How to Deal With Fear of Failure in a Nutshell

When trying to make a change in life, you are often faced with the fear of failure. What’s the best way to deal with it?

Fear of failure is not something to eliminate but something for you to pinpoint and to be aware of, so you can dissect that fear and make an informed decision about whether or not you want to proceed.

When I was about to quit my job and leave my banking career, I experienced an extreme fear of failure. 

Everything up until that point in my career went so well. So thinking about a different and new path was something so foreign and scary to me – albeit exciting. 

What if I leave behind my position and salary at the bank and try to go into the entertainment industry, and then I completely fail and don’t achieve anything at all?

The risk was that I had to go back to my banking job. I imagined how dreadful the scenario of having to tell my ex-colleagues “Hi, umm, I’m back here, it didn’t work out”, would be.

I was contemplating for months whether that was something that I wanted to risk, for the possible reward of actually doing and achieving something in the entertainment industry.

Eventually, I thought yeah I’m okay with that risk

Even though I was afraid of taking it, afraid of failing and embarrassing myself, and not achieving anything.

I decided that I wanted to take that risk because the pull that the possible reward exerted on me was much larger than the fear that kept me away. 

I told myself that yes, I can always go back to my banking job if I had too.

It wouldn’t be the ideal thing to do, but I would surely not end up living under a bridge.

The risk was that I might not be able to start at the same position where I left. But if I were okay with taking any job out of necessity, I could always go back and find another job in banking.

With that in mind, I put that thought in a box and stored it away. I haven’t opened that box since and was fortunate not to have to return to my old job. 

This doesn’t mean that everything was smooth sailing. I still find myself on a journey of figuring out my ideal career path. But at least I felt stable enough on this path and didn’t feel compelled to return to the banking world.

Failure or at least temporary failure is always a possibility when you are trying to do something new.

This is so cliché, I know. But just because it’s the truth it doesn’t mean that it’s easy to accept. That is why until now I continue to drill this into my stubborn head.

Especially things that are worthwhile achieving come with a hefty dose of risk. There’s not much that we can do about that.

What’s important here is to try to identify the risk and quantify it as best as possible.

While it’s tough to do this with mathematical precision, it is possible and useful to outline major risks and rank them according to their likelihood.

Although it won’t be precise, it is still useful to have a rough estimation of what could go wrong, what the worst-case scenario is. What the pitfalls are and how we can manage the risk. 

Once you are aware of the risks, you can weigh those off against the possible rewards. 

What could you possibly lose? How could you fail? What could you gain?

You’ll be able to make a conscious decision on whether you’re willing to take on the risk for the chance of getting that reward. 

Fear of failure is not something to eliminate but something for you to pinpoint and to be aware of, so you can dissect that fear and make an informed decision about whether or not you want to proceed.

I experience fear of failure not only with big changes or large projects but also in dealing with more micro affairs.

For example, when I start writing a blog post, such as this one, I always feel a tiny bit of fear about how it will turn out. This is especially the case in the beginning when I’m looking at a blank screen and blinking cursor.

I ask myself things like “Will this blog post be good enough? Will I have something important and relevant to say? Is it worth writing down? Will anybody be interested in reading this?” 

And so on. You know the drill.

It’s a completely normal part of life and most people experience at least some fear of failure (even though not everybody will admit it. Oftentimes people are not even aware that fear is at the base of their indecision)

Look at it this way. Fear is important and necessary.

It keeps us from making fatal mistakes.=

I don’t want to be so idealistic as to say that there are no mistakes and no failures in life.

I mean you can certainly think of mistakes in that way, and try to frame it as something that will lead you to success.

But I do think that there is such a thing as a fatal mistake or a fatal failure. And we should name it for what it is. And that is something that we all want to try to avoid. 

For instance, it’s fair to say that we want to avoid to make the mistake of spending so much of our hard-earned savings on a business venture to the extent that we go bankrupt and go into debt and become miserable.

 Of course, you can bounce back from that but it is also reasonable to say that we want to try as much as possible to try to avoid such a situation.

And this is where fear of failure comes in handy.

It’s something that keeps us alert and helps us avoid trouble.  

Now the goal is not to try to eliminate the fear of failure – because that is almost impossible –  but what’s important is to try to identify is what kind of failure it is that you are afraid of.

Are you afraid to embarrass yourself?

Are you afraid to get fired? Lose money? 

It’s a very useful exercise to find out what exactly you’re afraid of in each particular case.

Only if you know what you’re afraid of will you be able to overcome part of the fear. 

In hurdling, a hurdle is something that you need to jump over so that you can continue to run, and eventually even win the race.

A hurdle is not something that you want to eliminate upfront. The goal is not to get it out of the way completely before you’ve even started. 

If there are no hurdles then there is no race. In other words, if you can’t deal with the possibility of failure, then you might as well not play the game.

Certainly, there is a chance that you will not be able to jump high enough, and your foot hits the hurdle and it will fall.

No matter how hard you prepared for that moment, the possibility still exists. 

It’s okay to have this fear. But once you’ve identified this, the next step is to make up your mind whether or not you are still going to participate in the race.

Is the risk of failure a risk worth taking, or would you rather not join the race at all? 


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