How to get over your fear of failure

fear

Over the years as a coach, I’ve heard hundreds of people’s deepest desires for their career and their life.

I’ve listened to stories of people not pursuing career changes, business ideas, cross-country moves, higher education, artistic pursuits, and so many other possibilities for years, sometimes decades of their lives.

Sometimes when I’m out at the grocery store, or at the gym, or out to dinner, I’ll look around and wonder, “How many of these people also have secret dreams and desires that they’re not acting on?”

I think it might break my heart to know the answer.

If you ask these people why they’re not going after something they deeply want, they’ll likely have quick answers ready for you:

“I need to save up more money before I do that,” or “I want to hit this milestone before I get started,” or “I’ve got to do more research first,” or “I tried it once before and it didn’t work out, so I guess it’s not meant to be.”

Or (the most heartbreaking of all) “That’s not realistic, so why bother trying?”

While these responses might help you rationalize to yourself why you’re not going after something you want … 99% of the time they’re simply the surface-level excuses covering up the real reason you’re not taking action:

FEAR OF FAILURE

It’s scary to go after something you deeply want — anything from asking someone on a date, to starting your own business, to trying a new creative project — with no guarantee that it’ll turn out well.

You might get rejected, lose money, feel embarrassed, let someone down (including yourself), or regret a decision — in essence, you may epically fail. And that’s terrifying!

It’s no wonder so many of us choose to live out our dreams in the safety of our minds (or try to ignore them completely), instead of going after them in the real world where they may come crashing down around us.

The problem is, while you may feel more comfortable in the short-term by indefinitely postponing your dreams, you’re setting yourself up for exponentially more discomfort and regret in the long-term.

THINK OF YOURSELF AS A TODDLER

Author and blogger Mark Manson has the perfect analogy to give us all a much-needed reality check about our fear of failure.

He reminds us that, when toddlers are first learning to walk, they fall down constantly. But they don’t think, “Man, I keep falling, so I guess this whole walking thing just isn’t for me. I’ll just give up and crawl everywhere for the rest of my life.”

Nope, they just get up and try taking a few more steps. And eventually, they fall less and less often until they’re racing around the house as fast as their little legs can carry them.

Not to compare myself to a one-year-old, but … when Rachel and I were first starting Clarity on Fire, I felt a lot like that stubborn toddler determined to walk, despite hardly being able to stand up on unsteady legs.

In that first year of business, I can’t count the number of times I got asked different versions of the same question: “What will you do if this business doesn’t work out?”

My answer? Well, I didn’t really have an answer. For better or for worse, I didn’t have a Plan B. I simply told them, “I’m just going to keep doing this until it does work.”

That didn’t mean I wasn’t afraid we would fail. In fact, we’d already failed at all kinds of things we’d tried in business, and I had no doubt that we would fail many more times.

It’s just that I had the same stubborn mentality as that toddler. I knew that, if I stumbled and failed enough, eventually I’d learn to walk … or, in this case, build a business that actually made money and helped lots of people.

The real failure, in my mind, was to give up trying.

DON’T LET YOUR FEAR LEAD TO SOUL DEATH

If reading this is giving you that “oh crap, this is ringing a little too close to home” feeling, you’re definitely not alone. Everyone is afraid of failing. It’s part of being human.

It just means that the survival part of your brain — the part that’s constantly trying to protect you and would prefer that you live in a protective bubble and never do anything risky or scary — is a little too good at its job.

That fearful part of your brain isn’t remotely concerned with your soul’s agenda. It would much rather you stay small and safe than ever try something bold or creative, even if it might bring you deep satisfaction.

You’ll never get rid of that overprotective part of your brain that’s always in survival mode (and honestly, you wouldn’t want to — recklessness is not what we’re going for here), but you don’t have to let it dictate your life.

HOW TO GET OVER YOUR FEAR OF FAILING

1. Remember that failure is not the opposite of success.

In fact, failure is a guaranteed part of the process on the way to success. If you let your failures prompt you to learn and grow, instead of giving up at the first setback, they can actually help you wise up and succeed faster. Failure doesn’t mean you’re getting further away from success — it can actually mean you’re getting closer.

