Taking the Fear Out of Failure

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By Michele Towers; President, Strong Tower Coaching- Aurora
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What would you do today in your career or business if failure was not a possibility, and whatever you did was guaranteed to succeed?

To answer this question opens up a door of endless possibilities.  Think of the things you could accomplish!  Imagine the unprecedented success you could experience!  Consider the impact you could make on others around you and in your community!

The problem, however, is this:  Too often, fear of failure can be the barrier that stops you from attaining that next level of achievement.  Fear may sound something like this:

- “I don’t think I will apply for that new position.  What if I don’t get it?”

- “We need to lower our projected savings.  Too many things could go wrong.”

- “I want to stick with what I know works.  If this new idea fails, it could make me look foolish.”

The fear of failure can quickly restrict and suffocate growth and expansion of your goals.  I want to share with you two myths about failure, and how they impact our thinking processes.  Once these myths are recognized – then debunked – you then have the potential to discover a new and expanded path of opportunities and growth open up to you. 

Myth #1:  “Failure is always a bad thing”

Because failure often does not feel good, it is easy to have a tendency to begin thinking that IT isn’t good.  The truth is, without failure, you would never recognize the feelings of satisfaction and gratification that come when you experience success. 

Not only that, but failure is actually part of the growth process.  For example, when I first starting cooking several years ago, I must confess that I was not so good at it.  More often than not, I found myself burning the bread, misusing my spices, and consistently under-cooking or over-cooking my dishes.  I failed at many meals, and my poor – but gracious – husband paid for my mistakes. 

However, I made the decision to learn from my errors.  I bought dozens of cookbooks.  I began to watch the cooking channel religiously.  I stepped out of my comfort zone to try new spices, new foods, and new techniques.  Along the way a few dishes still failed, but more and more of them became successes.  Today, I am known by my teenaged son’s friends as “the mom who cooks really great food!”

These same principles apply in the business world.  Make the decision to stretch outside of your comfort zone and try something you’ve never tried before.  Regardless of the outcome, identify what you have learned from the experience, and use it as a spring board for the next opportunity to come.

Myth #2:  “Failing means that I am a Failure”

Too often, we have a tendency to focus on two letters in the word “failure”:  “U-R”.  Failing at something can be hard on the ego, and the unsuccessful experience can often attempt to label YOU as the problem.  In order to effectively overcome the fear of failure, it is critical to understand that you are not a failure.  You simply failed at doing something.

Freeing yourself from the “failure” label does not give free license to not take responsibility for outcomes.  It is important to make informed, researched decisions before taking action.  Make certain that you have done everything within your power to ensure that your plans can indeed be carried out. 

However, as Robert Burns once said, “The best laid plans of mice and men often go awry.”  Failure can often surface unexpectedly, and sometimes for those who least expect it.

When experiencing failure, continue to have confidence in yourself in spite of the outcome.  Although the idea or plan may have failed, by no means does that make you a failure.

We can learn a valuable lesson about failure from others:

  • Mozart, the great pioneer of music, was told that his opera “The Marriage of Figaro” was “far too noisy” and had “far too many notes”.
  • Vincent van Gogh, the historical painter, sold only one painting in his entire lifetime.
  • Thomas Edison, a great American inventor, was considered as “un-teachable” when he was a child.
  • Albert Einstein, known as an unprecedented genius, was told by a teacher that he would “never amount to much”.
  • Abraham Lincoln started numerous failed businesses and was defeated in many campaigns for public office.
  • Michael Jordan, known as a basketball icon, was cut from his high school basketball team.
  • Walt Disney was once fired by a newspaper editor because "he lacked imagination and had no good ideas."
  • Stephen King, a bestselling author many times over, had his first book rejected by publishers 30 times.

Never allow the fear of failure to block you from greater accomplishments.  Reach for a goal you’ve never attempted before.  Regardless of the outcome, learn from the experience, keep moving forward, and consider that any failures you encounter place you in the company of some of the greatest people on the planet.

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