Do you have a fear of failure? Let’s do a quick check.
You’re up for an annual review and your boss isn’t saying anything. You also want a raise for all the extra work you’re doing. You could:
a. Waltz into the office and say, “Hey, how’s my review coming? I’m free to talk about it this afternoon?” Plan to ask for a raise as soon as you meet.
b. Wait for your boss to walk by and say, “Oh, by the way, I was wondering if we could talk sometime this week. Are you available?” Plan to ask for a raise only after and if a good review is provided.
c. Just wait. If your boss thinks you deserve it, you’ll get it. Coming off as arrogant will get you nowhere.
You’re working with a partner on a job you do all the time. You realize there’s an easier way to get something done, but your partner has more experience as you were once the trainee. You could:
a. Say, “I’m going to do it this way. This is why it’ll be more efficient”
b. Say, “Can I ask you about something? Would it be possible to try this a different way?”
c. Try to build up the courage to ask why it’s done that way, but otherwise shut up and do what you’re told. There’s a reason your partner has more seniority.
You have a burning desire to get out of your career but you need to support your family. And you know you could be happier doing what you love but it takes time and training and could hurt your family financially if it doesn’t work out. You could:
a. Tell your spouse you’re looking into a career change and have already assessed schools and jobs and have a plan. You’re putting in your two weeks tomorrow.
b. Tell your spouse you’d like to talk about your career and possible options as you’re not happy and you think you could be doing better for your family.
c. Just get through. You can’t afford the risk and don’t want to add any more stress to your spouse.
Real answers will vary, but if you leaned mostly into Cs you have a fear of failure.
Don’t worry, it’s not uncommon and there are ways to overcome your fears. Imagine knowing what you want and finding the path to it, only to cave at the thought of failing – except you don’t cave – you plow through and succeed.
Here’s how it works.
The Root of Your Fears
The first thing you want to do is find the root of your fears. Maybe you don’t want to call it a fear, but there’s a hesitation, a reluctance, to do this thing you want to do. In truth, it’s a fear of failure.
You’re standing at the top of a water slide and you see the pool below. It looks steep. Maybe you don’t like the idea of falling that far. Why? Well, what if you come off the slide? But loads of people went before you and you did see it from the side. It wasn’t that bad and they all came out smiling.
Does your fear make sense? Is it valid? Do others achieve this without fear often? If your fear is irrational, invalid, or uncommon, you might think again about what more realistic expectations would look like.
Did something happen that made you have this fear? Is it likely to happen again? If you burned your hand on a hot stove, you’re likely to be more cautious next time. Look at your goal. Is it a hot stove situation for you? How is it different this time around?
Knowing where your fear of failure is coming from will help you find a path to overcome it. While we’re at it, let’s talk about what exactly failure is.
What is failure in your mind? Is it making mistakes, not coming out on top, or looking foolish?
If your goal is to ask for a raise, then ask. If your goal is to get a raise, ask with a plan. Then, if you’re denied, you haven’t failed, you just haven’t succeeded yet.
See that? That’s a new way to look at it.
Failure doesn’t have to be not reaching your goal instantly. Very seldom do people reach their goals instantly. Failure could be when you stop trying or all roads are completely exhausted and a new goal must be conceived. If you want to overcome the fear of failure, it helps to redefine failure itself. When you redefine failure, you redefine your fears.
The Path Through Fear
Let’s look at those scenarios again and see if there’s a path through fear.
Are you afraid of seeming arrogant when asking for a raise? What could you do to avoid that? Be polite and give your reasons with humility. If you never ask, you’ll never know.
Are you afraid of your partner rejecting your ideas? Partners should communicate and work well together. Perhaps you could learn something from your partner’s feedback. Maybe your partner never thought of your idea before. There’s only one way to know.
Financial fear can be crippling, but not communicating in a marriage can be harmful to the relationship. Your spouse bears your stress whether you talk about it or not. Read that again. Talk about your ideas, your desires, and your fears, and come up with a plan together.
For every puzzle, every maze, and every problem, there is a solution. Maybe the solution isn’t what you’re expecting, but to find that solution, you need to find the path. If you want to find a way to overcome your fear of failure, you need to look at the root cause of your fear and start redefining failure.
Success Beyond Fear
Changing your perspective changes your outlook. If you have a fear of failure, change how you view failure or your goals. Maybe your goal is about asking for help or trying something instead of achieving it. Perhaps success is about working towards something and getting closer with every step. Maybe failure is not taking that step. Change how you define failure and success becomes more achievable.
Know what’s in your control and what you can do. Don’t hesitate to look at things differently. You can find success beyond fear if only you change how you view success and failure.
You don’t need to be stuck with your fears. You can overcome them and move on to the success you want.
So, what’s stopping you?