We Need to Talk About Failure..
Updated: Nov 30, 2020
I’ve lost count of the times I’ve heard amazing, strong women like you say they fear failure.
“But what if it goes wrong?”
“What will people think?”’
“I can’t bear the disappointment of letting myself down...”
As a coach, I know it’s totally normal to fear failure, but it’s a shit-show for confidence if your desire to avoid it overtakes your ability to take action.
The fear of f*cking-up becomes so great that it sabotages your chances of doing the good stuff. You effectively become your own worst enemy. You stop pushing yourself, give up - or even worse - you just don’t try at all.
Before you know it, you’re trapped in a cycle of negative thinking – frustrated by your inability to take action and full of shame that you feel that way in the first place. And shame corrodes self-confidence. It eats away at you, fuels bad decisions and further restricts your ability to put yourself out there.
The fear of failure tends to boil down to three things.
1) A fear of risk. Our brains are programmed to focus on the negative and look for the risk in every situation. When you can’t guarantee success, action can seem like a massive gamble. You focus on playing it safe. Afterall, it’s snug in your comfort zone and it’s hard to move out of it. But as you know, it’s often the biggest gambles that yield the greatest rewards.
2) The shame of letting others down. You worry what others may think or how you might disappoint them. (And if you’re suffering from impostor syndrome, you can chuck in the fear of letting others see your ‘incompetence’ too.) You stop focusing on what people really think and start mind reading. The nagging inner-voice shouts louder and louder. And that causes those shame levels to sky-rocket.
3) The disappointment of letting yourself down. You worry that you’ll disappoint yourself through your own inability. You hold back from setting goals and working towards them because of it.
This is often rooted in perfectionism. Perhaps you’d rather not do something than do it imperfectly? Thinking moves to black-and-white and you ignore the all-important shades of grey. It becomes all about the end goal rather than appreciating your effort and the process you went through in order to get there.
The trouble is that this fear of failure quickly becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.
If you don’t put yourself out there, if you don’t take considered risks, if you don’t keep trying, you’ll disappoint yourself over and over again. Before you know it, your confidence is on the floor.
- Have you ever known someone who was full of talent and enthusiasm that amounted to nothing?
- Perhaps you know someone who shies away from promotions or turns down the prospects that would be perfect for them?
- Maybe you’re the one who sees the potential problems and threats behind every opportunity?
They’re all triggered by the fear of failure.
Worryingly, the more you fear failure yourself, the more you can project that fear outwards to other people: your colleagues, your children, your friends and family.
The benefits of a ‘growth mindset’ are numerous and well documented, but the more you show your unwillingness to experiment or get things wrong, the more pressure it can put on others to live up to those same expectations. (I remember being terrified of a boss who was totally unaccepting of failure. Conversely, this made our team’s performance much weaker as we didn’t dare ‘think outside of the box’ or suggest anything new. It effectively sucked the creativity right out of each and every one of us.)
So. what can you do to kick the fear of failure in the unmentionables.
1) Explore it. Work out where it comes from. Was it fuelled by parents who never thought you were good enough? Have you had a terribly experience that springs to mind each time you try something new? Is it based in insecurity or fear of rejection? By exploring what’s bubbling under the surface, you can start to lessen its power and work out strategies to get comfortable with the prospect of getting things wrong.
2) Own it. Know that things can get scary and there is always a risk that they might go wrong – but that’s just life. By its very nature, it can be unpredictable. But you are strong and even if things do get tits-up, you can learn to fail fearlessly! You’ve done it before, you will do it again.
3) Reframe it. Understand that every time you get something wrong you are one step closer to getting it right. There’s no such thing as failure – just feedback. Getting things wrong is an important part of the learning process. Toddlers learn to walk by falling over. You create a new recipe by experimenting. You’ll often find your prince or princess by kissing a few frogs first. It’s impossible to succeed all of the time – and if you did life would be very dull. You need those failures to point you in the right direction and to appreciate the wins when they happen.
4) Accept it. What’s the worst that can happen? Which bits of the process can you control and what’s beyond your control altogether? Accept those bits then zone in on what you can influence. And whilst there are times when failure would be crippling, more often the not the stakes aren’t ridiculously high. You may feel some discomfort if things don’t go your way, but discomfort is temporary. Ask yourself, what’s the worst that could happen?
5) Keep on trucking. Sometimes our ‘failures’ are blessings in disguise. Think of Walt Disney who was fired from a job for having ‘no imagination’, or Vera Wang who failed to make it as a figure skater before becoming one of the most iconic designers of all time. Thomas Edison tried 10,000 time to invent the lightbulb – imagine how different the world would have been if he decided he’d failed and stopped at the 1,000th attempt?
If you can conquer the fear of failure, the world becomes your oyster..
..Positivity propels you forwards, threats become opportunities and hurdles aren’t humiliations, just valuable directions as to where the right way lies.
P.S. If you want to explore this more, join my free community, The Confidence Build for Women where we cover topics like this all the time.