Help me hack fear of failure
November 2, 2011 3:22 PM   Subscribe

What are your personal hacks for getting over fear of failure?

While generally outgoing and bold in many ways, I have a few mental blocks with regard to taking personal and professional risks.

For example, I have several entrepreneurial opportunities I'm considering. I'm afraid of making a mistake and choosing the wrong one and of putting myself out there and then failing. I'm afraid of blogging about subjects on which I have some expertise because I might say something stupid. I'm afraid of being branded as an expert in x and then wanting to transition into y.

I'm extroverted in social settings and comfortable talking to the opposite sex, going to parties where I don't know anyone, etc. I have some social anxiety, but come across as sociable and friendly.

When I analyze my fears, I realize that my concerns are:
- I'll attach my name to a project and have it fail utterly, for reasons I should have anticipated
- The idea will have been stupid from the start and I should have known better
- My actions will keep me from good opportunities in the future
- It will be hard to "re-brand" myself -- "Wait, weren't you all excited about an education startup last week? Why are so into mobile applications this week?"
- People I respect will roll their eyes when I say, "Well, I'm changing direction and now I'm doing y."
- I'll promote some big initiative and won't get any interest and make a fool of myself for even trying.

Can the hivemind give me some helpful scripts to explain myself to others (or myself?) when I'm not yet sure what I'm doing, so I can sound confident but still give me room to transition?

Have you had these fears? How do you get over them? What are your personal hacks for becoming less afraid of putting yourself out there?

Thank you!
posted by carolinaherrera to Human Relations (19 answers total) 83 users marked this as a favorite
According to pop culture, the Bushido code taught samurai that they were already dead when they entered battle. I try to look at failure this way.

All great stories are about the hero failing and then adapting. I have come to view failure as the only way of testing and then improving upon half-baked ideas -- the best way to get feedback.
posted by steinsaltz at 3:27 PM on November 2, 2011 [13 favorites]

I used to be very afraid of failure, then I entered the field of physics and had to get over that fast.

The best piece of advice I can give you is to learn to detach yourself personally from future perceived failures. In other words, if you turn in a project and it utterly completely fails, all that means is that you made a mistake (even if it was a big one). The project may have been a failure but that does not mean that you are. You are a person that made a mistake, that is all. Rarely will someone's entire career be judged on a single mistake. I know people who have won the Noble Prize in physics who have daily simple failures. Yes, even they do it.

There was once a man who went to every business meeting with ten ideas. Nine of them were usually crap. They were: foolish, risky, missed out on an important and obvious factor, or were just plain silly. However, one idea out of all the failures was inevitably good. Sometimes even great. They were always an outside-of-the-box thought that most people would have been too afraid of failure or ridicule to propose.

That man was Steve Forbes.
posted by Shouraku at 3:40 PM on November 2, 2011

This commercial has always helped me put things in perspective.
posted by egeanin at 3:43 PM on November 2, 2011 [12 favorites]

I also scare myself into putting my ideas out there, because my fear of missing a great opportunity trumps my fear of failing.
posted by egeanin at 3:45 PM on November 2, 2011

My Uncle Frank always said, "Give yourself the chance to get lucky."
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 3:52 PM on November 2, 2011 [1 favorite]

Fail. When you do that a few times, you see that it's not so bad, not so final, not so unrecoverable, and actually a great teacher. Go run your mouth on your blog and get called out. Then take your medicine and use strikethrough and updates to fix it. Pick an entrepreneurial idea and start today. Get ready to fail. Don't try to fail, try hard not to in fact, but if you fail you'll know so much more about what not to do next time. Life is long. You'll have plenty of chances and you can shed your skin any number of times. You can be a developer and then a sea captain. Nobody cares. If you switch tracks, people will be interested, not contemptuous. People older than you will recognize a younger person exploring and trying new things and finding his niche. They won't roll their eyes.

You're stuck and stalling. A good quote to think of in this situation is "Even if you're on the right track, you'll get run over if you just sit there." And another one is "Do something, even if it's wrong." The operative word there is something. Don't do nothing. Do something, even if it winds up not being the right thing. You'll learn from it. You'll arrive at a new place because of it and have more perspective. Move. Adjust on the fly. Kick the ball way out ahead of you and then scramble like mad to catch up to it. I did that myself and am in danger of failing. And now I'm a lot less squeamish about going out on a limb. Now I'm like, "Yes I'll totally do that." I'm about to take on a project that I don't quite know how to do all the way. But since I need to eat, I'm going to find a way and make it work. I'm going to learn along the way and I'm going to deliver. I'm not the best at it and won't be until I get more experience, which I won't get if I'm too scared to risk failing.

The true self is the tested self, so go find out who you really are. Stop trying to protect the idealized image of yourself that you're holding onto. It's the source of your pride and it's not real. And the only way to preserve it is to never do anything. Go get humbled by the real world. Get knocked down. And then learn to truly navigate it.

