The fear of failure is probably the biggest single reason why we don’t do things we want to do. There is even a medical term for it, “atychiphobia“.

Fear of failure

It’s unlikely that it influences you to the extent that you have a clinical phobia, nevertheless; it affects all of us and can prevent us from being the best version of ourselves. You have an idea about something that would improve your life, maybe starting your own business, it excites you, but you have that nagging, drip, drip, drip feeling of “Yeah but what if this or that happens?”.

Before we talk about what you can do to overcome it, let’s look at some of the things that can cause it. The first thing to say is that we’ll all have very different ideas on what failure is, depending on our values, upbringing etc. If you tried something once and it didn’t work out, you may have that marked down as a failure so you won’t give it another go. I do a lot of work in presentation skills training, and I get loads of people saying they can’t present well just because they once gave a bad presentation! I’m sure you’ll have your own thoughts on what failure might mean for you.

The reality though is that we can’t progress without failure, either as an individual or a society. Think of the number of attempts there were to fly before we actually managed to do it, when failing at that was potentially lethal! Behind every successful person, there will be numerous failures. Sir James Dyson made 5,126 prototypes before he got his breakthrough with his bagless vacuum cleaner, J.K. Rowling was on welfare support and looking after her child as a single mother when her Harry Potter was rejected for the twelfth time (13th time lucky, I guess!).

What I’m suggesting here is that failure is merely just an interpretation of particular events, it’s purely in your head, if you let it be. If you set yourself a goal and don’t achieve it, that’s not a failure, it’s a learning experience for you to take lessons from before you try again. It only depends on how you want to view it.

Think about what the consequences of what the perceived failure might be, if it’s just that you might feel a bit foolish if it doesn’t work, that’s your pride messing around with you. If there are financial commitments involved, think about what the financial upside might be and make a rational decision based on that.

There are loads of quotes on overcoming failure, I particularly like this one from Michael Jordan, arguably the best basketball player ever:

“I have missed more than 9,000 shots in my career. I have lost almost 300 games. On 26 occasions, I have been entrusted to take the game-winning shot, and I missed. I have failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.”

P.S. He got rejected from his college basketball team because they thought he was too small.

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