The Antidote To Fear of Failing is Commitment
Advice That Changed How I Feel About Failure.
“Fate whispers to the warrior, ‘You cannot withstand the storm.’ The warrior whispers back, ‘I am the storm.’ — Unknown”
In early 2014, I decided to write about shutting down my startup, Blurtt. I wrote this piece without measuring my words. I sent it to my friend and editor of TechCrunch, John Biggs. “What do I do with this?” He said, “Put it on Medium!” A few minutes later he wrote back, “I want to publish this.” I had been TechCrunch-ed before but this time, instead of my company being covered, the story was about me and all the ways I had failed to save my company. As a writer, I am most proud of this one blog post because it has gone on to help so many aspiring entrepreneurs.
After the post on TechCrunch, people contacted me to see if I’d be interested in selling my company. Some of these conversations were with companies I had long admired like meme creator Cheezburger, JibJab and TouchNote in the UK. But Blurtt was no longer salvageable and it was a one-woman shop. My two cofounders had long moved on and my development team was a contract-for-hire product development team, who eventually became my next employer.
I made top failed startup lists on Business Insider, CBInsights, a venture capitalist’s coroner’s report and included in academic research at Stanford. They felt most people are not open to talk about failure and I was.
I was a figure skater and ballerina growing up. I fell every day on the ice and I had to dance with bloody toes for several hours a day. I mentally prepared myself at a very young age that in order to succeed, pain was a part of the gig. This is probably why the all-nighters in investment banking never bothered me. I never minded the sacrifices of saying ‘no’ to social events or not dating because I had to work. I didn’t mind pushing the envelope at work and speaking up in meetings. I leaned in — and hard. But I can also tell you how most of the time, that was simply not good enough. All the pain, all the sacrifice — meant absolutely nothing.
How do you not feel bitterness and resentment when you know you gave something your absolute all and did not mind the work, the pain, the blood, the tears and it still was not good enough for some venture capitalist or Silicon Valley engineer who thinks people choose to live in Dallas because they couldn’t make it in Silicon Valley. I even started to resent Sheryl Sandberg and gender equality bloggers who made it sound like the reason why women don’t succeed in the workplace is because we are opting out or we are not leaning in hard enough. I’m single and I have no kids so the only thing I opted out of was having a life outside of work. I work all the time and you are right, I don’t lean in — I barge in. I learned this lesson from Dave Komansky, former Merrill Lynch CEO. I never considered for one minute in my existence that because I was a woman, my “entrance strategy” may not be taken so well by others — mostly who were all men. I was only thinking of Dave and how he made his presence known at Mother Merrill. I liked his story and I wanted to make it my own.
I can tell you I used to not feel fear — and now I do. I don’t know if my heart can withstand another blow — and I know another blow is inevitable. I don’t care that I make top startup failure lists. It is not my ego that is getting in the way. It’s me. I’m getting in my own way. I overthink everything and then I just stand there — paralyzed by fear. It’s as if I’m bracing myself for the impact.
A month ago, I decided to re-conquer my one life’s regret by coming back to figure skating after 30 years. Ironically I wrote a post in the Huff Post, “How I Overcame the Fear of Failure” about my regret, only to write this post now about how I am still scared to fall. I have had some bad falls so I’m scared to jump again.
I don’t think it is an accident that I decided to try to make a figure skating comeback after 30 years. It is my unrealistic expectations that has fueled so much of my achievement, but at the same time, caused me so much misery. I want to compete again but I can hear the negative voices in my head. This is not how I envisioned my skating life going. It was supposed to be my moment of joy.
I spoke with my skating coach and shared that I was having confidence issues on my jumps and she said, “If you are going to commit, commit.” Ah. Wait, so the antidote to fear of failing is not ‘thinking bravely’ but commitment? I approached my next skating practice thinking about committing to the landing, instead of aborting a jump mid-flight out of fear I’d fall. And guess what? It worked! That day I landed three jumps with little effort.
Next time you find yourself paralyzed with fear, instead of asking yourself to be brave, think of committing to what scares you the most and do it.