Over the years, I’ve worked with many clients who were held back by fear of failure, and certainly I’ve experienced it myself in my own (employed) career, and in my life as a business owner.
Fear of failure can be very insidious. Sometimes it ‘s big, ugly and obvious, but a lot of the time it masquerades as something else. For instance, I am in a Facebook group where someone was talking about their fear of technology, and how it was stopping them progressing their business. The truth is, if you are frightened of technology you can outsource it. But often it masks the real fear: fear of getting it wrong, feeling a fool, in sure fear of failure.
My latest fear of failure disguised as fear of technology was fear of running a Google hangout! I had to think long and hard about what was really going on here, because a Google hangout is really a form of public speaking, except that you can’t easily sense the audience. I have no fear of public speaking – I have been doing that, and training, for nearly 30 years. So my fear of running a Google hangout wasn’t about speaking in public. Eventually I realised it was fear of getting the technology wrong and so looking unprofessional. It’s quite common with hangouts, and I have seen several speakers get pulled up short because the audio on a hangout failed, or their slides wouldn’t show, or the replay wouldn’t play.
Fear of failure often shows itself as procrastination. There are 2 main reasons why we procrastinate: the thing we’re procrastinating about isn’t really that important or meaningful to us, or we’re frightened of the consequences of doing it.
Small business owners often procrastinate about making sales calls or doing marketing. How often have you heard a small business owner say that they hate selling? Yet selling is the lifeblood of the business. If you don’t sell what you do, you don’t earn money – at which point you have a hobby, not a business, and you become a business failure. Most people ‘hate’ selling because they are frightened of rejection, or….failure.
It’s ironic really. You hate selling, because you fear rejection (which is a form of failure). Yet not selling is likely to bring you failure anyway.
At an unconscious level, we are programmed to avoid pain, both physical and mental/emotional, or anything that might threaten our survival. We learn, growing up, what causes us pain, and we make decisions about the way the world works based on our painful experiences. I have worked with individuals who are highly intolerant of anything less than perfection in themselves and in others, because anything less than perfection was not tolerated in their family.
We have to learn to get over ourselves. It’s fantastic to be really good at what you do. However, most of the most successful business people on the planet have experienced failure. And most of them will tell you they learned more from their failures than their successes. What differentiates them from other failed business owners is that they picked themselves up and continued to take educated risks, even while knowing that they could fail.
If you are procrastinating or avoiding taking certain actions in your business, ask yourself whether this is in fact fear of failure hiding under the guise of ‘don’t have the skills’, ‘don’t have the money’ or ‘can’t find the right resources’.
(Image by Stuart Anthony)