Flopping. Falling on your face. Flunking out. A pure, unadulterated f-up. No matter what you call it, messing up is part of growth. Here are some humbling facts on those who have fallen and dusted themselves off with astonishing commitment to their goal:
- 29 medical schools rejected Elizabeth Blackwell, the 1st US woman to earn a medical degree
- 39 failures occurred before chemists were able to create WD-40 (hence the name 40!)
- 51 unsuccessful games were produced by Rovio before they developed Angry Birds
- ~600 auditions were failed before Mark Ruffalo landed his first role
- 5,126 vacuum prototypes were created by James Dyson
These statistics are a great reminder that even if you’re falling flat on your face you’re moving forward. But if this is all true, and failure leads to success, why do we fear failure so much? What do we do about the fear and how can we embrace failure?
Why do we fear failure?
Well, it all starts with death.
Turns out, during our prehistoric past we were only as strong as our social groups. Being ostracized from your social group would have meant certain death. To save us from dying alone in the wilderness, our brains evolved a clever trick: do everything possible to avoid rejection by other people. We’re here today because our ancestors avoided rejection, aka failure, at all costs.
Fast forward a few thousand years and many of us are still afraid of failing. Fear of failure (also called “atychiphobia”) is when we allow that fear to get in the way of what we want to accomplish. When it comes down to it, we like to remain snuggled on life’s comfortable couch. I mean really, who wants to do something that makes them feel bad?! But if we allow fear to stop our forward progress in life, we’re going to surf that comfortable couch forever, missing great opportunities that come our way.
According to Mind Tools, you might experience some or all of these symptoms if you have a fear of failure:
- Reluctance: You are hesitant or unwilling to try new things or get involved in challenging projects.
- Self-sabotage: You might, for example, procrastinate, have excessive anxiety, or not follow through on a task.
- Low self-confidence: You regularly use negative statements such as “I’ll never be good enough to get that promotion” or “I’m not smart enough to get on that team.”
- Perfectionism:You only try things that you know you’ll finish perfectly and successfully.
How to address the fear
So what can you do about it? Let’s be realistic. The fear will likely never go away. But with the right mindset, you can acknowledge it and come up with a plan to confront it. And the best place to start is to identify the root cause of your fear. Is it a fear of looking ignorant? Injury to pride? Social rejection?
All of these?
Once you’ve landed on the root cause, the next step is to develop a plan to address the fear.
- First, get out of your head: Anytime you find yourself overthinking something, you, my friend, are stalling. Use the The Five-Second Rule: When you have an impulse to do something, act on it within five seconds, or your brain will veto it.
- Look at the worse-case scenario: Sure, in some cases, the worst-case scenario may be truly disastrous. But in most cases, the worst case may actually not be that bad
- Build a support network: Find people who are willing to support you in your journey. Never be afraid to ask for help. You never know who your next mentor, investor, or partner might be.
- Keep your eyes on the goal: Set your mind on the outcome. The more you focus on the end game, the more likely you’ll be to take the first step.
- Plan to fail: Yes, you’re going to fail. Many times. So what! The more often you put yourself out there, the more you’ll get used to failing…and it’ll be easier each time.
- Have a contingency plan: Having a “Plan B” or next steps to follow if you do fail can help you feel more confident about moving forward.
Okay, here’s a simple way to start:
- Pick something you’ve been wanting to do but have been afraid to do.
- Identify what’s holding you back.
- Think about what’s the worst that could happen.
Feel better? Still think, what if I fail? Well, remember: you might fail, and then you move on.
Now we know why we fear failure and we know how to address that fear. The rest is up to us. We can choose to see failure as the end of the world. Or, we can look at failure as the incredible learning experience that it often is. These lessons are very important. They’re how we grow. Failures stop us only if we let them.