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What does 'failure' really mean to you?

We live in a society where we are programmed to push ourselves to the limit, have extremely high standards, and be our own harshest critic.

Now that’s a lot of pressure.

Because of this, a lot of us fear that we may not be able to measure up. Over time, we develop a pretty bad case of the fear of failure.

And what happens when we are afraid to fail? We do nothing.

When it comes to our careers, this fear is only magnified. You hear the all too common scenario of the person who has been in the same role for years; they’ve got the potential, but never quite reach it. They’re stagnant. Motionless. ‘Comfortable’.

This person has a crippling fear of speaking up and commanding authority in a group meeting or presenting ideas that could advance their career.

Then this person starts to give themselves all sorts of excuses to justify their inaction.

‘They’re bound to notice me one day. I’ll just wait for that time and I’m sure they’ll hand me that promotion.’

‘I don’t see the value or point in speaking up. I’d rather stay respectful and not overstep my boundaries’.

‘My intelligence and technical skills are enough.’

‘I am happy and comfortable where I am.’

‘I’ll improve naturally over time.’

They feed themselves all these reasons because they are trying to avoid the truth of the matter. They are afraid of what the consequences might be.

They are afraid to fail.

I hear a lot from my clients (and have experienced myself) that when they feel the fear of failure, they automatically feel anxious, palms get sweaty, chest tightens and they feel an overwhelming sense of doom.

What they are doing is attaching a particular meaning to the phrase ‘fear of failure’, and they experience an overwhelming surge of emotion that prevents them from being able to think logically and rationally.

Then they let this crippling emotion take over, they become paralysed, and they fail to take action. They remain the same as they’ve always been and no personal growth has been achieved.

But before we let this emotion take over, let’s examine a common scenario for a moment and analyse what’s really going on.


You are due to speak in a group meeting and present your brilliant ideas. You’ve worked so hard on them and you are excited and proud to share what you’ve come up with and contribute to your team. The day comes, you get up in front of your team, and present. You feel pressured and put on the spot, and forget a really important point you wanted to share. You stop for a few seconds and try to re-gather your thoughts. You fumble a little, but manage to get a similar point across to somewhat save the moment. Your face feels hot and red, and you beat yourself up in your head. ‘I look so incompetent! Everyone is questioning my capabilities right now’.

Meanwhile, half the people in the room have serious personal issues of their own, so they are off in their own world, your manager notices the slight hesitation but appreciates your overall effort, and the rest of the people don’t even notice.

End scene.

Does this really seem that bad?

Quite often we build up the idea of failure in our head to something that is much larger than it really is. And because of this, we miss key chances and opportunities to develop ourselves and advance our career. Our internal perception is mismatched with the external reality of the situation.

So how can we bring this to more of an equilibrium? To help you move past this feeling, step outside of your comfort zone, and finally achieve the success you’ve been yearning for?


Focus on the Facts

Take a few deep breaths to relieve yourself from your immediate and overwhelming emotional response.

Ask yourself, what are the facts of the situation?

Is this really the be all end all, life or death situation that I’m making it out to be? Is this a regular meeting, or the most important day of my life?

Are these people really judging me the way I think they are? Would they even really care if I made a silly mistake?

By putting things into perspective, your emotional reaction can be kept in check.

Weigh up the Pros vs Cons

Next, weigh up the risk versus reward when it comes to taking the plunge and putting yourself out there.

If you succeed, that’s great! By pushing yourself outside of your comfort zone, you’ve accomplished something new. Your manager or boss will surely recognise this change in you, and take a positive mental note. This is the first step towards your leadership career trajectory!

If you fail, by fumbling your words or losing your train of thought, yes you will feel a momentary sense of embarrassment. But is it really that bad? Your colleagues may notice it in the moment, but chances are it’s all forgotten once they step out of the door! And we’ve all been there, it’s a normal part of the growth process.

Put Yourself In Your Colleagues Shoes

It may be useful for you to put yourself in your colleagues shoes.

Imagine it was one of them who is giving a presentation and they fumble their words or have to look at their notes or completely lose their train of thought for a second until prompted by questions from the audience. How would you feel towards them? Perhaps a little bit of judgment. But would it be safe to say you’d also feel a sense of compassion towards them? We’ve all been there and we always admire the person that has the guts to get up there and give it a go.

And to be honest, whatever way you reacted, would you not just forget about it the moment you walked out the room?

So how do you think your colleagues would respond if it were you?

We all tend to operate under the psychological phenomenon ‘The Spotlight Effect’. This is where we believe our mistakes and errors are highlighted to others more than they actually are.

We are all egocentric and we are all the star of our very own Hollywood movie. So keep that in mind next time you feel the crippling fear of failure or judgment enter your mind.

Without Challenge There is No Growth

Further to weighing the pros and cons of taking the risk through action, we can weigh up the value of taking action versus taking none at all.

One thing is for certain, if you don’t make a move, then nothing changes. Next thing you know, you’re feeling frustrated and still stuck in the same job as 4 years ago! But what else can you expect?

If you want to progress and move forward in your career and life, then some degree of discomfort is inevitable.

You need to be challenged and step outside of your comfort zone to see a change and a result.

The good news is, once you get over that hurdle, it won’t feel like a challenge anymore and you can work on the next task to push yourself outside of your comfort zone. That is the cycle of success!

Every failure is a stepping stone to success

When you take the chance to speak up and put yourself out there, you’ve automatically got a 50/50 chance of success.

If you succeed, that’s amazing.

If you fail, you will learn a very valuable lesson. These insights will set you up for success the next time you try. And trust me, eventually you will get there.

So what is ‘failure’, really?

Based on the logic that putting yourself out there will result in either a win or a valuable lesson, what is failure really then anyway?

It’s actually a win win!

The moment you switch your mindset to this way of thinking, then all of a sudden the fear and anxiety that you normally associate with failing should melt away.

Think to yourself ‘what’s the worst that can happen? I actually succeed, or learn a lesson, and succeed in the future.’ Easy!

You will inevitably fail

Failure is inevitable. Accept it.

In order to get anywhere in life you are going to have to try, fail and try again. Until you win.

Coming from a perfectionist, I get it. I really do. But over time, I’ve had to learn to really let this go.

How do you think all of the world’s most successful people got to where they were? Steve Jobs, Michael Jordan, Sylvester Stallone, and even Tony Robbins.

You have to risk it for the biscuit. That’s just the way it goes. The sooner you accept this, the sooner you can start your journey towards real success!


Key Things To Remember:

  1. Facts Over Emotions

  2. Weigh up the Pros vs Cons

  3. We are all the star of our own blockbuster movie

  4. Challenge = Growth

  5. Every failure is a stepping stone to success

  6. Failure is actually a ‘win win’


So don’t let your fear of failure hold you back. It’s time to take this new understanding and reinvent yourself; step out of the shadows, rise above your fear, and grow into the leader you were born to be!

QUESTION: Which of these techniques resonate with you the most?


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