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Overcoming Fear of Failure

The Big Fail

I’ve been inundated with coaching sessions this spring. I know that a lot of people are going through some really rough stuff right now, so I discounted my coaching rate. Our economy is in a wobble, there is a ton of fear in the media, on top of the general changes in our consciousness that have been happening for a while.

My latest coaching client, Danny, whose name and details have been changed, has been going through some rough stuff, too. He is an entrepreneur, and his business has been extremely profitable in the past. But then things started to shift and he got scared. Right before things started to shift physically, he was having some emotional shifts that were causing him some stress, anxiety, and burnout at work.

It is a familiar story, and one I’ve heard before. But there were some life lessons from this coaching experience, and I wanted to share some of that with you.

The cycles of business

Danny’s business started about 15 years ago, and he had experienced some extraordinary successes. In fact, he had built up a start up business from nothing to multi-millions of revenue every year. But something had shifted. He had a negative business partnership experience similar to my own past experience, so he reached out for coaching as he felt that I would have some interesting insights.

It started to feel like those early successes were just beginner’s luck. Danny was experiencing some setbacks. Sales were down. And even with sales down, he was almost glad because he was feeling lost and burnout from working so hard for so many years. He was even considering closing the whole business altogether and doing something different.

His external experience was reflecting what was going on inside of him. He wasn’t into his work anymore. And he wasn’t into starting something new. He was doing everything for dollars rather than following his passions.

But he wasn’t giving up. He was trying new things, none of which were working very well. He was out selling harder than ever, and it felt like an uphill battle. He wanted to give up.

What is your why?

I asked Danny why he didn’t give up. He said that he couldn’t. He had to make things work and be a success. He didn’t want to disappoint family, friends, or his clients.

“What happens if you did fail? What happens if they all were disappointed in you?” I asked.

He answered that he didn’t want to even think about it.

“Are you afraid of failing, Danny?”

“I guess so. Yes. I don’t want to think about it,” he said.

“Is failing an option? Do you have a choice?” I asked.

“I’m trying very hard not to not let that happen.”

“Are you trying very hard not to fail because you want to succeed or because you’re afraid of failing?”

It became apparent that the fear of failing, or more importantly, the fear of being a failure, was driving a lot of Danny’s thoughts and emotions. Because he wasn’t able to handle the emotion of failure, he was repressing it and funneling his fear-based energy into heroic efforts to succeed.

No failure, only feedback

Now, I personally don’t believe in failure. In NLP, we learn that there is no failure, only feedback. Feedback shows us that our life is a process, and there is no end point of success or failure. If something isn’t working, you keep trying other ways. (And when you run out of ideas for other ways, that’s when you call in a coach.) But because Danny was working with fear of failure, I kept working with him from where he was.

Fear and Success

The intention behind your actions will infuse all of your actions with the emotions and beliefs of whatever you’re doing. So in Danny’s case, his unaddressed fears were influencing his attempts at success. If you’re trying to succeed but you’re doing it from a place of fear, you’re just setting further intentions of fear. Danny’s fears were magnifying simply because he was trying so hard from a place of fear. His fears were actually compounding upon his experience.

During the process of the call, we were getting stalled in a few places. The fear ran so deep, he was having a hard time letting go.

Finally, I just asked him a pointed question, “What if you were absolutely certain of your failure. How could you succeed at that failure?” He was quiet.

I pressed more. “If you had to succeed at failing, what would you do?”

He was confused.

After quite some time, he finally got it. “I guess I would fail as big as I possibly could. I guess I would just fail on my own rules, my own budget, my own timeframe, and in my own way. If I had to fail, I’d fail big.”

Becoming Comfortable with Failure

Failure is just a word. The meaning we assign to that word, however, turns it into a powerful force. It turns into an end point. It turns into judgement. It turns into shame, guilt, and pain when it runs deep like it was for Danny.

What is failure anyway? What does it mean to you?

We’re all failures. Yes, even those people who pretend that everything they ever do is a complete success. They’re failures too. Donald Trump failed bigger than anyone, going millions into debt at one point. He was poorer than some homeless people who were begging him for change!

We all fail much more than we succeed, but the endless stream of motivational quotes, competitive marketing, and our own expectations make it feel like failure is not an option.

Failure is an option. Failure happens all the time. Everyone is failing at something, every day. You failed at something today, something you said you’d do, a dream you had that you let go of, a promise you made, maybe it’s just a to-do list that’s longer than you’d like. You have expectations and ideals, and you’re never going to live up to all of them.

You are a big failure. Yes, you. And guess what? That’s GREAT. Now that you’ve accepted the failure is a part of the process of life, you’re ready to let go of what it might mean.

You’re ready to really become YOU.

Failing Big

Thomas Edison is quoted as saying that he hadn’t failed. “I just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” All of those 10,000 ways that didn’t work were failures. But he reframed them to be learning experiences. He didn’t get fearful or paralyzed by failure, he only learned from the experiences and kept attempting to reach his goals.

Danny’s goals, however, were to avoid failure, but he didn’t really have a goal of succeeding. His intention was to avoid failing, so he was only manifesting more of it.

During our coaching call, Danny became comfortable with the idea of failing. He finally said something that was really powerful:

“If I am going to fail, I might as well fail doing something I love to do… on my own terms. If I am going to fail, I might as well go out by failing big.”

As soon as he got that, as soon as he got that success was living on his own terms, doing things that made him happy, working at something for which he felt passion and interest, he started to open up, and he started to lighten up. He started letting go of his fear of failure by deflating the importance of what it meant.

And that, my friends, was when Danny finally found out how to really be successful.

If you really want success in life, you’ve got to get really comfortable with its opposite. You can’t be afraid. In fact, you have to welcome both success and failure into your life. You’ve got to get comfortable with the process. And then you’ll really understand success.

How about you?

You’re afraid of something right now, perhaps it’s failure. Maybe you’re afraid of something falling apart or being judged as not successful enough. Could you own that failure and say that maybe failing by someone else’s rules is a huge success to you?

If you’re not finding the success you’d like in life, or if fear of either success or failure is blocking you, I can help. My coaching program is designed to help people like you succeed — on your own terms. Because if you can’t succeed on your own terms in your own way, you’re not really succeeding after all.