Failure is NOT the opposite of success. It’s part of the journey to success.

2. Disconnect your failures from your identity.

There’s one huge difference between people who quickly bounce back from failure and those who let it paralyze them from ever trying again. The people who recover quickly think, “I failed,” while those who completely shut down internalize the screw-up and think, “I’m a failure.”

“I failed” stings, but “I’m a failure” is debilitating.

Let me be extraordinarily clear: Failing does NOT make you a failure. It simply makes you human. When you disconnect your failures from your identity and your sense of self-worth, you can finally see them for what they are — things that simply didn’t go according to plan. Only then can you let them go and try again.

3. Redefine what it means to fail.

Most people define failure as trying something that didn’t work out. But what if we completely redefined what it means to fail? What if, instead of failure meaning “this didn’t work out exactly as I envisioned,” you defined failure as never trying in the first place? That would mean that the only way you could possibly fail would be to never get started. Under that new definition, even if you try and it doesn’t work out, you still succeed.

I’ll leave you with one of my favorite questions from Liz Gilbert (author of Eat, Pray, Love and Big Magic):

So many self-help books ask the question, “What would you do if you knew that you could not fail?”

But the much more powerful, inspiring question to ask yourself is, “What would you do even if you knew that you might very well fail?”

Now I’d love to hear from you! What’s something you’d LOVE to try, but you’re afraid of failing? How will you redefine what it means to fail? Leave a comment below to share your thoughts with me!

TOO LONG, DIDN’T READ? LISTEN INSTEAD!

If reading long blogs just isn’t your deal, you’re in luck:

We’re now recording our blogs for you!

Here’s Kristen reading this week’s blog:

IF YOU LIKED THIS, THEN YOU’LL ALSO LOVE …

What to do when you feel like you’re behind in life

Why you need to stop fighting your life and just go with it

Feel like you’ve screwed up? Here’s why that’s OK.

Are you playing it safe?

Much Love,

Kristen (+ Rachel)

16 Comments // ADD COMMENT

16 comments

  • Rudransh

    i want to become a travel photographer….but my family is in school business…..we are running our own schools….so what should i do…..stay here and do this or do what i want to do…..

    • Kristen Walker

      Rudransh — It seems to me like you could absolutely do both! At least for now. There’s no reason you can’t work in your family business while pursuing and practicing your photography on the side. And eventually, your photography might become your full-time job, but that will take time to build up, so in the meantime, you don’t have to choose between the two.

  • Yostina

    Hello Kristen and Rachel,

    This is weird because I was listening to an audio about fear from Rhonda Britten just before getting your email. Such a synchronicity haha.

    In my life I want to manifest a relationship with someone certain and I’m going to have to travel to another country and spend lots of money to even get a chance to ask him and I’m very well aware of the possibility of failure and I’m really afraid of it but my desire is just so much stronger that I’m willing to do all that despite the fact that it might not work out becuase it will be death to my soul like you said in the article.

    Thank you for writing about this topic Kristen. Take care 🙂

    • Kristen Walker

      Yostina — I love when those kinds of synchronicities happen! 🙂 Glad this article hit at the perfect time for you. It’s not always easy — in fact, it’s often terrifying — to follow your soul’s calling. And even though there’s always a chance of failure, there’s a guarantee of regret if you never try.

  • Cindy

    Hi Kristen and Rachel, there is so much I want to say about this subject, but I think the first thing I should focus on to overcome my fear of failure (and often I believe my fear of success as well) is to step out of my comfort zone. I know this sounds like a broad statement, but I have lived inside my safe bubble (and kept my children there as well) so long that this is going to require baby steps. If I can do this I believe I can do anything! First, I have to allow myself to take that first step and then to continue putting one foot in front of the other until I am walking out the door (thank you Frosty the Snowman!!!) haha.

