What if you could turn your fear of failure into a passionate pursuit for growth and success? In other words, be dauntless: Fail Forward!
If you’re like me, when you think about doing something new and challenging, the negative bells and whistles go off in your head: This is a really bad idea and a whole lot can go wrong.
But if you flip your perspective and think about failure in a positive light – what you can get from it, how you can grow from it – you start to develop a growth mindset, what we all need at any age for our brains to continue to grow as a result of learning. Click here to find out more: Mindset Works
This blog shares my three steps for achieving a growth mindset to allow you to fail forward with confidence.
The key is to be really sure whatever you’re about to undertake is driven by your passion…then any good idea is always worth a shot.
Born to Run
All of us were born to be curious and take chances…otherwise we wouldn’t attempt to crawl, walk and eventually run. But along the way, we learn to be fearful of what could go wrong…we learn to fear failure.
Some of the most successful people value failure because that's what propels them forward. Even rock icon, Bruce Springsteen, in his book Born to Run describes all kinds of flops and rejections before he made it big. That's because he focused on his passion for rock music and an unwavering belief in himself.
My tips for conquering your fear of failure
1. Start with your passion
What's most important to you? What do you want to accomplish before you exit this precious life? For now, put aside all of those doubts and limiting beliefs, like: "I'm too old to start something new...I'm too inexperienced...I'm not good enough" and so on.
- If you're not immediately sure about your passion, then think about what's truly essential to you in YOUR life? These are your values. Create a list of YOUR top 5-10 values (you can brainstorm using a list , but be sure they are most important to you). Then rank your values in priority order.
- Next create a clear picture of your ideal outcome. Write your values across the top of a piece of paper, then imagine you in the future doing something that relates to those values. Write down all the details that come to mind, including your accomplishments. If you manage to include all of your top values, you've hit the passion jackpot. If what you wrote doesn't address at least three of your top values, you may lack the passion to pursue it.
Here’s an example: At age 30, my client Pamela (not her real name) was already successful in the dog-eat-dog world of private equity…but she yearned for something different. Her top values included: achievement, challenge, innovation, results, management, and producing something tangible and useful. Together we identified her passion:run a company that made a product or delivered a service. This became Pamela’s True North, her compass for moving forward. The only problem: Pamela didn’t feel she had the experience to make it happen. So then we worked on the next step.
2. Identify your strengths that will help you move forward.
Your strengths create your GPS for pursuing your passion.
Often we don't give ourselves credit for what we're really good at. One way to recognize your strengths is suggested in this article: Get Happy: Four Well-Being Workouts
Write down a story about a time when you were at your best. It doesn’t need to be a life-changing event but should have a clear beginning, middle and end. Reread it every day for a week, and each time ask yourself: “What personal strengths did I display when I was at my best?” Maybe you showed a host of strengths you may or may not recognize.
Pamela’s story was about running a successful landscaping business in her late teens. Clearly she had natural strengths, but wasn’t using them all in her current role. Together we developed a plan for how to hone those strengths and build others she’d need to run a sizeable business.
3. Understand and squash what's really holding you back: Your Unfounded Fears
Fear comes from the self-doubting, inner critic – “the Saboteur” (see my blog about how to Tame Your Inner Saboteur So You Can Live A Happy, Productive Life). His or her ongoing commentary is an accumulation of things we heard during our youth which led us to question our abilities and worry about the outcome...as a result, we learned to fear failure.
Consider all those negative things you may have said to yourself when I asked you to think about your passion and your strengths: That's the voice of your Saboteur. Put all of those limiting beliefs – the roadblocks to your success and happiness – into fire pit or a lock box, but get rid of them.
It worked for Pamela. She had a list a mile long of what would keep her from achieving her passion. She found a great way to squash the Saboteur talk: she took that long list and literally burned it in a bonfire on the beach. Today, Pamela runs a spinoff of a Fortune 500 company. Has she had setbacks along the way? Of course! But she continues to learn from them, failing forward and upward.
If you think your Saboteur has a good argument for why you may fail (which actually may be coming from your rational inner voice), then take advice from astronaut Chris Hadfield: Visualize every scenario of what could go wrong, consider how you’ll handle it, then mentally practice how you’ll respond. By the time you get into your space ship, you’ll be calm and know what to do. For the full interview, go here.)
Making it Happen
By following these three steps, we can create a growth mindset, giving us the audacity to pursue our passion and fail forward. Be prepared to fail along the way – it's a clear sign you're growing and moving forward toward your dream.
I’d love to hear your story about overcoming a fear of failure…what worked for you? Or what’s holding you back from pursuing your passion? Let’s get a conversation going. Please comment.
Sharing a terrific response from a former client who prefers anonymity:
"I love that you wrote this. Fear of failing seems to be rooted in 'inferiority' or that failing is perceived as less valuable. I don't know if it is a nature or nurture or both that gets us to this very challenging stage. It is not easy to overcome. I even said to my personal trainer 'I will try it but you know I hate to fail.' It is just molecular for me. I asked [a chief strategy officer for a Fortune 10 company] how he learned to think without walls. He said it was a combination of nature, nurture and learning. He is diligent about it. I think once we exercise that ability to think big - without limits that failing becomes less relevant.
"I love your three steps -- I love the success story. Big words - most, least and passion intimidate me as I am not an "absolute" kind of person. You nailed it by saying what motivates you - gets you out of bed - makes you go a bit further.
"We would all go on to create something great and profitable, but if we can go to create something meaningful and fulfilling - well then we win."