“You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.” — Wayne Gretzky
I feel like pro athletes have the best quotes about failure. In fact, my all-time favorite success quote is from Michael Jordan’s Nike commercial:-
“I’ve missed more than 9,000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. 26 times I’ve been trusted to take the game-winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.” — Michael Jordan
Michael Jordan was no stranger to failure. But his belief was that he could accept failure – but he couldn’t ever accept not trying.
I mean, when you think about it, fear of failure is kind of crazy.
We fear that we’ll fail and spoil our hypothetical success. But by not trying, we’ve already robbed ourselves of that success before we started.
In the end, failure won't crush your dreams. But what will is the fear that stopped you going after your dreams in the first place.
Despite the title of this blog post, I’m not going to show you how to stop being afraid to fail. I don’t think failure is really a thing, and even if it was, it’s not the problem.
Failure is useful – even necessary – for creating the life you want.
Spoiler alert: if you’re about to change your life – or anything in it – you are, most definitely, unequivocally going to fail at some point.
Cock up. Screw the pooch. Blow the whole thing to bits. Tear it in half and throw it in the bin.
I can’t prevent that. And if I could, I wouldn’t.
In fact, I want you to fall and graze your knees.
Because it means you’re out there doing the do.
You’re learning. You’re getting better.
You’re snuggled up tight in your uncomfortable chrysalis, forming your rainbow wings.
Helping you prepare so that you definitely get it right won't prevent your fear of failure.
GET COMFORTABLE WITH RISK
Nothing great was ever accomplished inside someone’s comfort zone. Anybody who has ever done extraordinary things has never done so without massive risk.
(Whew. Tongue twister when you read that sentence aloud. Also, cringe at the double negative - but I’ll allow it.)
Their dreams asked more of them than their current reality. They put everything on the line, because the risk of staying the same was greater than the risk in going for their dreams.
But risk, though.
Say or read the word “risk” and you almost want to hiss through your teeth, right? It just ... feels scary.
Risk seems synonymous with danger, gambling, and losing big, doesn’t it? No one says “it’s a risk” with quite the same enthusiastic optimism as they say “it’s a sure thing”.
Listen, having a bit of a dangerous connotation to the word “risk” isn’t without its benefits. There are obviously circumstances where risk equals reckless endangerment:
Gambling the deeds to your house in a poker game
Walking alone through an alleyway late at night
Marching into the office on Monday morning to tell your nasty supervisor what you really think
Endangering your safety, and/or the safety of others
In the context of this post, I’m talking about taking a calculated risk to better your life, and possibly the lives of others.
My mentor said, “If you can reasonably expect to bounce back from the worst that could happen – it’s a no brainer.”
There is a risk involved with:
Asking your crush to dinner
Taking that pole dancing class you’ve been meaning to try
Cooking that ambitious patisserie you saw on Master Chef
Sharing a petition on Facebook for a cause that matters to you
Going back to school to study for a qualification in your dream career
Asking your boss for a raise
Trying a daring new haircut or color
But think about it. What’s honestly the worst that could possibly happen?
Even if it doesn’t work, you WILL bounce back. Maybe not right away, but you will.
My favorite way to get comfortable with risk is to weigh up the risk of failure with the risk of regret.
It’s a little morbid, but the exercise I use for this is the ‘deathbed exercise’.
When I’m lying on my deathbed (hopefully a full century from now), will I regret not taking the risk? Will I be saying “I wish I had...?”
If the answer is yes, I go for it. #YOLO.
Now, this isn’t to say every risk I’ve taken turned out for the better. In fact, I’ve definitely ballsed up way more than I’ve gotten it right.
But I don’t regret one single bad decision. And in the following paragraphs, I’ll explain why.
THERE'S NO SUCH THING AS FAILURE, ANYWAY
Walt Disney was already a world-famous animator when Disneyland opened. For 20 years prior, he’d dreamed of a place where adults and children could live out their imaginations.
On July 17, 1955, it finally happened. Disneyland opened its doors for the first time.