If you're a smart and capable person, you won't end up a hobo or working at McDonald's for life if you fail at something. You'll recover and start something else. Forget all of your shoulds and take the first step.
posted by Askr at 3:52 PM on November 2, 2011 [16 favorites]

Nine out of ten ideas for entrepreneurial opportunities are crap. Most successful people are successful simply because they had the stamina to keep going and keep learning until they hit the something that wasn't crap. Innumerable successful ideas were only discovered as a side effect of an unsuccessful attempt at something crap.

There's a sneaky trick: find a way to fail as quickly and cheaply as possible, rather than risking so much of your time, money, energy, enthusiasm and reputation on the first thing you try that you have none left.
posted by emilyw at 3:53 PM on November 2, 2011 [4 favorites]

Failure is necessary. Getting financing for your 5th entrepreneurial entity is easier than for your first. Becoming an expert in X and transitioning to Y holds more weight than being an expert in X and knowing fuck-all else.

But reading your examples, I don't think you're afraid of failure. You're afraid people won't like you, which is not the same thing. Nobody gets to the top - whether we're talking about the high school soccer team or Pepsi - without invoking the jealousy and dislike of somebody. Half of success is just showing up in the first place, because so many of the potential competitors won't for fear of being noticed at all.

Behave with integrity and people can criticize or hate or finger-point and all you can do is shrug and remember everybody's got opinions.
posted by Lyn Never at 3:54 PM on November 2, 2011 [1 favorite]

"Do the thing you fear and the death of fear is certain." -- Ralph Waldo Emerson.

Because I was thinking about this today also.
posted by RandlePatrickMcMurphy at 3:55 PM on November 2, 2011 [1 favorite]

you cannot do anything perfectly without doing it imperfectly first.
posted by radiosilents at 4:41 PM on November 2, 2011 [1 favorite]

Use your fear of failure to minimize the risk of failure. Thoroughly research any business venture. Get advice from the Small Business Administration in your area, seek help and funding from your state's business development office - they all have one. Do pro-forma cash flow analysis, marketing plans, business plan. Look at lots and lots of locations. Interview people who are successful in business; not just about motivation, but about the details - what % of sales is in what month? what are the pitfalls I haven't thought of yet? Ask for advice, and listen to all of it, but only take the advice that your research shows is good.

This is a lot of work, and I know, because I bought a small business once. I negotiated a fair price, and ran the business profitably, and sold it profitably. Terrifying. But after I did everything above, I had a good handle on what to offer, and whether it would work. Turns out I don't love being self-employed that much, and once I was pregnant, realized I wanted a change. But it's one of the best things I ever did, and I learned a ton.
posted by theora55 at 5:59 PM on November 2, 2011

It was Churchill, I think, who's often quoted as having said: "Success is the ability to move from failure to failure with no loss of enthusiasm."
posted by armoir from antproof case at 6:04 PM on November 2, 2011 [6 favorites]

I read a story a long time ago about a couple who wanted to have a party at their home. They kept postponing the event, however, because their backyard was in such poor condition. They'd been thinking about fixing it up for years but could never come up with the right plan or resources. Finally, one day, they decided to "throw their hat over the fence." They told all of their friends that they had just renovated their backyard and were having a party to celebrate. Suddenly, they had a deadline. They HAD to finish the project. They were committed.

Throwing your hat over the fence is about wholly committing yourself to something: a project at work, a new job, an idea. I embraced this concept most fully in my early twenties and found that it has given me the confidence to fail. Because, really, it's not about failing at all. It's about whether or not you're willing to try.
posted by WaspEnterprises at 6:41 PM on November 2, 2011 [1 favorite]

All but a scattered few, husband that which they possess within, and go to the grave unthought of.

posted by fatmouse at 7:29 PM on November 2, 2011 [2 favorites]

I'm also working on this and it seems to be tied to me caring too much what people think of me. Focusing purely on myself and how I am doing relative to how I was doing, not how everyone else is doing, is helping.
posted by corvine at 4:11 AM on November 3, 2011 [1 favorite]

Also: while failing, another churchillian quote

"If you're going through hell, keep going".
posted by lalochezia at 5:20 AM on November 3, 2011 [1 favorite]

I've found that fear of failure subsides in direct ratio to the number of times you've failed. Keep on failin'!
posted by fivesavagepalms at 7:51 AM on November 3, 2011

I've been telling myself this for 5+ years since I first heard it.

Remembering that I'll be dead soon is the most important tool I've ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because almost everything — all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure — these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important.

Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose.

You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.
- Steve Jobs
posted by fizzix at 10:06 AM on November 3, 2011 [1 favorite]

I came in to say pretty much what everyone else has said: fail a hell of a lot, in loud and spectacular ways. At some point, you'll realize that failure is far from even making it onto the list of things that could possibly hurt you.

Personally, I've failed professionally, academically, socially, pretty much every possible way. I keep trying, though. I keep failing, too, but after I soak in my failure for a little bit, I see how dumb I'm being, and they I get up and try again.

Failing isn't even close to a problem. Failing to learn from your mistakes is what'll kill you.
posted by Ghidorah at 5:40 AM on November 4, 2011

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