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Leaving the 9 to 5: Addressing your fear of failure

Discover how the fear of failure might be holding you back from quitting your corporate job and escaping the 9 to 5 for good

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We’ve started to look at why you should quit your corporate job– and why (most of) you are never going to! The reason for the latter is in my experience almost always fear: the fear of failure and, in some cases, actually the fear of success. The fear of success might seem counterintuitive, but just think: succeeding at leaving your job, starting your own business and changing the way you work and live involves a massive upheaval both for you and for the people around you. The fear of failure, on the other hand, needs no explanation and will likely be very familiar to you.

So let’s look at that fear of failure and break it down. What do we actually mean when we say we are afraid of failing?

In the context of leaving a job, failing means:

  • making the wrong choice and ruining your future career prospects;
  • not getting enough clients in your business and therefore not making enough money; and
  • having to crawl back to a normal corporate 9-to-5 job.

These all feel pretty absolute and permanent, and we do tend to think in very black-and-white terms.

They’re also made worse because this failure feels very public and we are especially afraid of other people seeing us make these mistakes, judging us as being arrogant and foolish because we’re trying to pursue our dreams and we somehow believe that we are better than they are.

But let’s look at each of these fears in turn:

The fear of making the wrong choice

First of all: what is “the wrong choice”? Is there one right choice out there and, if so, who decides what that choice is? And even if you do make the “wrong” choice, does that mean you’re stuck with that choice forever and ever? Does it mean that you will never again be able to make a different choice, and does it really mean that you’ve completely and forever ruined your CV and drawn a red line through all of your past experience, the skills that you’ve accumulated, and the personal brand that you’ve built and reputation that you’ve earned?

If those rhetorical questions aren’t clear enough for you, then let me spell it out: there isn’t really any wrong choice! They’re just different choices that will have different consequences.

And, on top, the good news is that YOU get to decide what the right choice is because YOU are deciding what success means to you, what your goals are, and what it will take to achieve them.

Also, even if you do make a choice that feels wrong to you – that is, that doesn’t achieve what you hope to achieve or that doesn’t feel meaningful to you when you achieve it – then you still have the option to adjust your plan or to revise it all together. If and when you do that, you won’t be starting from scratch because, first, you will still have all your previous years in a corporate to fall back on and, second, your more recent entrepreneurial experience will have brought you new skills, knowledge and contacts that will not only have contributed to your personal development and satisfaction but will also inevitably have contributed positively to your external brand and reputation.

There are a number of people in my book, Leaving the Corporate 9 to 5, who chose to leave their job to pursue an alternative path, and then returned to a full-time job. This only made their CV richer and employers were always very interested in hearing about this time spent off the beaten path.

The fear of not making enough money

Okay, but what about the fear of failing in the business itself? Not getting enough clients, and therefore not earning enough money?

The problem here is that most people haven’t defined what “enough” looks like, either in terms of the number of clients or in terms of income, and they also haven’t set themselves a deadline when it comes to the time in which they want (or need) to achieve those goals.

Most people are, ironically, both overly pessimistic when they are starting out – because they worry about not making enough money – and overly optimistic, expecting the clients and money to start flooding in. The reality is always more nuanced. Once you have defined clear and specific goals, it’s absolutely possible to develop a business model and learn techniques including marketing and sales that will help you achieve those goals – it’s just that it will take both time and hard work. Unfortunately, for whatever reason, a lot of people just aren’t willing to work that hard and won’t have the patience to wait for those results to come.

Now, there is a more practical and real issue here: you really do need to make enough money, and make it within a certain amount of time, in order to be able to cover your expenses – both personal, paying your rent and mortgage and so on, and professional, covering your business costs. The solution is the same, however: working out how much you need, giving yourself a limited time frame, and making sure that you have a plan in place and get the help you need to reach your goals within that time.

This might mean starting your business as a so-called ‘side hustle’ alongside a full-time job to make sure that you still have a stable income while you test the waters of your business idea. It might mean joining a course, a programme, or working with a business coach to learn the skills and get the guidance needed to fast track your personal and business development. And it might mean defining a milestone when you will decide that maybe this isn’t working and it’s time to tweak, pivot, or scrap the plan altogether.

The fear of being judged

In terms of the public nature of failure, and what other people think about you, it’s important to ask yourself: who are those “other people”? Are they people whose opinions matter to you – and, if so, why? More importantly, does their definition of success, and therefore failure, match yours?

We all have different core values, family situations, and personal and professional goals. If I judge my success based on your definition, then I’ll almost always fail according to that definition.

Of course, it’s easy to say this and to tell you to ignore what anyone else thinks, but for most of us our egos will be bruised and our confidence falter when we see that other people are judging our choices and our performance. The good news here is that the more clarity you get on your definition of success, on your vision of what you’re trying to achieve, and on your plan for how to get there, the more conviction you’ll have and the stronger you will be in defending yourself against those doubts. Or, rather, the less you’ll feel the need to defend yourself because you’ll know what you’re doing – and why it’s so important to you.

So those are some of the core aspects of the fear of failure that is such a roadblock on the journey off the beaten career path… Are there others? What does ‘fear of failure’ mean to you? I’d love to hear from you – comment below!

Are you looking to leave your job and develop a business that will let you leave the 9 to 5 once and for all? Join us over in the One Step Outside community on Facebook to meet like-minded people and get access to live training sessions and other resources that will help you get the clarity and conviction that you need to move forwards.

Request to join the Facebook group here >>

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