How to Overcome Fear of Failure

It's a rare thing to meet someone who truly loves her work. Sometimes people get lucky and fall into something early in their career, but most of the time it’s not that easy. Most of the time, you have to let go of what you’re used to and try something new. And it takes courage to change. 

It takes courage to quit a bad job. Or put yourself out there in a new field. Or ask for help. Or create your own job. All of those things are contrary to the norm, or at least your norm.

You’re so paralyzed with the fear of failing at something new that you will stay with the thing that's making you miserable because at least it’s familiar, thank you very much. 

Here’s what I need you to know: 

You can handle failure. You cannot handle prolonged stasis when you know you need change.

You can bounce back from failure because it’s an event that didn’t go well. But you suffer under toxic stasis. It’s not a single choice you can recover from because it’s who you choose to become over time.

Here are some examples of the difference between failure and stasis: 

Failure: I quit my job to start a business but I had to go back and get a job because the business didn’t do well. I know what to do differently next time. 

Stasis: I dreamed of starting a business, but I never tried it. I’m ashamed that I’ve been at this job for 13 years. 

 

Failure: I pitched my boss to let me take on a larger role at work, and she said no. I’m ready to find somewhere that will value what I have to offer. 

Stasis: I could do so much more around here if someone would just pay attention to me and give me a chance, but since they don’t see what I’m capable of I just get more and more resentful. 

 

Failure: I sent a resume and cover letter to a company I love, even though they aren’t advertising for a position I want yet. I got an interview, but didn’t get a job there. Learned a ton and know how to tweak my resume for other opportunities. 

Stasis: There is nothing out there. I’ve looked, and there are just no jobs for the kind of work I want to do, so I just keep going to my job and crossing my fingers that something new pops up on the job boards.

 

As you can see, stasis keeps its grip because of fear, a defeatist attitude, and why-bother-isms. When you see it in print, it looks pretty lame and you might even feel embarrassed that you have those kinds of thoughts because objectively you know they’re not true. That’s the power of stasis! But there are ways to combat it.

To get out of stasis, you’re gonna need to make some changes, and change takes courage. Courage is not something you sit around and posses; courage is something you USE. It needs action. And the more you practice taking courageous action, the less courage you’ll need to use the next time. 

You’ve got to start practicing courage in small ways. Here are some to try: 

 

1 | Ask for things

 Doesn’t matter what. Follow Jia Jing’s lead. He undertook a personal 100 Days of Rejection Therapy project and asked for everything from making his own sandwich at Subway to interviewing President Obama. He didn’t get all the things he asked for; that’s not the point. The point was to become more resilient to rejection and more accustomed to doing scary things.

 

2 | Tell the truth

Yikes! This can feel so scary. But practice this in your everyday conversations. 

Annoying acquaintance: “COME TO MY BIRTHDAY PARTY!"
You: “No, thanks."
Annoying acquaintance: “WHY NOT?"
You: “You didn’t come to mine."

Guy at coffee shop: “Hello, I like your shirt and I have allergies and I would shake your hand but I’ve been blowing my nose and blah blah blah and what are you working on?"

You: “A lot of things, actually. I’m pretty busy and would rather not chat right now."

 

3 | Share your opinion

It can be hard to speak up when your view is not the dominant view. Practice sharing what you think, even if it’s not popular. You don’t have to argue or be contrarian; just state what you think. This can be speaking up in conversation, sharing an article on Facebook, or writing a blog. 

 

4 | Give yourself occasions to rise to

Apply for jobs that feel out of reach. Commit to projects that feel challenging. You’ll either get better at recovering from failure or realize that you’re more capable than you thought. 

 

5 | Say no to things

THE HOLY GRAIL. Say no to things you don’t want to do. Stop reading books you don’t like. Don’t join committees you don’t want to. Don’t host things you don’t want to. Don’t do favors you don’t want to. Remember that you’re never saying no to a person, you’re saying no to a request. 

 

If you want to overcome your fear of failure, courage is required. It takes practice, but it’s a muscle you can build. After awhile you’ll find that making changes doesn’t feel as scary.

What in your career have you been afraid to change? What’s one small way you can start to practice courage?