Failing Forward: Don’t Let the Fear of Failure Hold You Back

We find comfort in our daily routines. In these routines we know what to expect and what to do. There are no surprises, little to no risk and no potential for failure. But there is also very little potential for growth in an environment like that. Growth occurs when we step out of the routine and push into unchartered territory, into something new. When we do this, we also expose ourselves to the risk of failure. This is a big impediment to some and the unwillingness to risk and accept failure limits future possibilities and opportunities. 

Failure Doesn’t Define You 

Many of us link failure to our self-worth, our general sense of being. We feel that failing at an activity makes us a failure. Society has taught us to think this way. Maybe we had bad managers who reacted poorly to failures by their teams. They discouraged failure and risk taking, content with the status quo. If you are currently working in an environment like that, understand that is a shortcoming of the manager, not you. 

In sports, we are encouraged to win and there is nothing wrong with winning. But for one team to win, another must not. Losing the game doesn’t make that team a bunch of losers personally. They didn’t lose at life, they just lost the game. This doesn’t mean we shouldn’t work hard to try and win the game, to get the best grade on the test, to beat out others for the job opportunity. But it doesn’t mean that in those situations when we don’t win that we are lesser human beings. 

Failure does not define your character. This is important and I will stress again - just because you experienced failure in a particular activity does not make you a failure as a human being.  

Don’t Fear Failure 

Fear can occur in all areas of our lives, both personal and professional. Fear of the unknown is a big one for many people. The truth of the matter is that everyone experiences fear. The real question is – what do you do next? 

Do you let fear take control and prevent you from acting or do you move forward despite that fear? The ability to proceed even though you are afraid is the definition of courage. To act in the face of fear. Courage doesn’t occur in the absence of fear because there is no need for courage when there is no fear. Brave people are not brave because they are never afraid. Brave people are brave because they choose to act despite their fears. 

Being apathetic to failure is not the same thing as being fearless of failure. Some people don’t care about failure because they don’t care about the outcome. When you care about the outcome, then you have a strong desire to be successful and ideally you want that success on the first attempt, but that rarely ever happens. We see others being successful at various endeavors and make a bad assumption they didn’t experience any failures along their way. But almost everyone experiences failures along the way with new endeavors. 

Arianna Huffington said, “Failure is not the opposite of success, it’s part of success.” Learn to embrace the reality that branching out and doing something new or different will have setbacks along the way, but that is actually part of the process. 

The only real failure is the one you repeat 

Failures are not bad as long as we learn from them. 

If we don’t learn from the past and our failures, we are doomed to repeat them. 

Experiencing failures is how we improve. Thomas Edison failed over one thousand times when trying to invent the lightbulb. As he explained, “I have not failed 10,000 times, I’ve successfully found 10,000 ways that will not work.” You have to treat failures as learning opportunities and when you don’t learn from your failures, you are highly likely to repeat them. Most things we attempt will never be 100% successful on the first attempt, if so, it was probably nothing noteworthy. Remind yourself it’s okay to stumble, the only real problem is when we don’t apply what we learned as we continue on the journey. 

Don’t wait until you are comfortable and ready to start, you may never be 

There is a term I’ve used in the past, “analysis paralysis.” Where someone is too afraid to start an initiative and so they are constantly bringing up some new variable that needs to be researched and reviewed. There is always additional research to be done and this keeps the person from having to actually start the effort. 

We will almost never have a complete view and grasp of an initiative when we start. For example, if you are heading out on a multi-day trip, the chances are extremely high that you cannot see your destination from the starting point. You must start the journey and then handle any unexpected situations as they occur. Maybe a bridge is out or a road is closed. Maybe there’s an accident causing a detour or any number of other possibilities that could impact the journey. Sometimes you may be able to get an advanced alert to a situation before you start, but other situations will develop during your journey. If you are excited about the destination, you focus on that. You don’t allow all these “potential impacts” to prevent you from starting the trip. 

But in too many other activities in our lives we do just that. We talk ourselves out of the activity because of the “potential impacts.” And here’s the interesting part, most of them will never happen. 

How Do We Do It? 

How do we convince ourselves to move out of our comfort zone, to become uncomfortable and face the unknown? 

Think back to similar times where you ventured out and tried something new. Something you successfully completed. Consider the failures you experienced along that journey but focus on the joy you felt when you successfully completed it. 

As you embark on your next journey, remind yourself you weren’t successful on the first attempt. The failures made you stronger, smarter. In the end, it wasn’t the failures, but the successful completion of the activity. 

It’s okay to be afraid as you venture down a new unknown path. It’s okay to feel uncomfortable with the lack of routine. It’s okay to experience failure along the way. Remind yourself that everyone experiences failure. 

Most importantly, remember that these failures don’t define your self-worth. 

Courage despite the fear. Push through the fear. Embrace and learn from the failures. Keep your eyes on the goal and keep getting back up. 

About the Author 

Jim Holder is an author and thought leader. He has over 30 years of leadership experience including Vice President Software Development and most recently Vice President IT for a global corporation. He has had the fortune to work in over 8 different countries and experienced life in an additional 3. He has coached hundreds of leaders and individuals throughout his career. You can follow him on LinkedIn and also signup for his newsletter through his website Rise & Guide at 

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