The Fear of Failure

When I sent my first book proposal to a publisher it was rejected. I sent it to a second publisher who informed they MIGHT publish it if I made certain corrections. What they asked me to do seemed almost like rewriting it entirely. I did as they asked, but then I didn’t return it for a few months. I was certain it would not be good enough, and I feared another rejection. One day I finally screwed up the courage to send the rewrite back. It was accepted! I still had to do a lot of editing, but a year later it was released. So far, seven more books have followed that one, but if I had not found the courage to resubmit that first manuscript none of them would have been published.

The fear of failure may be the one thing that holds people back the most. Many of us have that little voice in our heads telling us we are not good enough, not smart enough, not talented enough, not something enough to succeed. A new idea crosses our minds that will improve our lives, our businesses, our careers, and immediately a dozen other thoughts enter in reminding us why we can’t do it. Paralyzed by the fear of failure we don’t even try.

When I have worked with churches I often tell them the last seven words of a church is “We’ve never done it that way before.” Since it’s uncharted waters a fearfulness sets in making them reluctant to attempt a new thing. It’s no different in many businesses and the choices we make in our careers. Anything new is scary. It might fail making us look bad or worse.

That’s the wrong way of looking at failure. Instead of viewing it as a negative we should see failure as a stepping-stone to success. In The Happiness Advantage: How a Positive Brain Fuels Success in Work and Life Shawn Achor explains that “Early failure is often the fuel for the very ideas that eventually transform industries, make record profits, and reinvent careers. We’ve all heard the usual examples: Michael Jordan cut from his high school basketball team, Walt Disney fired by a newspaper editor for not being creative enough, the Beatles turned away by a record executive who told them that ‘guitar groups are on their way out.'”

In his book Failing Forward: Turning Mistakes Into Stepping Stones for Success John Maxwell writes of the important lessons we can learn from our mistakes. These lessons can lead us to even greater success in the future. But, we will never learn those lessons if we view failure as a negative thing to be avoided at all costs.

No one enjoys failing at anything, but if we are not occasionally failing at something it means we are not trying new things. When we refuse to try new things we will soon find ourselves behind the pack. By the time a new idea is safe enough to implement it’s no longer new, and something else has taken its place. Go ahead and risk failure. If your new efforts works out, great! If they fail, you will have learned some important lessons for the next time. Just don’t let yourself fear failure.

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