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How can we overcome the fear of failure?

The first thing to remember before embarking on a venture is that mistakes and failure are feedback. Break the mental set that failure is bad and wrong and success is good. Neither is good or bad, right or wrong. They are simply outcomes. There are no bad decisions, only good decisions with the undesired outcomes.

Failure is not personal. It just feels like that. Stop worrying about what people might think of you if you fail. The people who matter, care about who you are. They don’t care about whether you fail. Therefore don’t take failure personally. It is not about you as a person. It is just results, just outcomes.
Think of failure as a learning experience and accept that failure is a natural part of learning. Truly successful people have failed many times and they are good at failing. They don’t care; they pick themselves up and get on with it. In Silicon Valley, only one in twenty start-ups is still going after three years. The others fall by the wayside for a variety of reasons. However the average entrepreneur in Silicon Valley is on his (or her) third or fourth endeavour. Obviously THEY don’t give up. There are some interesting successful people who had many “failures” before they achieved success.
  • Henry Ford went bankrupt several times before he founded Henry Ford and Son at age 41.
  • Walt Disney’s first animation company went bankrupt.
  • JK Rowling’s books were refused by several publishers before she got a break.
Therefore become good at failing! Thomas Edison tried several hundred techniques to develop the incandescent light bulb. When people asked him why he just didn’t give up he said because he was succeeding at identifying filaments which were not suitable rather than saying that he was failing to identify a suitable one. Later in his life he famously said that “Many of life's failures are people who did not realise how close they were to success when they gave up”.

It is the fear of failure rather than the failure which hurts us more. Therefore think out the likelihood of failure and the consequences of failure in advance. What can you live with? Don’t underestimate your ability to survive and recover from failure. Take the chance and face up to your fears. Prove to yourself that you can survive.

Research the alternatives. Potential consequences often seem worse than they really are. Look for the worst outcome and develop contingency plans. Put the worst case scenario into perspective. If you failed spectacularly, how long would it take you to recover?

Don’t let the motto “Anything worth doing is worth doing well” stop you from doing something. That is for when you are established and want to maintain standards. “Anything worth doing is worth having a go at and worth failing at.” So have a go. Take action.

Low self-esteem can make us over generalise our failures. The solution is not to build self-esteem first. Action helps to create self-esteem. It is not useful waiting until your self-esteem is at a high enough level before you start to do something. This might never happen. Self-esteem is built with small achievements (not necessarily successes). The more achievements, the better your self-esteem and you will have the courage to take bolder steps.

Finally, consider the cost of missed opportunities. Without taking some risk you can’t exploit any opportunities. You can lead a quiet and reasonable happy life but you are unlikely to create something new. What mark do you want to make on the world? What do you want people talking about at your funeral? Go for it!

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