Some people seem to be born ready to jump out of airplanes and live life on the edge. It’s like they were made for it. Careers in investment banking or startups seem to fit these types of people. And then there are the rest of us… perfectly fine watching others make the mistakes, jump when it’s still going to be difficult, and take big risks. Caution is a virtue and making sure all things point in a good direction is something of value. It’s just… well… sometimes, we all have to be willing to jump even when it’s still uncertain. Even in jobs that are routine and ordinary. Let’s walk through reasons why risking failure feels so horrible and come up with a couple ways to defeat the fear in order to live the life and pursue the jobs we want.
Reasons we fear failure
#1) We fear failure because we don’t want to be singled out. Brene Brown talks about our deepest human need of ‘belonging’. We all want to feel that we are on the inside of the group, we are part of the whole. One of our greatest fears as humans, whether we jump out of planes or not, is fear of being the outcast. Failure may indicate an exclusion from the ‘other’. The ‘other’ or ‘others’ in this case, are those who found success at the end of their risk. For example, maybe you want to start your own business, but you see the competition and think there’s now way you’ll get to be that successful. Or you are next in line for the promotion but don’t want to be ‘the boss’ and lose all your friends who you would oversee.
#2) We fear failure because of unresolved issues in our past. Many many people make decisions based on trying to please mom and dad. I know mommy and daddy issues are the last thing we want to deal with over and over but our roots matter and our unresolved issues influence the way we operate today. You need to resolve them. Counseling may be a good option here if there are a lot of issues to deal with. Suffice it to say, I would encourage an honest search. For example, perhaps you’ve always loved writing but were consistently told that you need a ‘real’ job.
#3) We fear failure because we fear humiliation – our grand plan, idea, or dream falls flat. Have you ever watched Shark Tank? Who wants to be the guy who believes in your product, sinks a bunch of money into an under-developed idea or just a really bad one? Worse, who wants to be laughed off? We don’t want to risk the humiliation of interviewing for a job and not getting it or writing the book and getting denied… repeatedly.
Steps to overcome fear
After overcoming or at least acknowledging the fear, you must take the next steps to move forward:
#1) Get buy-in and include others. Many successful people are successful because of others. The American way nearly always lifts up sole individuals as successful, however, a closer study usually reveals teams of people pursuing a goal. Tell people what you want to do. This creates two things that will work for you. One is that you’ll get support and the other is that you’ll get accountability.
#2) Be open to feedback. In order to learn, we must learn how fail and then go again in a new way. Your friends, who mostly want you to succeed, may help you formulate ideas, offer suggestions, and give you honest feedback that you might not be able to see. If Thomas Edison continued to do the same thing that didn’t work the first time around, well then he wouldn’t have arrived at the solution. Small failures can actually be big victories.
#3) Let go of the result. It’s not about making sure you’ll be a success. It’s about letting go of the outcome altogether. Before you take the leap, there is no way of knowing whether it will be a crap shoot or the next big thing. I would even argue it’s less about the outcome and more about you letting go of any or all outcome whatsoever. That’s great news to a certain degree because it means the goal isn’t to avoid failure. The goal is to let events and circumstances unfold as they will and accept that outcome either way. Did Steve Jobs absolutely know that his invention was the next big thing? No. He just took the risk and let it happen. I believe many of us hold too tightly, instead of letting our careers take on their own journey. Career development usually take on that life despite our best efforts to control it, so we might as well take the risk and let go.