    • Kristen Walker

      Cindy — It’s SO hard to leave the safe bubble of your comfort zone! You’re definitely not alone in feeling that way. And you’re absolutely right about taking baby steps. No need to throw yourself immediately into the deep end — if you do, chances are you’ll freak out and run back to your comfort zone, where you’ll never want to emerge! But if you draw yourself out of the bubble with small, manageable baby steps, you’ll ultimately make far more progress. You’ve got the right idea! 🙂

  • Sara

    After years of wanting, I finally bought the domain for my blog today. I’ve wanted to write forever, but it was the thing I was most scared I’d fail. I’m hoping it is the first step into a hobby I’ve been so eager to pursue. If writing is not meant for me, at least, finally I can say I gave it an honest try. But, I have a feeling the universe is like “Finally” and that it’s going to take me places I never dreamed of. Adventure time!

    • Kristen Walker

      That’s so amazing, Sara!! Wow, congrats on taking that first big step! It’s really scary to finally start putting something you’ve dreamed about for so long into action — it’s not just a fantasy now, it’s becoming real! That’s equal parts exciting and terrifying. But I have a feeling you’re right, the universe has been waiting for you to get started, and now it can support you on this new adventure and turn it into something better than you could have imagined. Make sure to celebrate this milestone!

  • Rachel

    This came along at a perfect time for me. Earlier this month, I quit my job after having spent 10 years in a conservative corporate environment. I don’t know what I’m doing for sure next, but I knew taking a leap of faith and clearing my energy of the toxic corporate culture was the first step. Since informing my boss that I want to quit, my ideas have been developing rapidly. I’ve always wanted to be involved in the music industry, and I see my path. Last week, I helped my partner create an etsy shop for his artwork (https://www.etsy.com/shop/Dazzle42Productions?ref=search_shop_redirect), which led to a local band’s asking if he wanted to live paint at their show on Friday. While helping at the show, I realized, this is what I’m always meant to be doing. My brother was in a band growing up, and I was always helping to load equipment or break it down. I’ve always been around musicians and artists. Yesterday, I was on my way home from NYC when what I’m meant to do hit me. I am going to build a team and start my own music/art production company. I don’t know how or when, but I have zero fear of the unknown. This blog is so helpful in reshaping my perception of success. I don’t need to be immediately successful and profit from it. My intention is to feel passionately about my work and to show other creatives that they can do whatever they set their minds to, and I will lead by example. With that as my ultimate goal, I know the financial abundance will come in time.

    • Kristen Walker

      Hey Rachel! Wow, this all so amazing! It sounds like quitting your job and healing from the toxic corporate culture has inspired so many amazing ideas and fed the vision of your future. And you’re already getting proof that your ideas are working (and quickly, too!) on behalf of your partner. It feels like, after quitting your job, you were following the breadcrumb trail of your ideas until they led to a big epiphany moment of the bigger work you want to do in the world. And I love your belief and trust that, when you follow your soul’s agenda and bring passion and service to your work, you can’t help but succeed. So inspiring! Thanks for sharing. 🙂

  • Nakia

    What would I do if I knew I couldn’t fail – I would entertain; perform music and poetry live.

    • Kristen Walker

      That’s so great, Nakia! It’s totally natural to feel nervous or afraid of putting yourself (and your creativity) out there in such a vulnerable way, but how can you take action on this dream anyway?

  • Sally

    Online dating or dating in general. I’m not sure if I want it badly enough but then worry that I’ll regret it later 🙁

    • Kristen Walker

      Such a good example, Sally! I’m sure lots of people feel the same about dating. Try asking yourself this clarifying question, and answer as honestly as you can: “Am I not interested in online dating (and dating in general) because it’s simply not a priority in my life right now or because I’m afraid of getting rejected and/or disappointed?” Your honest answer to that will reveal a lot!

  • Clarity on Fire

    […] of Not Giving a F*ck (seriously, I was so impressed by this book. And yes, this book also inspired Kristen’s blog last week. We’re both reading it at the same time!). It goes something like […]

  • Susan

    I’m 47 and got accepted to nursing school 2 years ago and dropped out. Afraid it wasn’t for me. Now I regret it and wonder if I should go back. I also have a fashion item I have invented and I got some made and sold them to my friends. I couldn’t afford to market it. The same item was just on the today show as one of the top items of 2017. I just don’t have enough confidence in myself.