Fear of Failure

Several months ago, I was interviewed about a book for a radio show, “Top of Your Game.” One of the things the host asked me to talk about was my near-death experience in December 2008. She wanted to know if the conviction to change my life coming away from it was constant or if it faded in time. I told her that it wasn’t an either-or scenario, but more a pendulum swing between the conviction to step out and the fear of doing so. After all, experiencing fear is part of being human; it can’t be avoided. At the same time, I know that reverting back to hiding in my comfort zone isn’t an option. Therefore, it has really been a matter of knowing what to do with fears, such that they don’t get the better of me.

I bet you have experienced the fear of failing, haven’t you? After all, isn’t it why so many of us choose the status quo over going after a big dream? But, what if the fear of failure is just a disguise for the fear of success? What if the real culprit is that, deep down, we’re terrified of not being able to stretch and grow (fast enough) to contain the big success we’re called to step into? Isn’t it why so many of us unknowingly self-sabotage in order to return to our comfort zone? Isn’t it why we procrastinate and allow ourselves to be distracted from a big goal that scares us?

You may ask, what difference does the label make? Fear is fear, isn’t it? Well, I beg to differ. The awareness you bring to the nature of your fear makes a world of difference. Just humor me for a moment. Think of where you are in life right now as your baseline for success; however you choose to define success. Whether or not you see yourself as objectively successful, your current status establishes your success baseline going forward. If what calls to you and pulls you stretches your current comfort, you basically have the opportunity to increase your success. The fear of “failure” is then the anxiety of not knowing if you can indeed raise your success from its current level. So, the fear of failure is really the fear of not being big enough to be more successful than you are currently.

Are you with me so far? Good, let me offer the next thought: In the event that you do “fail,” you can always return to your current success level. Oh, yes, you can! You’ve done what you needed to do to get to where you are now. You know how to get here again if necessary. Chances are, though, that if you feel pulled toward something that stretches you to grow, there really is no turning back. But, it’s good to let the fearful part of you know that you’re ultimately safe as you step forward on your path to expansion and growth.

With all that said, by kneeling at the altar of avoiding success–all in the name of not wanting to fail–you aren’t giving yourself the permission to experience the possibility of more joy and passion in your life, to taste the sweetness of higher success–again, however you choose to define success. Instead, you agree to being limited by your current success level, even if it may be sub-optimal. You choose to remain in a rut or to tolerate familiar numbness. If you feel a nudge to step outside your comfort zone, see it as an opportunity to increase your success, knowing that you can always come back to your current state if indeed you so choose. It puts “failure” in a different light. Give yourself the permission to dismantle your fear of success–disguised as the fear of failure–and to raise your success level toward more joy and passion!

There’s no true failure other than not trying. Let’s not be afraid to at least try.