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How to manage fear of failure

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Every day we are bombarded with images of success stories on social media. It’s no wonder that this makes many people feel bad about their own achievements in life. This article is for you if you put pressure on yourself by thinking that you should be more successful, or if you suffer from a fear of failure that holds you back in life. 

Many of my clients are worried about failing. For some that’s about failure at work; for others it’s about failing in business, relationships or life generally. Whilst it is perfectly normal to work hard to avoid failure, it’s important to be aware when we are becoming obsessed with this.  Even some of my most successful clients, who have nothing serious to worry about, still fear failure.

This fear creates stress and anxiety that can make your life miserable.  It may even lead to procrastination or giving up, thus making it more likely that you will indeed fail at achieving your goals.

So how can you manage this fear and cultivate a healthy relationship with failure? This article looks at the concept of failure from six different angles to help you make friends with the possibility that sometimes you will indeed fail in life, and that’s OK.

1. Failure is part of life

We all experience some sort of failure at certain points in our lives. Failing is unavoidable. If you are inspired by successful people, check out how many failures they experienced before they achieved the success they became known for. Just think of Richard Branson, who had many business disasters, such as Virgin Cola, Virgin Cosmetics and Virgin Brides.

You will also find that people who have been successful in one area of life, such as business, may have failed in others, like being present for their family. Whenever I see pictures of Elon Musk, I get the impression that he does not look very happy and fulfilled. Indeed, in a recent interview he talked about his loneliness and his recent split from the musician Grimes, with whom he shares two children.  When we see images of success on social media, we don’t know what’s really going on in that person’s life.

The sooner we let go of the insane expectation that it is possible to sail through life without any failure or rejection, the better for our emotional wellbeing. Failure may feel uncomfortable, but that’s OK because discomfort comes with growth opportunities. If we accept that failure is part of life, we can embrace it as a learning experience.

2. Failure has benefits

I believe that failures are not only unavoidable, they are also essential for our personal and professional growth.  It is only through trial and error that we gather information and learn.

Sometimes, the only way to find out whether something works is to try it out. For example, I tell my career coaching clients that you can only establish whether you enjoy a particular career if you are in it. When you then find out that it’s not a good fit for you after all, you have two main options:  Do you resign yourself to a life of misery by staying in the job because that’s what you have been trained to do? Or do you cut your losses and change career? I would regard staying in the job as the real “failure” and changing your career as mastering life challenges with resourcefulness.

3. If you have not failed yet, you may have played too safe

If you have indeed been able to avoid failures in your life so far, then I question whether you have been playing too safe.  For example, if you win each and every sales pitch, it may well be that your prices are too low.  If you can do your job with your eyes closed, maybe it’s time for a new challenge? When we truly play boldly in life, our path will be full of both failures and successes.

4. What is failure anyway?

A failure is not a reflection of who you are. The word failure is a negative label that we give to experiences that did not play out as we wanted.  For many, this label is loaded with a strong emotional charge. Some people have genuine existential worries about failing in key areas of their life, but for most of my clients it’s more about how they will be perceived by others if they fail. They give power away to others by making their feelings about themselves and their life dependent on what other people think.

Another way of looking at failure is that it’s simply trial and error:  We have tried something, it did not work out as we expected, so we adjust our strategy. No big deal.

The real failure is not to even try because we are too scared.

5. You will survive failure

Human beings are driven by primal survival instincts that want to keep us safe. They operate subconsciously and don’t differentiate well between real existential threats and ordinary day-to-day challenges.  In most cases my clients find that their fears are not about genuine existential worries.  If you lose a competition, are rejected by someone you fancy or don’t get the promotion you are after, it’s not the end of the world.  You will even survive more serious failures such as losing a business or job.  Indeed, people often report how serious life crises have helped them grow and become better persons.

When my life coaching clients struggle with fear of failure, I invite them to make friends with the worst-case scenario.  I ask them to consider what would happen if their fears became reality and they indeed failed in their endeavours. The answer is usually that life would go on and they would find ways to recover.

6. How to make the best of failing

My advice is not to beat yourself up if you do not achieve a goal.  Negative self-talk adds even more stress and anxiety that could turn into an emotional downwards spiral. It may affect your motivation and ability to turn the perceived failure into a positive learning experience.

When you experience failure, it’s likely that you did what you thought was required to succeed at the time. If things did not play out as you expected, acknowledge your efforts and good intentions. Then review the chain of events as if you were a curious engineer, looking at the issue without emotional attachment:

  • What exactly did not work?
  • Which parts of the process could be improved?
  • What other strategies could be tried?
  • Who could help you with this?

Each failure contains valuable information that can help us grow.  It also puts us at a significant junction: Do we become disheartened and maybe even give up, or do we process what happened, regroup and adjust our strategy?

How effective are you at hitting your goals?

If you are interested in giving yourself an extra advantage for hitting your career or life goals, let’s talk.  Working with a life coach like me will support you in various ways:

  • Gaining clarity about your key life goals and what makes them important to you
  • Creating a detailed strategy for your goals
  • Being held accountable for taking action
  • Having regular check-in points to discuss progress and obstacles
  • Learning about subconscious patterns that may be holding you back in life and how to manage them. I use Enneagram assessments to help you understand the “operating system” on which you run.

You can schedule a FREE Discovery Call with me here to discuss your career, business and life goals, and how working with me might help you hit them faster. I would love to hear from you.

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