How to Crush Your Fear of Failure
WHAT IS FEAR OF FAILURE?
While the phrase alone might seem obvious – especially for high-achieving young entrepreneurs like you who are used to success – there are different types of fear of failure (atychiphobia). In no particular order, fear of failure can mean:
- Fear of looking bad in front of others
- Fear of not being good enough to solve a problem or complete a task
- Fear of letting people down
- Fear of not getting “it” right
- Fear of being thought of as “less than”
We won’t sugar-coat this for you: those fears are all very real. Not many people relish the idea of making a fool of themselves in front of an audience filled with people they respect. And almost no one is comfortable with the thought of their loved ones being disappointed in them.
Sometimes a fear of failure can be healthy, even positive. You study harder for a test because you don’t want to fail. You train for a sport because you don’t want to lose a game.
But when fear of failure starts to hold you back, then it’s a problem. This fear can keep you from applying to the college of your dreams. It can prevent you from seizing new opportunities. And it can undermine your entrepreneurial journey before you even get started.
Thankfully, once you recognize this fear in yourself, you can start taking steps to crush it. Ready? Let’s go!
1. WHY ARE YOU SCARED?
The first step in conquering any fear is figuring out why you have this fear. For example, if you were bitten by a snake as a child, you might (understandably) grow up with a fear of snakes (ophidiophobia). In that case, you know exactly why you have this fear.
But what about fear of failure? Consider your past, including your home life, culture, and how your parents behave. All of these may have contributed to your fear of failure. How?
- Your parents grew up poor and have instilled in you a fear of not having enough money
- You come from a culture that believes not doing well in school is a sign of a weak or “less-than” person
- You have an older sibling (or close cousin) who made straight As, graduated valedictorian, and went to a prestigious college
- You were in a school play and forgot your lines
- You messed up in a sport and your team lost the game
- You can’t stand chaos and need to feel in control of all things all the time
These are just a few examples. What else from your own life can you think of that drives you, not only to seek achievement but causes you to fear failure?
2. PREPARE, BUT DON’T OVERDO IT
Now you know why your fear of failure lives inside your brain. Time to kick it out and reclaim your mental space!
One of the first things you can do is prepare as best you can for whatever’s coming. Studying for a test is great but staying up all night and neglecting self-care is not. Will pulling an all-nighter really affect your grade by that much? Or will the lack of sleep make things even worse?
We all have trouble recognizing when we’ve done enough versus pushing ourselves to do even more. A good way to decide when it’s time to stop and move on is to ask yourself whether you are truly benefiting by continuing. Take a step back and look at whether what you’re doing is helping you. The most successful entrepreneurs understand that managing risk is important but drowning in preparation is self-defeating.
3. WHAT IS FAILURE, ANYWAY?
There’s an enormous difference between studying hard because you are having trouble in a subject and don’t want to fail, versus driving yourself to a physical and mental breakdown because you can’t stand the thought of getting a B instead of an A on a quiz that will barely count toward your final grade in the class.
In other words, try to maintain some perspective. We’re not trying to diminish your goals. The Kantner Foundation prides itself on working with some of the highest-achieving students. But if your goals are so exact that they cause you to hurt yourself, it might be time to have a long hard look and see if you can make them a little more realistic.
4. WHAT’S THE WORST THAT CAN HAPPEN?
Not all failure is unavoidable. No matter how much you prepare, train, or study, sometimes things just don’t go your way. There doesn’t have to be rhyme or reason for it.
The best thing you can do for yourself, while you prepare, train, or study, is to also imagine the worst-case scenario. Maybe you have to present your business pitch to a room full of investors. These are people who will decide whether you get the funding you need to launch your dream business. In your mind, there’s no room for failure!
What’s the worst that can happen? They say no.
Before you walk into that room full of grown-ups in suits with the power of making or breaking your startup, imagine what you’d do if they turned you down. Are you going to yell at them? Make a scene? Knock over a chair? Of course not. You’ll politely thank them for their time, collect yourself and your belongings, and walk out with your head held high because at least you tried. You’ll go home, maybe cry a little, let your family and friends build you back up, and then you’ll try again with a different set of investors. Or you’ll find another way to gather starter capital.
By having a “plan b,” (and even plans c, d, e, and f) you walk into that situation understanding that failure is an option, but it’s not the end of the world.
Keep in mind that few, if any, successful entrepreneurs out there have never failed. By having an honest conversation with yourself and adjusting your point of view, you can stop letting a fear of failure ruin your life.
The Kantner Foundation offers college scholarships to young Florida entrepreneurs. Ready to learn more? Click here to see if you are eligible!