How to Overcome a Fear Of Failure – Failing is just learning

Afraid of failure? You're not alone. Most of my clients have a fear of failure. For me, my fear of failure is about risk avoidance. I am incredibly good at avoiding risk, it’s one of my core strengths!!!! If you haven't come across me before, ​I'm a Leadership and Career Coach with over 10 years experience, helping people like you to create careers they love and fully enjoy their life and work. 

My Story with Failure

I've always found school easy. I studied and worked hard but I never really struggled with education. Good job really as I don’t think I’d have been very good at it! I can remember being very calculating about my studies. I'd chose subjects that I knew I'd do well in, rather than the ones that I enjoyed the most. 

When it came to applying to University I only applied to ones that I knew I’d get the grades for, rather than striving for the Uni I wanted to go to the most and taking a risk. Then, once at Uni I applied the same logic and chose my course options based on which exams I knew I could pass well. My goal was to get a first, and so I chose a path that would lead me there. 

On the one hand it was smart move, but it wasn’t courageous or particularly stretching.

Fast forward the clock a number of years and this pattern continued. I applied for jobs that I was confident I could get, I set goals that I knew I could achieve. Effort was always required but not so much effort that I’d risk not achieving it.

Too much risk gives rise to the possibility of not achieving, and this wasn’t something I was used to or subconsciously even willing to do. 

So where is the line between a goal being achievable and it being too safe?

Today I recognise that to get a sense of achievement I need to take courage. I get a buzz from setting risky goals, that have every chance of not working out. 

I've got comfortable with failure, mainly because I don't believe in it. Failure is all in the mind. It's what we take from our experience that counts. 

When I sit and reflect on “What was it about failure that I didn’t like?” I think failure wasn’t something I was used to, I didn’t really know what to do with it.

Throughout schooling I became regarded as a high achiever and I suppose I took this on as an identity. Failing didn’t fit with that identity. Not that this should have mattered anyway, because in whose eyes would I fail?

Only mine I expect.

I’m pretty sure the people around me would have focused on all of the things I’d achieved in the pursuit of my goals rather than the one thing that didn’t land. 

If you're interested in goal setting, check out my 3 part blog series on goals, packed full of top tips to set goals that you can achieve. 

So, failure is just a perspective.

Maybe you have a fear of failure, or you can see it in someone else. Here’s some things I’ve learnt along to way. 

1) Identify what you are really scared of

Do you know what its s about failure that you actually fear?

For example, if you are scared of letting people down, who exactly? And what do they think about this?

If you’re scared of letting yourself down – what does this mean exactly? What would have to happen for you to let yourself down? How realistic is it that you will do that? Are you not letting yourself down anyway by letting fear get in the way?

Think the fear through, don’t let it stop you because you fail to understand it.

2) Learn to take on a growth mindset

A growth mindset is a mindset that enables you to learn from experience and apply it.

In order to achieve anything, you need to be able to learn, adapt and grow.

Don’t expect to be able to achieve success without any form of practice of perseverance.

Maybe you can achieve what you want without making any mistakes but that’s unlikely. Mistakes are marvellous where you can take the learning and move on.

3) Break it down

Fear of failure often gets in the way when the goal is too big.

Imagine a mountain climber that has a goal to climb Mt Everest. Do you think they can achieve this goal without a training plan or any practice walks?

Any large goal needs to be broken down into a series of smaller manageable steps.

A vision is great, but a vision is of something in the future. You also need to know what you’ll be doing next week and the week after that contributes to making this vision a reality.

4) Get real

What’s real and what’s just in your head?

Let’s look at a really common fear of not taking on an opportunity because you’re afraid you might mess it up.

Look at this from an outside perspective. What’s your track record? How likely are you to fundamentally mess it up? What would failure actually look like? How could you mitigate it?

Your self doubt and self talk isn’t necessarily factual or real. Try to approach your fears objectively by talking them through with someone.

Get some different perspectives so you can separate what’s in your head from reality.

5) Get inspired by ‘other failures’

I use the term ‘failures’ loosly because people can’t be failures.

Failure is just an event or a circumstance, it is not a characteristic.

Look up some people who in the traditional sense ‘failed’ before they made it to ‘success’. 

Your definition of failure and success might be different to theirs but my point is, if we all stopped every time we felt a fear of failure, then the world would be missing some extraordinary things.

Here’s a few names to get you started:

JK Rowling
Steve Jobs
Albert Einstein
Richard Branson


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