Opening Day was supposed to be a limited preview, largely a press junket, to ensure glowing opening day reviews. Disney had issued a few tickets to the media, and special guests, but it was closed to the general public.
What ensued was a cluster fuck of epic proportions.
Someone had fabricated and sold counterfeit tickets which were such a deep fake that Disney’s own staff couldn’t spot them.
Instead of getting a modest number of 11,000 guests, a whopping 28,000 people showed up.
But that’s just who got in through the official gates. Meanwhile, another man set up a ladder around the back (yes, this really happened) and charged people $5 to sneak in.
Because there was such a scramble to complete Disneyland, the asphalt hadn’t set before opening, which wouldn’t have been a problem except that it was a freakishly hot day and all the tar melted, causing women’s shoes to nightmarishly sink into the ground.
The park ran out of food by lunchtime, and due to the recent plumber’s strike, they couldn’t install many water fountains.
As a result, people angrily accused Disney of profiteering off soda sales.
The huge throngs rushed the rides, causing all kinds of incidents, on top of sinking river boats, crashed Autopia cars, and ride breakdowns.
There was a gas leak, causing several of the lands to be closed at once, and Sleeping Beauty’s castle almost went up in flames at one point. (Lord, Jesus.)
I don’t know where the phrase “the press had a field day” came from, but one can only imagine it came from opening day at Disneyland.
Because it was a designated “press day”, reporters and news crews from all over the country were documenting the disastrous spectacle from start to finish.
They completely panned it, splashing the disaster over every newspaper in the country.
The day was such a shambles, it became known amongst employees as “Black Sunday”.
Now, Walt Disney has always been one of my role models. But it was when I watched the documentary about Disneyland that Disney cemented his place as one of my biggest inspirations.
I just imagined him, in the middle of it all, watching a 20-year dream into which he'd poured his heart, soul, reputation, name, and every cent he'd worked his ass off for, finally coming together and (almost literally) going up in flames in the exact same moment.
Yet, as mortified and disappointed about the opening day as he might have felt, Disney got up and dedicated the opening of Disneyland with a smile and a twinkle of pride and optimism in his eye.
For all the opening day shortcomings, there were still a bunch of things Disneyland got right on opening day. People obviously loved it - because they kept coming back.
Disney could have focused on all the ways the opening of his dream theme park was a fiasco - but instead, he saw it as an opportunity to fix what didn’t work, focus on what they did right, and “Imagineer” ways to make the park even better.
The rest, as they say, is history. Disneyland is a source of joy, inspiration, and dreams come true for millions of people to this day.
If Disney had given up on Disneyland 65 years ago out of fear of failure, we would all be robbed of “the happiest place on earth”.
Successful people can't perceive fear within the realm of their experience. They don’t dwell on shortcomings, mistakes, or obstacles.
They also don’t attach a negative meaning to the fiascoes they’ve had along the way. They see these as feedback – an opportunity to learn, grow, and gain experience so that they can make their vision even better.
When successful people try something that doesn’t work out, they don’t throw the whole thing in the bin and go home.
They use setbacks as guideposts to tell them what didn’t work, so they can use a different approach next time.
Failure is your friend! Every time you make a mistake, screw up, or it doesn’t go to plan, get excited!
Every time you learn what doesn’t work, through the process of elimination, you learn what does.
Each month, without judgment, I sit down with my business goals. I go over what worked wonderfully, and what I stank at.
I ask myself why it didn’t work, where I could stretch myself, and what I could do differently.
Each month, I’m able to improve my business even more.
Over the long run, this kind of insight and experience will be invaluable.
I don’t see failure as a waste of time, money, or resources. I see it as an investment in my ultimate success.
MAKE FAILURE YOUR FRIEND
It isn’t easy to change your relationship to failure.
Especially not when our society is absolutely terrified of failing.
We have whole sayings that sing the praises of staying inside our comfort zone and not daring greatly:-
Don’t rock the boat
Better the devil you know
Better safe than sorry
A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush
Fear of failure paralyses most people.
