Failure Is Nothing to Fear

Much has been written about overcoming fear of failure. This is good stuff, but it misses the really important point: there is often nothing about failure worth fearing.

Sure, there are some failures that contain negative elements, such as falling off a cliff you are trying to climb or hitting your thumb instead of the nail you are trying to hammer.

But far more often, you can stop looking at failure as some kind of a defeat or dead-end and begin to see it instead as a wonderful opportunity that is not to be feared, but rather to be welcomed as a stepping stone to a better future.

Could you learn to ride a bicycle, or skate, or ski without falling at least once? Could you gain any knowledge without first failing to know or understand what you’re trying to learn?

In fact, could any progress be made that didn’t spring from some kind of failure, such as Thomas Edison’s thousands of failed efforts to make a practical light bulb or the failure of England’s King George III to govern the Colonies wisely, which prodded this nation’s Founders to revolt and eventually conceive our Constitution?

Failure is not only common and natural, it’s a wonderful opportunity for learning and growth.

Here are some effective ways to get more comfortable with failure:  

Redefine Failure

In years gone by, scientists investigating the Great Pyramid reportedly completed a project intended to find a hidden chamber supposedly left by the builders within the solid stone. When critics complained that the project failed because they didn’t find the chamber, the scientists replied: “We haven’t failed. We found there is no hidden chamber.”

In the same way, almost any results that some might define as failure can equally well be seen as worthwhile. This route converts the dead-end of failure to the bright, open pathway to a more enlightened and successful future.

Look for the Lesson

Redefining failure as an opportunity works better when you get in the habit of looking for the silver lining in what others tend to see only as a cloud.

Most failures encompass deeper-level learning opportunities along with the surface embarrassment, pain, or deprivation we most readily see. These learning opportunities can be very diverse, including practical opportunities – as in learning to balance a bicycle, or intellectual opportunities – as in learning new facts or recognizing new principles of how the world works, or emotional opportunities – as in getting in closer touch with our own or others’ true character and honest feelings.

Finding and benefiting from the lessons that failures can bring are one of the most important ways to grow, mature, and develop into a highly productive and successful person.

Improve Your Efforts

Sometimes failure – as in falling off a bicycle or a skateboard – requires a repeated effort to succeed.

Sometimes failure – as when you fail to get a desired job or break up with someone you love – requires closing that chapter of your life and moving on.

Either way, an important benefit of failure is the motivation and experience it provides to help you do better next time.

Ways to improve your efforts after a failure include:

  • Learn what you can and apply what you learn.
  • Recognize impediments to success and maneuver to avoid them.
  • Analyze your performance to develop better techniques.
  • Assess your strengths and weaknesses to improve your strategy.

Conventional “fear of failure” can result from many different causes, including suffering early criticism or lack of support, losing against overmatched competitors, encountering unlucky humiliations, enduring trauma, and worse. Such experiences naturally produce negative emotions, which can settle in as “fear of failure” and remain for the rest of your life.

But as you grow and mature, you will certainly encounter many opportunities to overcome any such “fear of failure.” If you regularly try to take advantage of these opportunities, you will begin to benefit from the worthwhile lessons you can nearly always find in the inevitable failures you’ll experience in your work and your life.

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