that tiger out of the corner of her eye? That rush was fear, and that fear is what saved her life.
Since we don’t have to worry about tigers hanging out at the office water cooler, there’s really nowhere for the fear to go. So it “expresses itself” in the most nonsensical and irrational ways.
One of those ways is through negativity bias.
Negativity bias is the theory that negative emotions, such as fear, anxiety, or sadness, are automatically given precedence in our minds over equally positive emotions and experiences.
This is more than being an Eeyore: our brains are actually instinctually hardwired to focus on the negative.
While I’m glad that fear exists when I’m crossing the street in NYC (I’d argue that some city drivers are more dangerous than saber-tooth tigers), this bias usually doesn’t apply in our modern world.
Yes, there are times when fear may be useful when we find ourselves needing to react to difficult situations, but chances are that you aren’t going to be attacked by a wooly mammoth if you take a leap of faith.
So how do successful people redirect this emotion so that it works for them instead of against them? Simple: they reframe the fear.
When you reframe your fear into a mindset of opportunity and abundance, you can channel those thousands of negative thoughts into positive emotions.
By doing this, you will start considering the possibilities of positive change instead of just being paralyzed by primal negative instincts.
Or, as the great Tina Fey once said, “you can’t be the kid standing at the top of the waterslide, overthinking it. You just have to go down the chute.”
So ask yourself, “Why not?”
Why not send in that job application?
Why not move across the country for that amazing job opportunity?
Why not start that business you have been dreaming about owning for years?
It’s true that no decision is absent from risk, but allowing yourself to take smart risks is essential to get anywhere in life.
Technically, even leaving the house in the morning involves a lot of risk. You could get hit by a car, struck by lightning … I could go on and on.
Whether it’s opening the front door, or getting that new job, the ultra-successful are able to reframe their thoughts, and look at opportunities as well as possible failures. While even successful people struggle with the primal pull of fear, they understand that refusing to take a risk essentially stops them in their tracks.
When a marathon runner can’t go on past the 20 mile mark, did they fail? Of course they didn’t! What they did was succeed in running twenty miles, which in itself is a major accomplishment.
JK Rowling put it best when she said “It is impossible to live without failing at something, unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all — in which case, you fail by default.”
If you take a risk on applying to a new job and don’t get the position, did you fail? Absolutely not!
If that was the case, I failed thousands of times and I’m an utter disaster. What you and I did gain was valuable experience. The experience that can then be applied to future endeavors, and will ultimately open doors that we never expected.
By redefining failure to focus on the experience and success gained through the process, you remove the power that fear tries so desperately to hold over you.
Remember, the fear of failure does not have to control your mind or the decisions that you make.
Risk is necessary for growth, and perceived failures are part of that beautiful experience we call life.
So focus on the possibilities instead of fear: the world will open up and you’ll take that first step towards becoming the greatest version of yourself.