I worked with a woman who was excellent at her job but had one very serious flaw—she was terrified of failing. Because of that fear, which was at times paralyzing, she didn’t take chances and never went after a higher position at the magazine where we both worked, a position that she really wanted. She had the right skills, the right personality for it, but fear of failure kept her from attempting to apply for the position. But—in fearing failure, she also feared actually being successful.
She called me a risk-taker and said that she wished she could be more like me. “I envy you. You go after what you want and you get it. You’re not afraid of failing at anything.”
She couldn’t be more wrong in that assessment! Like anyone else I have a fear of failing. After all who wants to fail? Not me. The difference between her fears and mine are that I’m more afraid of never having tried to do something than I am of failing.
Every time you give in to the fear of failing, you have missed an opportunity. Each one you miss costs you in time and self-esteem. It’s self-defeating. Your talent will lie dormant every time you allow fear to prevent you from getting to your desired goal. If you choose not to takes some risks you are giving up a powerful path to strong living. Fear of trying becomes a habit that is difficult to live with, but even harder to break.
Knowing that you might fail at something shouldn’t keep you from trying but you need to have a sensible plan for dealing with the possibility. How will you handle it so that a failure will have as little an impact on your life as possible? The most positive parts of your plan should be that you step back, assess the situation, and make necessary changes, but don’t give up.
You also need to understand that failure does not define you and you need to try again. I once sent a humor story about a married couple to an editor. He rejected it, but, when I asked why, he did give me a reason for his decision. He was going through a divorce and a story about a married couple, humorous or not, just didn’t sit well with him at that moment. That rejection could have stopped me. Maybe it wasn’t good, maybe it wasn’t funny enough, but I had faith in my talent and faith in becoming successful, so I tried another editor at a different magazine. This time the same exact story was accepted. I didn’t let that first rejection define me and I didn’t give up. I feared not trying more than I feared failing again.
Success is subjective. Choose your own level of success and don’t compare yourself with others. A person who runs a thriving local business may not be on the level of a Jeff Besos, but can that person still be called successful? Yes! Is someone who enjoys fame on Broadway as successful as a Hollywood actor who makes millions per picture? Absolutely!
Sometimes you need a plan B, or option, on the road to success. One of the best pieces of advice about success I have ever heard came from an actor friend. He talked about the importance of having a back-up plan for his professional goals which were both theatre-related.
“I fully intend to make it as an actor on Broadway, but I also have a secondary goal, directing plays. That’s my plan B just in case. Who knows? At some point in time I may decide that directing is more fulfilling. I want to give myself options.”
Knowing that there is something else you can fall back on, a plan B, helps eliminate the fear of failure.
You know your own talent but if you’re the only one who knows how good you are, exactly how are you benefiting from it? The best chef in the world is not the best if no one tastes her or his cooking, a Mozart can remain unknown unless someone hears his music, and the most beautiful flower in the world may actually be growing in a desert oasis but no one will ever know of it unless it is brought to everyone’s attention.
Despite the oft-quoted line, ‘Failure is not an option’, it makes sense to be prepared for some type of failure. That, however, shouldn’t stop you from trying. For me, the words of John Greenleaf Whittier made me not let fear of failure keep me from trying to reach a goal.
“For of all sad words of tongue or
The saddest are these: ‘It might have been!’”
You are your own success. Don’t give up.