How to Succeed and Overcome the Fear of Failure
Let’s look at what it takes to design a career of purpose and freedom that delivers both fulfillment and allows you to create your own definition of success.
One of the most seemingly benign (or to some people annoying) and yet incredibly powerful questions that I ask of anyone struggling to find their direction is:
“If you could do anything and be assured success, what would you do?”
I get many different responses to this question.
Some people launch directly into their current path and goal. They’ve got an answer at the ready.
Some people pause, take a deep breath and launch into their dream vision, which they clearly desire and yet [currently] consider to be impossible.
Some people make an uncomfortable laugh and tell me something seemingly impractical, such as a desire to become Superman or be the first person to land on Mars.
Others give me a mixed story that hints towards their dreams and passions but is oddly undefined.
And some, you might be one, simply tell me they have no idea, they just want a good job with a nice work-life balance.
None of these replies qualify as the “right” answer, because there isn’t a single correct answer to this direction.
However, each response is telling, and as a career coach practitioner, it is sometimes the light in the person’s eyes, their choice of vocabulary, they way they make eye contact or avoid eye contact when they respond that is even more telling.
A Common Denominator
A common denominator in nearly all the replies, even the person who launches directly into their current goals, is that most people don’t really believe that they can do or achieve whatever they put their mind too.
Most adults qualify their goals based on what they’ve been taught is practical, logical, and safely achievable.
Society has led us to believe that a happy life is an easy life and that security is more desirable than risk and that the people who dream big and succeed are simply LUCKY and that luck is not something that can be made or found, it just is.
Happiness is not an Easy Life
And so, too many of us settle for a path of least resistance that meets our basic needs and that will supposedly deliver us happiness in the form of security, titles, and sufficient material wealth.
We are a “yes” culture that does as we’ve been told. We worry a lot about what we should or shouldn’t be doing or have or look like and then we wonder why, in our so called modern society, those of us living in countries ripe with freedom and success continue to see rising rates of depression and a culture that is terrified to fail.
And yet, life is not easy. Even those who succeed experience pain and suffering in their lives. They lose loved ones, they fail, they get sick and sometimes they don’t want to get out of bed when the alarm goes off. Success and failure are both perfectly human.
At the same time, to feel courage you must also experience fear.
To win big, you must take a risk.
Happiness is not easy, hope itself requires that you’ve got a goal in mind that you are “hopeful” to achieve.
Hope itself even requires that you have a clear vision in mind that you know what you want and that you understand what you must do to achieve your goal, combined with the belief that you can make it happen.
So let me ask you this question and I want you to answer with HOPE:
If you could do anything and be assured success, what would you do? What is your desired life direction? Where do you really want to go? Who do you want to be?
What is “direction” and why is this question so telling? Direction gives us both purpose and inspiration, it helps us to prioritize what is good in our life and say no to the things that distract us or lead us down unhelpful paths.
Direction is a vision for who we are and who we hope to become. Many people have trouble with this question, because for so many years their dreams have been squashed, either by people in their lives or by their own fears and anxieties.
When a 40 year old answers the above question with “drinking cocktails on the beach” or “becoming an olympic gymnast” or anything else that is not grounded in reality, I hear in the response that this person is a bit lost and could benefit from finding her direction.
This person likely has a private dream or desire, but she is afraid. She is frozen. She thinks the effort or the money, the sacrifices or the special steps required to achieve this dream make it impossible. She lacks faith in herself and the universe and she fears what might happen is she tries and fails.
Humans are biologically programmed to be fearful, we are naturally inclined to display a negativity bias, to be watching for the lion or the leopard that might gobble us up around the next corner. However, in our daily lives, many of our fears are really “worse case scenarios” and statistically not likely to happen. Most of us don’t have lions in our backyards (except in Colorado, where I am from…ha!)
Our parents, our friends, our insurance agents and in particular our TV broadcasters set our daily programming to worry “what if.” We live in a society that conditions us to want everything and at the same time to give up before we start.
