How can I get over my fear of failure?
How can I stop fearing the concept of failure?
I’m so glad you used the term “concept” as opposed to “definition.” While Merriam-Webster defines failure as a lack of success, a falling short, an inability to perform a normal function—we’re left asking what is “normal,” anyway? Instead, failure is a concept in that it’s constructed for and by each of us. And thank goodness for that; when we treat failure as malleable rather than an inflexible truth, we leave growing room for all the versions of ourselves we’re bound to become.
I much prefer how psychotherapist and personal consultant Carley Sime identifies failure: as the state of living and working in a way that isn’t aligned with our values. When we embrace that approach, failure can become less about external standards and more about personal adjustments.
Lots of people (myself included) are hesitant to pursue new opportunities—especially in a public setting—because we’re afraid of what others will think. (Doesn’t everything feel public now thanks to social media?) We focus on the shame we might feel if all does not go according to plan, instead of the pride we’ll feel if it does. But on that list of personal values, as Sime mentions, how important is people’s perception of us?
In a recent interview, our founder and CEO AmyAnn Cadwell shared that, when considering starting The Good Trade, a mentor asked what she was afraid of and what her worst-case scenario would be. “For me,” said Cadwell, “it ended up being: I fail and it’s embarrassing. What if I have this public failure? Can I overcome that?” So she put those anxieties up against some of her other truths and ultimately determined: “I think my mom will still love me, I think my dogs will still adore me, [and I realized] I was willing to take that risk.”
Do your personal values also include family? Or are you motivated by authenticity, altruism, or independence? (If you’re not sure, here are few journal prompts to help you determine what your values are.) This isn’t to say that excellence and success cannot be of utmost importance to you—of course they can!—but even those can be subject to a move of the goal post at your own hands. Entrepreneur, author, and thought leader Seth Godin writes, “Excellence isn’t about meeting the spec, it’s about setting the spec… And tomorrow, if you’re good, you’ll reset that expectation again.”
We are the definers of our successes and, therefore, our own failures. So we can keep resetting and restarting until we meet our own standards.
If you’re feeling immobilized by fear, unable to take any action at all, consider if you can make your goals smaller and more manageable on your way to the grand prize. Are your goals specific, measurable, and achieveable? Consider too if what you’ve been wanting to pursue is truly driven by an existing passion or if it’s the result of feeling pressured by what others—your parents, your partner, or even your younger self—want for you. And once again, reflect on your values and consider if your desire to live firmly footed in them is stronger than your desire to avoid an error.
Failure becomes a lot less scary when we realize that we can shift our perspectives instead of sink into them, and I think we could all always stand to be a little more patient and gracious with ourselves. You are a person with drive; please continue to find comfort and confidence in that. And then grant yourself a bit of room to have fun, too.
Read more Good Questions here.
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Danielle Cheesman was born and raised in New Jersey, where she lived until moving to Philadelphia to study journalism at Temple University. She has spent her years writing and developing editorial visions for music, art, and lifestyle brands. Now residing in Los Angeles, you can usually find her taking pictures, making playlists, or cuddling her pup. Say hi on Instagram!