I heard it said that “Fear is the anticipation of future pain.” It made me start to think about my own fears of failure. The reason I fear the failure is the anticipation of that pain. The sting of rejection. The embarrassment of falling short. The reinforcing belief that I might not have what it takes.
Our brains are uniquely designed to keep us alive. Fear is a tremendously powerful factor in keeping us safe. It’s incredibly useful… sometimes. My dad always said, “Fear is a good thing, because it keeps you alive.” But was my fear of failure anticipating a future pain that could actually hurt me? Or was it just holding me back?
To live a life with more financial freedom, adventure and generosity, we have to step out in boldness at times. We have to be willing to try things (even if they won’t always work), from finding affordable meals, to investing, to creating more income, or stepping away from your paycheck for a while. It takes overcoming fear. Fear will keep everything the same. But if we desire change, we need to address fear.
Most of the fear we experience in our personal lives don’t involve life threatening situations. The pain we anticipate is pain to our ego, self esteem, or identity.
7 Mindsets to transform your relationship with fear of failure
1. Failure as a mindset
Some things work, some things don’t and some people never try. We see those as the 3 possible outcomes. Failure is often defined by how we think about it. Are we trying things? Are we pushing ourselves? Are we learning? Do we think those are good traits to have? If we set out to learn more about something, how can it be a failure as long as we do in fact learn something?
2. Trying is a win
What if we could count trying as a win? We often make fun of a culture that gives medals for participation. But sometimes showing up and trying is the hardest part. Just putting yourself out there is a win. In the process of writing this, I decided to try a few things. Scary things. Things that I could easily let fear trip me up. 1. I asked for an interview… from Pearl Jam! Yup. I called up their media headquarters and just asked. Jeff Ament, the bass player, grew up in the same little corner of Montana as I did. He has started an amazing organization dedicated to building skate parks in small towns. It’s an amazing story of passion and generosity. So I called. I emailed. And I emailed again. It was scary as hell! Who am I with my little blog to interview a rockstar? But sometimes just being willing to try is a win. By trying, I felt 10x bigger and braver. My brain started to realize that this action doesn’t actually harm me. (And I never heard back! Jeff, why you leaving a girl hanging?)
3. Might happen vs will happen
Not everything will go as planned. It just won’t. We can’t define success as the absence of failure. Failure will happen, not might. Sometimes success is things going right 1 out of 10 times. We have to play the odds. Try 10 things, you might just need one to stick. I throw away about 1/3 of the words I write. They can’t all be clear, organized, persuasive and honest. Some are total crap. So I write more than I need. Because bad writing will happen, not might.
4. Focus on others
I love public speaking and have been doing it for 10+ years. And I still get stage fright. If my focus is one me, it’s 100 x worst. If all think about is how smart I’ll sound, or how funny I’ll be, or if people will adore me after I finish this talk, I will freeze up. So I focus on the audience. How can I serve them? How can I add value to them? What can I say to help them? How can I be honest to connect with them? When we come from a place of service, it can lessen the grip of fear. How will your business help people? How will your words encourage others?
5. Don’t ask permission
We can’t wait for others to give us the go ahead or their seal of approval. If it’s something you want to try, you just have to give yourself permission. If you want more financial freedom, you have to give yourself permission. Don’t try to wait until you have a consensus of approval from your family, friends and coworkers. If you want to write a book, start writing. If you want to start a freelance or consulting business, start asking.
The founder of Spanx, Sara Blakely has said you should never tell those close to you what business you are trying to launch. Not because they will steal your idea, but because they will discourage you. We can’t live life by consensus. Give yourself permission.
6. Learn to love the process
We have to love the process, and not just the outcome. If we can love the process, we can work through the fear, struggle and failure on the way to the success we are looking for.
We often fear even trying, or starting something. Sometime we fear even admitting we want to start. As part of my mentoring program, I ask people to write down ideas for things that would like to see happen in the next 10 or 20 years. It’s terrifying. Just writing it down. Then I snap a picture of mine and send it to them. And that is scary as hell for me. Just admitting that something is on my radar and I am making plans to move in that direction takes guts.
But I focus on the process instead of the outcome. What do I need to do today that will move me in that direction? What could I do this week that will move me an inch closer? If I am going to be HERE in 10 years, what would I need to have gotten done in the next 4 years? Learn to love the process; you will get where you want to go.
7. There are no straight lines
To get to every victory our path will wind through many disappointments, failures, and challenges. There are no straight lines. The thing that ends up working is often buried under 4 other things that didn’t work. You are trying to lower your expenses and after Mint doesn’t help, an envelope system didn’t work, cash only flopped, you find the app that makes it easier and more effective than you thought. We have taken on a lot of renovation projects, and guess how many were smooth sailing start to finish? Zero. It’s more like a series of small problems and challenges ending at an imperfect finished product.
In Wednesdays post, I’m going to talk about how to be a committed quitter. Both of these things are woven tightly together. Because quitting feels an awful lot like failing. The only way to never fail, is to never start. To never even think about starting. Fear keeps everything the same. If you read my financial independence flash point, you’ll know I didn’t see everything staying the same as a good option. I’ve had to get a lot more comfortable with dreaming, starting, failing and quitting. Because the gap between where I was, and where I am is chocked full of all four of those.
Any of these mindsets you have mastered?
Any still trip you up?
How do you muster the courage to do things that will involve struggle and might not work out?
Any good stories about overcoming this fear of failure that ended well or poorly? (Jeff, feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I still heart Pearl Jam.)
Have you met people scared to even start investing for fear they will screw it up?