Why then do some people succeed? What makes a boss? I let you in on a little secret, the boss across the street or running that yoga studio or rapidly growing start-up isn’t different from the rest of us in that she is invincible, perfect or that she lacks fear.
She is successful because she has faith in herself, she has hope and she has set her direction. She is aware of her fear, so aware that she identifies it and she sets a plan in place to step into that fear, finding her courage, making a plan, and forging ahead.
You cannot have courage without fear and vulnerability.
When we step into our fears and anxiety, when we push through to the otherside, we do risk failure, but at the same time we invite success.
John Lennon said, “Life is what happens when you are busy making plans.”
You can dream and plan all you like, but if you don’t take action, if you don’t pick a direction, life will pass you by.
But as John Lennon also said, “You’re just a human.”
So give yourself permission to be human. No one expects you to be Wonder Woman. You might make a mistake or drop a ball, but that’s okay. If you drop a ball, it means you are playing the game of life, not just sitting on the sidelines watching life go by.
Plan of Action
Which takes us to PLANNING and ACTION. If you’ve got a direction, if you’ve acknowledged your fears and given yourself permission to be human, then the next step to your success is to make a plan and take action. Even one tiny action per day can make a difference.
Baby steps lead to toddler steps lead to kid steps and so on. If you’ve got a dream, if you’ve got your direction, what steps can you take TODAY to make this a reality?
Whether you plan out your next ten years or your next 10 days — there are definitive small steps to take that will add-up and move you towards your goal.
Sometimes our direction or our overarching goal seems so big and complex that a useful trick is to work backwards. First identify where you’d like to be in 5 years (or 10 or 20!). Then identify where you might need to be with this goal in 3 years and then 2 years, working all the way back to where you stand with this goal today. Now that you’ve visualized your goal in reverse, you can lay out the ground work to move forward effectively.
What can you do today to move you towards this goal? Maybe it’s research, maybe it’s a phone call, maybe it’s signing up for a class or making a budget.
Now, what is one tiny thing you can do every day for the next 10 days, to move you in the right direction?
An important part of achieving our goals and successfully moving in a direction that meets our hopes and desires, is taking the time to reflect and adjust. Indeed, intentional living and cultivating long term life satisfaction doesn’t mean that you set your course and forge blindly ahead, never stopping to learn, listen or make adjustments. .
Note that I used the word reflect, not ruminate. You cannot change your past, but you can create your future. You can reflect on what is going right and what you could do better. You can learn from mistakes, but if you want to move forward to avoid wasting your time ruminating on your mistakes leave them in the past.
Reflection questions you might ask:
What have you done in the past that worked?
What might you do differently in the future?
What fears or anxieties continue to hold you up?
What have I done that has brought me the most joy/satisfaction/feelings of usefulness?
Am I living up to my vision for excellence?
Take the time to reflect. Even to meditate. And to rest.
Your Personal Compass
Remember that the direction — the path — you’ve chosen to follow is your path. And you can change your path. Perhaps you’ve spent the last three weeks or the last three weeks pursuing a particular path, but upon reflection you notice that you’ve changed or learned something new, maybe you need to modify your path and your direction.
That’s okay. That’s even good. Self-awareness, the permission to be human, intentional decision making are components of self-agency. Your path is yours. Set the direction that you want to go and define your own success.
Your success might be making enough money at a day job to travel wherever you wish on vacation. Your success might be to figure out how to raise your kids and work part-time or to be a stay-at-home-mom with no regrets. Your success might be to start your own business and never have kids, or to start that business in spite of your family obligations.
The Story of My Father the Artist
Every person is unique. Every direction is unique. What we all have in common is the desire to set our dreams in motion and make them happen. To step into our fears and to feel that rush of courage. To try or learn something new, to feel the progress and exprecience the progression in our life.
So, if you could do anything and be assured success, what would YOU do?
Please honor me with your hopes, as your advocate and your champion, I want to know. You can either comment below or email me, whatever you choose, tell me your answer!
If you want to know more about this subject and my story you can read “Who are you meant to be?” or my about page!