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Fear of Failure

Fear of failure is something that will be with you for your entire career. It never goes away.  

At the beginning of your career when you start the working business process, it will inevitably feel half-baked. You are always going to be looking over your shoulder waiting for somebody to call you out. “You are an idiot.”  “You are a fraud and an impostor.”  “This is never going to work!”

Getting used to these feelings and these sensations is a good thing. But, it takes time.

I have been in business for 40 years and have run very large companies and have been at the helm during some very trying times. I still look over my shoulder and wait for someone to say, “You really don’t know what you are doing?”  “You really suck.”

You have to anticipate and embrace the inevitable sensation of fear. You will always feel fear. And you will always feel risk.

Using positive imagery where you can imagine yourself in a position of success cannot happen unless you go through these zones of risk and terror. That feeling of horror that you are certainly going to fail never goes away.

What happens is you get accustomed to those feelings? “Oh, right? I know these feelings! This is that phase where I am sweating bullets.”  

Certainly, we do fail sometimes. And that is ok. But, you cannot balk at these feelings and simply give up or run away.  The main message I am relaying to you is that even the most successful,  senior and powerful people go through this. As you age and get more experience, you start filling your personal trophy cases with wins. You will find that all of these feelings start revealing themselves to you as a natural human condition.

The notion that geniuses and/or masters of their art, sport or craft put in 10,000 hours is true. Anyone who has mastered their field has put in the time. And the best way to overcome the fears is to “Get over yourself and get to work.”  Start putting in the time!

Let’s talk about the different type of failure.

Choking, for example I believe is thinking too much. “I know what to do, I have mastered a task and do not have to think about doing it.”  But being in a situation where there is all this pressure and when I need to perform my job, and I start thinking about it – that takes me out of my unconscious zone. We see this time and time again with athletes. The game is on the line and instead of doing something they have practiced thousands and thousands of times – they start to think about each piece of the minutia of the moment and blow it.

Panic, on the other hand, is a type of fear of failure that comes from being in a situation that has never presented itself before. “I don’t know what to do?”

These are the polar opposites in failure – one afflicts people who are good at what they do and the other is what happens to novices. These are two very distinct situations. If someone chokes it is because they are outside of the unconscious zone they prepared for, rather than someone who is unprepared and in a situation totally foreign to them. The person who chokes, I believe, is an honorable failure, the person who panics is a dishonorable failure.

For years I have taught folks how to speak publicly and to learn how to present professionally. In the thousands and thousands of speeches and presentations I have seen, rarely has someone, who was rehearsed, got up in front of a crowd and choked. It is more than often, the person who has shirked their responsibility by not practicing or rehearsing effectively, who gets up in front of a crowd and says, “I will speak to the slides!” “I will wing it!” That type of failure is inexcusable. That is your fault, you did not rehearse enough and you did not take it seriously.

Choking is very different. If I see someone choke under a moment of pressure I understand that they are in a situation that no matter how much they practiced, they were not prepared for the type of pressure that only that situation created. That is where you can be more forgiving. I know these folks simply need experience and will be back stronger than ever.


Take responsibility for those things you can control and forgive yourself for all those things you can’t!


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