How do we overcome the fear of failing?

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Ah…fear; the primordial emotion that has kept us alive for the past 20,000 years. It has been a great motive for keeping us in check, for being less foolhardy and more cautious. It has been the sixth sense that makes our hairs stand on the back of our neck when we walk through a dark alley. Fear. It has kept us alive thus far! Yet what has worked for us for so long may also be what will hold us back for the next 20,000 years. The fear of failing (or dying, or being embarrassed, or speaking in public, or….) has stopped us from reaching out and grabbing opportunities that lie just ahead of us. So how can we over this fear of failing, especially in business.

I am one who has failed so many times that I can write a PhD thesis on it. I had skirted bankruptcy, bounced back and then found myself in another big financial mess. I had overcome the fear of looking like a fool in public only to be told off by friends that I was talking down on the audience. I have trusted people to do their job just so, only to be let down by them, not once, not twice but almost constantly over the past 30 years. So, if there was one person who can talk about failure, it would be me. If there was someone who can talk about overcoming failure, that would be me. In this post, I will talk about my experiences in overcoming failure. They have worked for me, and I hope they will work for you too.

1. Prepare yourself

Have you heard of the pre-mortem? Well, this is the opposite of the post-mortem. In a post-mortem, we find out what happened to have killed something. In a pre-mortem, we also find out what happened to cause something to be killed, but BEFORE it is killed. Hence, we work out what might cause something to fail, and either work to prevent it, or if it cannot be prevented, to prepare yourself to face it. If you know what’s coming, it cannot be a failure!

2. Laugh at yourself

I have found out that by poking fun at yourself, you can take on many failures. We cannot take ourselves too seriously, since we know that we are not perfect. Being imperfect, we KNOW that we will fail. So failure is a sure-thing. What we need to know is how to deal with it when it comes, and we can laugh at how we were so “stupid” and count that as one more nugget of success before we move on.

3. Never giving up

Failure happens only when we give up. Unless your intent is bad, you shouldn’t stop if you have “failed”. If “failure” is the period at the end of a sentence, then you have failed; but if it were simply a comma, indicating that there is more to come, and the solution is somewhere in there, then we won’t give up, and then there is no failure.

4. Failure is the mother of success

This is the famous Chinese saying and how true it is. What we need to embrace is the idea that to be a success, we need to fail. The path to success is indeed paved by the “failure” of different ideas. If we have not failed, we have not succeeded. Each time we fail, we can be sure that we are closer to success. This is a mindset that all successful entrepreneurs have embraced over the millennia and will see you through at work too.

5. Don’t take it personally

One last thing; don’t take failure personally. Yes, others may judge you, they may blame you for the failure, you may even lose your job; but don’t take it personally. You need to take it in, learn from it, get better and move on. If you cannot move past the consequences of “failure”, then you will forever be trapped at that point in time, and you will never learn. And someone who does not learn, does not progress.

Failure is a matter of fact. You are not infallible and you must be prepared to fall. The more times you fall, the higher would be your batting average. So don’t despair when you “fail”, don’t even fear it; failure is the most important step in becoming a success.

Here’s to your failures!

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