The epitome of failure: it has to be one of the worst feelings on the planet. It’s when you know you’ve screwed up, when you have to accept it, when there’s nothing else for you to do but surrender, confess your wrongs and learn from your mistakes. We all feel a certain amount of anxiety about it, don’t we? Life is full of things we could have done if we had no fear of failing or messing it up completely.
Although I’m admittedly afraid, I’m committed to ensuring that fear doesn’t interrupt my mission to achieve my goals. I believe that determining what failure and success mean to you and maybe changing your perception can help create a direct, individualized path to your idea of success. That’s why I put together a list of steps you can take to tap into your fear of failure in an attempt to conquer it.
1. First thing’s first: Define Failure.
What is failure, anyway? It’s a daunting term used in society to describe someone who has not succeeded at a goal he or she set for himself or herself. It’s a term we use to describe how we’re feeling if we don’t succeed at those goals. It’s a term that makes us feel like $h!% about ourselves, isn’t it?
2. Change your perspective!
But what is failure REALLY? Let’s look at evolution. According to it, failure is a feeling we experience when we don’t succeed at something that could be beneficial to our survival and reproductive success. Evolution uses the feeling of failure to tell us we must do something better or different if we want to be able to compete in a certain area: survival of the fittest.
That might be why we feel so damn defeated when we don’t succeed at something. We become plagued with painful feelings of failure, which are part of an evolutionary mechanism meant to ensure we’re on a path that’s beneficial to our survival and reproductive success. In a way, our evolutionary mechanisms hurt us in an attempt to motivate us to do better. It’s kind of mean, right?
The reality of failure can be harsh, but it’s something we need to experience in order to learn, blossom, and develop our life’s direction. The more knowledge and experience we acquire within our passion and ourselves as a result of failure, the better we’ll be able to determine our own idea of success and how to achieve it.
3. Make a conscious effort to stop fearing failure so much.
Determine why you’re experiencing fear of failure. Is it your perception of reality? Are you so attached to society’s idea of success that you would make yourself miserable to achieve it? Are you afraid of embarrassment? As social beings, we do not sit well with the idea of having to explain our failures to those around us. For many, letting people down is the worst part about failing or making mistakes.
Let all of that go! Remind yourself every day to stop caring about everyone else because this is for you, not them. If you don’t believe in what you’re doing, how will anyone else be able to? Look yourself in the eye every day and say, “This is my life. I’m going to do my very best at what I love.” You can’t beat the fear of failure without a conscious effort.
4. Create your own idea of success.
My idea of success has me somewhere exotic: on a beach or in a cabin somewhere writing nonfiction psychological research books. But see, that’s what so many people throughout the world today do not understand. Success is whatever you make it. It does not have to have anything to do with money. Society will tell you this, so it’s your job to tell yourself different.
Stop thinking about how everyone else will view you because no one else has to live inside your head every day. Only you can determine how you imagine your future and you should make sure to be aware of society’s influence on that vision. Life is about doing what you love with the time you have, not slaving it away for a fancy car and a big house because society said so. Money has never been a solid foundation for success, which brings me to my next point.
5. Don’t base your idea of success on money!
If your idea of success is based on how much money you make, you’re going to get stuck. There will come a time when you’re making enough money but maybe you’re not making a unique or positive contribution to society, and you’ll start to feel the effects of this. These effects can come in the form of regret, depression, and even substance abuse. You might experience a feeling of constantly searching for who you are because you never committed to what you thought you might be.
The danger in basing your success on money is that money is an extrinsic reward, not intrinsic. When we aren’t receiving rewards that come from within (such as satisfaction from helping others), it becomes apparent that external rewards, like money, are not enough to keep us happy. In the beginning, it’s all well and good because we’re providing for ourselves and our families. Then, money becomes meaningless when we realize we’re not fulfilling our full intrinsic potential to achieve it.
6. Take a risk!
Don’t worry. There will always be some job that you can get on the side to make some extra cash. Don’t be afraid to squeeze every last drop of your determination into your passion. Having to wonder what might have been if you had put in a solid effort can sometimes be worse than the possible experience of failure.
As psychologist and author Adam Grant says in his book Originals: How Non-Conformists Move The World, “Although America is a land of individuality and unique self-expression, (when) in search of excellence and in fear of failure, most of us opt to fit in rather than stand out” (Grant 12). Don’t let this happen to you.
Reach beyond guaranteed monetary success by committing to a passion that gives you freedom to form new ideas and look at familiar ideas from a new perspective. Take a risk and make a lasting impact on society. There’s a good chance that risk will be worth it and, if not, you’ll certainly learn something valuable along the way.
7. If you don’t know what you’re passionate about, don’t panic!
Think about your favorite hobbies or something you love, even the most trivial thing. Maybe you like animals, are fascinated by the human mind, or you like to collect other people’s garbage and make stuff out of it, for example. Motivate yourself to test out your most natural inclinations as possible career choices.
My collective psychological knowledge says that many people would be happiest pursuing a version of their favorite playtime activities from when they were a kid. Think back to your childhood: what was it that always made you feel internally useful and good about yourself? Figure it out, and then start brainstorming ways to incorporate your natural inclinations into your current life. No matter what it is that you love or how crazy it sounds, it’s probably something you can turn into a career if you really put your mind to it.
8. Don’t underestimate your potential.
So many of the most successful people in this world gained that success by continuously practicing something they were obsessed with. The lesson here is that everyone has something they are obsessed with. Everyone has something they are more than good at. Everyone has an aspect of their personality that gives them an edge in whatever field they might have fallen in love with. So do you! The only way to truly identify and cultivate your individual potential is to tap into it by TRYING. Don’t underestimate yourself!
9. Remember that mistakes are made to be learned from.
It’s up to us to make sure we utilize the information we receive from mistakes to help us in the future. If there’s anything good about failure, it’s that it points us in the right direction by letting us know what we did wrong the first time. Don’t take that information for granted. You worked hard to get to where you are, no matter how it turned out; so, you should learn to use every bit of “failure” as a stepping-stone to your individual success.
10. Happiness will not be present ALL of the time. Listen to your other emotions!
I want to make it clear that, although happiness is nice, we’re not supposed to be happy all of the time. There is a reason for sadness, nervousness, anger, etc. They are emotions that arise to try to tell us something more about ourselves in order to make us happier: LISTEN.
If you’re sad, it might be your body’s way of telling you to work harder, step outside of your comfort zone, or to simply change your path. Don’t get distracted from your other feelings because you’re worried about not being happy enough. Those feelings are important! After all, without emotions like sadness and anger, how would we ever know what happy feels like?
Conclusively, I want you to try this. Instead of acknowledging that you’re afraid to fail, acknowledge that you’re afraid of trying to climb that tree of success. There’s no need to be afraid of what might happen if you don’t reach the top right away. You may fall, but you’ll be ok (at least figuratively, not so sure I’d actually climb that tree)! After all, no-one gets it right the first time; it’s how we react to failure that determines how much success we’ll achieve when all is said and done. What are some things you do to overcome your fears? Leave a comment below! 🙂
For a refreshing, psychological exemplification of your ability to overcome the fear of failure and achieve your unique goals, please read Originals: How Non-Conformists Move The World by Adam Grant (click Adam Grant for his failure expertise). This book has truly given me a renewed confidence and motivation to make my dreams a reality. As always, thank you for reading! 🙂 -Shannon