7 Surprising Steps to Overcoming the Fear of Failure

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Man walking on tightrope

During a break in a leadership team meeting, the discussion suddenly got interesting. I vividly remember the question being posed: How do you feel about failure? My response was: I do not like to fail. I avoid it at all costs! That response was met with chuckles.

Looking back on that memorable moment I see how my view of failure has changed! You see, at that time failure was a little like this to me:

The challenge is on. The tight rope is stretched out before me and the balance pole is in hand. A gentle breeze eases the perspiration dotting my forehead. The only thing left: to step way out of my comfort zone and onto the narrow rope.

My mind races with random thoughts as I stand on the edge. The idea of being supported by just a rope makes my knees a little shaky, and my hearts races. I so want to be on the other side of that rope and enjoy the victory that I have longed for and that is waiting for me there. At the same time, the distance down is significant. Far! A slight misstep or bobble would be costly, if not deadly!

Another thought pops into my mind: what if I make it to the other side? This success will lead to even greater risks in the future. I begin to doubt if I want to pursue this path after all. This challenge feels so overwhelming and presses hard on my fear nerve. It is pushing me to the limit. Will I be capable of more in the future?

Unexpectedly, I realize that I fear success almost as much as I fear failure.

God has created and called you for a purpose, and walking out that purpose is sure to be bigger and more challenging than you can navigate on your own! It is inevitable that you will encounter the double edged sword in the process: fear of failure and fear of success. It is powerful and sharp.

So how do you move past the fear of failure move forward?

1. Accept it

Everyone fails. Everyone succeeds. It is a part of life. It is normal and expected!

2. Alter it

What makes the fear of failure so powerful is the way you chose to view it. Altering how you view failure changes everything. You can view failure as the end of the world and catastrophic or you can view it as another bump in the road on the path to where you want to be. You can allow it to confirm the negative thoughts already swimming in your head or you can chose to see it as proof that you had the courage to take a risk. You can let your worth hinge on your successes or failures, or you can find your value in who you are not what you do. It is your choice!

Viewing failure as a means to prepare for the future, learn, and grow is empowering. Challenge yourself to find at least three positive things that have resulted from failure.

3. Adjust it

When the fear of failing surfaces in pursuit of your goals, it is paralyzing. To get things moving forward, you will need to adjust how you approach your goal. First you must identify what you are afraid of. Then adjust your goal to include an element that will address your fear in the goal. Finally, break your goal down into small action steps.

For example, if your goal is to “write a book by November” but you have doubts about your ability to complete this task, try adjusting your goal to “learn something new about myself in the process of writing a book by November.” Break that task down by setting a smaller goal: I will devote an hour a day four times a week to writing. After each time you write, observe what you have learned about yourself in the process and write these observations down in a notebook. You might discover that you don’t work well under pressure or you are most creative in the early morning.

When November rolls around, even if the book is not complete, you have accomplished the learning portion of the goal so the effort was not a total failure.

4. Anticipate it

Obstacles will pop up on your way to reaching your goal. Taking the time in advance to consider what those obstacles might be and how you might address them will allow you to seek solutions when you are calm and have more presence of mind.

5. Admit it

Often part of the reason we fail is because we attempt to reach our goals in our own strength. Goals by their very nature are a stretch, or you would have already reached them. You need God’s guidance along the way. Actively include Him in the process and ask for His help. Admit that you lack what is needed to accomplish the task.

6. Answer to

A balance pole improves your ability to maintain your balance when tight rope walking. In the same way, having people in place to keep you accountable to staying on track with your goals can help you stay the course. Enlist the help of one or two trusted individuals to regularly check in to see how you are progressing.

7. Advisers

If a safety net had been in place in the opening tight rope story, falling would have been substantially less dangerous. Both the distance and the impact of the fall would have been minimized. Correspondingly, a trusted and more experienced adviser serves as a safety net for you as you take steps towards your goal. Advisers might be an expert in the area you are pursuing or someone with skills in an area you are weak. Working with a coach can enable you to expand your perspective, uncover destructive mindsets and patterns, help you flesh out your vision, create a strategy, and help you navigate the process. The support and accountability provided by a coach can be invaluable!

Back in the day, my view of failure was much more entangled with my identity and worth. Today, my identity and worth are firmly rooted in Jesus, and failure is my teacher. Failure is just a part of the process. Now I understand why my intense aversion to failure was met with chuckles. Failure is really my friend.

How about you? How do you view failure? What goals has the fear of failure kept you from reaching?

© Can Stock Photo Inc. / wittaya2499

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