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How Do You Overcome Your Fear of Failing?

For the second time in as many weeks two clients talked about being “terrified” of failing.

No one was talking about putting up their home as collateral or sinking their life savings into a venture. In fact, in both cases the stakes were relatively low.

Sadly, for some people the mere prospect of failing can be paralyzing.

Every entrepreneur experiences failures on the way to success. I am certainly no exception.

While still in my corporate job I had a side business selling a line of humorous greeting cards. I spent months drawing each card, surveying my friends to see which ones people liked best, and then invested a couple of thousand of dollars getting them printed.

They sold pretty well in small gift stores in San Francisco, Boston, NYC, Hartford, and Provincetown, Mass. But about a year into it, I realized it was the wrong business for me.

Did I spend more money than I made? Yup. But it never felt like a failure.

To the contrary:

  • I felt proud of myself for giving it my best shot (as my friend Sue said at the time, “Everyone I know talks about what they’re going to do… you do it.”)
  • I learned a ton about the greeting card business, which in my current capacity as a Profiting from Your Passions® Career Advisor I’ve been able to share with others looking to launch their own line
  • And it gave me more confidence to move on to my next venture

If you really want to change course to work for yourself, then you absolutely must readjust your emotional response to failure.

This means embracing some fundamental truths about failure

Truth 1: You’ll strike out more often then not.

In baseball a .333 batting average is considered outstanding. If you’re not a baseball fan, what this means is that for every 10 pitches, the batter only has to hit the ball three times to be considered exceptional.

Even the legendary Babe Ruth “only” batted .342. The point is, you can be at the top of your game and still strike out more often than not. No one bats 1000 so stop expecting yourself to be the exception.

Truth 2: Failures offer valuable lessons – and opportunities.

Instead of seeing your flops as evidence of your incompetence, think of them as information you can use to do better next time. For example, after the hundredth rejection letter aspiring romance writer Diane Cosby says she stopped counting. But she never gave up.

Instead she said she worked harder at her craft by doing more research and taking more classes and then following the advice of romance writers whom she admired. Slowly she got better.

Even then it took writing many more novels and a continuous stream of rejection letters before a New York publisher took on her eighth book, “His Captive” set in medieval Scotland.

Instead of giving up ask yourself:

  • Do I need to develop or hone a certain skill?
  • Do I need more practice or a different approach?
  • What will I do differently next time?
  • What lessons can I glean from this setback or experience?

The sooner you glean the learning value following any “failure” the better. The key is to fail forward.

Truth 3: Not taking risks may be the riskiest move of all.

People often comment on what a risk I took in leaving my well-paying corporate job. The fact of the matter is, I didn’t just up and quit.

I planned the move for over a year and I did it in stages – a process I documented in The 10 Steps to Escaping the Job World and Creating the Life You Really Want.

Besides, so much of changing course comes down to shifting your thinking about what “risk” really means. What should terrify you is…

  • Continuing to turn your back on your natural gifts… the reason your were put on the planet
  • Risking your health by staying in a toxic job…
  • Leaving a legacy that reads, “She could have helped a lot of people… but she was too afraid to try”

Truth 4: Choose what kind of failures you want to have.

In his commencement address at Macalister College, radio show host and author Garrison Keillor encouraged his audience to “have interesting failures.”

Let those words sink in for a moment. Have interesting failures.

Not only do you have a choice about how you handle failure, you also have a huge say in what kind of failures to have.

From time to time you’re going to miss the mark. So why just be a failure at parallel parking or math when you can come in third at the National Jigsaw Puzzle Championships, only write one children’s book, or get your photos into only a couple of galleries?

The fact that you never fail is proof of only one thing – you never acted. Or as Denzel Washington told another group of graduating students, “If you don’t fail, you’re not even trying.”

The Choice is Yours

Erma Bombeck once said, “It takes a lot of courage to show your dreams to someone else.”

It’s one thing to quietly promise yourself that you’re going to push past your fears and finally act on those long buried dreams.

It’s quite another thing to announce to the world your intention to write a children’s book, become a motivational speaker, sell your jewelry, or whatever it is you’ve been “terrified” of doing.

And yet making a public commitment is one of the best ways to ensure that you’ll actually follow through.

Sure the naysayers are watching and waiting for any setback so they can say, “I told you so.” But if you make a point to tell the “right” people I guarantee they’ll be cheering you on.

Once these people see you taking steps, they’ll be inspired to act on their own dreams. That’s because action is contagious!

And putting your intention out to the world is a first step in creating that all important accountability.

What if right here, right now you were to commit to do something you had previously been too afraid to try? Just complete this sentence:

In the next 48-72 hours I’m going to ______________________________________

But don’t stop there.

Share your commitment with the world by publically posting it on the Changing Course blog.

Changing course is infinitely easier – and less scary – when you break it down to small manageable steps and then share that step with other change seekers.

As Margaret Bourke White said, “Action stops fear.”

Every day you get to choose settling over reaching, inaction over action, and continuing to live your life the way it is over the life you want and deserve. It really is your choice.

And every day is an opportunity to start anew… to make new choices.

Which will you choose – fear or action?

The more you know the less there is to fear.

To read Step 1 of the The 10 Steps to Escaping the Job World and Creating the Life You Really Want click here.

Note from Valerie: For a limited time you can download a recording of entire The 10 Steps to Escaping the Job World and Creating the Life You Really Want for under ten bucks. That’s less than a dollar a step. 🙂 Click here for this special offer.

There are 4 comments. Add yours.


A New Direction

I decided to take the Work @ What You Love Workshop and also work one-on-one with Valerie. The workshop explored so many unusual and unexpected solutions to my specific questions. I made so many new connections to what clearly works for me in crea...

Julia Raymond
Curvology Studio

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