Their minds conjure up all the ways it won’t work, why it’s impossible, and fretfully ask “what if” in a never-ending loop until they’re so terrified of failing that they self-destruct any chance of succeeding.
If you’re constantly asking “what if it doesn’t work out”, you’re actively looking for reasons you’ll fail. In other words, that’s where you’ve decided to focus.
When you do that, you’ll never find evidence that you can do something or that it will work, because you’re asking questions around why it will be a disaster.
Fear of failure, and the way you talk about failure, creates your experience!
What if the words you said to yourself actually determined your potential? What if words like “failure”, “mistake”, “screw up”, or phrases like “not good enough”, “I can’t”, “too hard” created your destiny? In a way, they do.
The words you often repeat to yourself determine the action you’ll take. When you’ve got a disempowering soundtrack on loop, you’ve quit the game before you even started.
But this is easy enough to fix! All you have to do is change your focus by asking better questions.
When you do this consistently, you'll shift to an empowered focus that actually motivates you.
That reminds me: this week's freebie is journal prompts to change what you think about failure. It’s available for download in the Library.
A sneak peek at my favorites from the PDF download include:
What would you do if you knew you could not fail?
What if there was no such thing as failure, only feedback?
WHERE DOES YOUR FEAR OF FAILURE COME FROM?
I know fear’s not the nicest feeling to have – the sweaty palms, the nausea, the screaming.
Fear is our friend. Fear is the overprotective mother worrying at every second we’re going to hurt ourselves.
Fear means well. Fear is on our SIDE.
Fear is there to protect us. I love fear.
Fear asks me to stop, pull back, and consider what I’m about to do, because it senses a risk. (Ding ding ding – there’s that word again.)
Some fears are sensible to listen to – like a fear of crossing a busy street, for example.
We don’t want to live with no fear. We always want to listen to our fear.
We just don’t want it to dictate our lives.
Fear is like your navigator – warning you about what’s ahead. It’s fine to listen to your fear.
The mistake most of us make is that we put fear in the driver’s seat and let it make the decisions for us. Instead of letting fear run your life on autopilot, put yourself back in the driver’s seat and take charge.
When you feel scared about something, ask yourself:
What am I really afraid of, here?
Where does this fear come from?
Is this a healthy fear, or does it come from a limiting belief?
What subconscious need is this fear trying to meet?
What is an empowering way I can meet that need and still go after what I want?
Sometimes, just understanding your fear and its origin is enough to pacify it, while you get out and crush your dreams.
FEEL THE FEAR AND DO IT ANYWAY
In her amazing book, Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway, Susan Jeffers explains that no matter what you do in life, fear will come up whenever you face the unknown.
This is normal.
The only way to avoid the fear of failure is to sit in a corner in your comfort zone and do nothing for the rest of your life.
And how satisfying (or realistic) is that going to be for you?
So if you’re going to have to face the fear of failure again anyway, at some point, in some other form, why not this? Why not now?
If you wait to be “ready”, or for some “sign” from the Universe before you act, you’ll be waiting your whole life.
The truth is that even if the Universe gave you a million signs, you would still feel fear.
The only antidote to that, I’m afraid, is to do the very thing you’re afraid to do.
Do it scared.
Do it afraid.
Think about it. If you procrastinate about something scary for six days, and loop anxious “what if” questions, you’ll have gone through six more days of fear than if you'd just gotten it over with.
And afterward? When you look back and see that it wasn’t that bad?
You’ll feel less scared about it next time. You’ll feel more confident. You’ll build your self-worth and self-esteem.
Do it even though you’re quaking in your boots. You’ll be amazed at where it takes you.
I believe that there is no such thing as failure – only feedback, lessons, and experience. Every action we take has a consequence – either something we want or something we don’t want.
If the consequence doesn’t result in what we want, we get to choose again. We get another bite at the cherry.
All we have to do is learn from our past and do differently next time.
And so there’s no need to fear failure – rather, we need to embrace it. It’s only through failing that we metamorphose into the best versions of ourselves.
Can you think of a time when you overcame your fear of failure and did something extraordinary?