Fear of failure is an irrational fear that you will not succeed that has so much power over you that it can stop you from moving forward to achieve your goals. Since it paralyzes you from taking action to achieve your goals, it pretty much guarantees that you won’t meet them. So anyone who has a goal to meet or a dream to make come true needs to conquer any fear of failure that may be burdening them.
Inevitably if you are looking for a new job having been made redundant the question “what happens if I don’t find a new job?” is going to surface. So in this quite long post I want to look at what fear of failure looks like but also how to overcome that fear.
What Fear of Failure Looks Like
Fear of failure can stem from negative associations with failure that go back as far as childhood or it can arise after experiencing a harsh episode in which someone felt like a failure.
In the first case, where the fear of failure arises from a long time of feeling inadequate, people with a fear of failure feel a sense of shame at being inadequate or incompetent. Maybe a harsh parent or care-giver magnified small failures they had when they were growing up. Now, they are afraid to try new things or to challenge themselves to achieve success. They give up easily when they encounter a difficulty. They settle for ordinary, mediocre lives instead of reaching for higher opportunities.
In the second case, the fear of failure arises from an important negative experience. Someone may be fired, say, and that causes such trauma that they lack confidence to get another job or to try to pursue a challenging career. Or someone else may have a relationship end in a cruel and hurtful way, so that the result is a fear of moving forward to meet someone else and find love again. The reluctance to act is due to a fear that the painful event will be repeated.
In either case, people with fear of failure shy away from situations in which they don’t think they will be entirely successful. For them, failure isn’t a learning experience. Failure is a shameful experience that feels like the end of the world. As a consequence, they fail at something simply because they never try it. In that way, failure is inevitable; the fear has won.
Fear of failure can lead to other self-sabotaging efforts, such as procrastination and low self-esteem. People with fear of failure may avoid starting new projects, or may start them but then fail to follow through on them. Or sometimes they set out on a project but then subconsciously cause themselves to fail, as though they want to prove to themselves and others that they were right all along – that they would fail at their attempt.
Fear of failure can cause feelings of shame, disappointment, anger, frustration and confusion. And it can lead to physical symptoms, some of which can be pretty scary. You can experience breathing problems like shortness of breath or rapid breathing, stomach problems like nausea or diarrhea, as well as faintness, tremulousness, flushing and excessive perspiration. People experiencing fear of failure may feel an overwhelming, general sense of dread.
How to Overcome Fear of Failure
If you are experiencing serious, debilitating fear of failure, the kind that is destroying your life, you should seek the help of a mental health professional. For more manageable cases, there are some self-help steps that you can take to get your fear of failure under control.
A small group of loving, supportive friends or family members is very helpful when it comes to overcoming fear of failure. They can help you heal your wounds. They can point out the successful qualities that you have but ignore. And they can give you practical advice that helps you to succeed in more challenging environments than you are used to being in.
If you don’t already have people like that in your life, you can look out for support groups in your community. Another self-help step is to do something that you can be pretty sure that you will succeed at, and then build on that, starting with low-stress steps forward. A good singer can join a choir, and even volunteer to do solos. A good dressmaker can make some items for sale at a community or crafts sale, attaching a card with contact information in case the purchaser wants more. By doing something that you are good at, and putting yourself in the position to get some recognition for it, you start to build up your experiences of being a success.
Another way of attacking fear of failure is to analyze it. Discover what it is that you are actually afraid of. Are you afraid that if you ask your boss for a promotion, she will turn you down? Then prepare for the promotion. Document the contributions that you have made to the company. Compare your achievements to others in your role and in the role you seek. Do special projects or take on more responsibilities in anticipation of your request. Make yourself highly promotable. It increases your chances of getting promoted. If, after all that, you still don’t get the promotion, ask for an honest assessment why. Take the response seriously but not personally. The feedback may be what you need to go on to more success.
Finally, the most important means of self-help that you can engage in is the one that takes the most persistent work. That is, to change your relationship to failure. Instead of thinking of failure as a personal flaw that you should be ashamed of, think of it as a learning experience that can help you grow.
Learn to treat failure is a step along the path to success. Do what you are afraid of. You might, after all, succeed. If you succeed, use your success to change your mind about yourself. And if you do fail, examine what happens. Do you die? Do people you love die? In other words, so what if you fail?
Eleanor Roosevelt said it best:
You gain strength, courage and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You are able to say to yourself, ‘I have lived through this horror. I can take the next thing that comes along.’ You must do the thing you think you cannot do.
Finally, to overcome fear of failure, think of what would happen if you didn’t do the thing you are afraid of. First, the thing wouldn’t get done. Second, the personal growth that you would experience by overcoming your fear of failure wouldn’t take place. And, third, the future as it would exist afterwards won’t exist. The world won’t have been changed in that direction. Are you willing to give your fear that much power? The world will be that much poorer for your contribution. You will be that much poorer for yielding to your fear. If that’s not what you want, don’t let it happen.
Your goals and dreams are as big and as powerful as your fear. Give your goals and dreams the upper hand. Let them conquer your fear.