The Fear of Failure
Ep. 118
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minimal desk book about accepting failure

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    You don’t have a fear of failure. You know what you have?

    A fear of failing in front of other people. A fear of shame. A fear of being seen starting small.

    My clients always ask me the million dollar question of “What if it doesn’t work?!” As if there is no answer. As if it is just some big unknown.

    I immediately respond: “Yeah, what if it doesn’t? What would you do?”

    It usually takes less than a minute to come up with an answer. And it typically isn’t as dramatic as their brain wants them to believe.

    I’d get another job.
    I’d move back in with my parents.
    I’d pick up some freelancing gigs to make some money on the side.

    I smile.

    It’s that easy.

    But that’s not the problem.

    They don’t want to be seen going back to get another job. They don’t want to feel the shame of admitting they moved back in with their parents. They don’t want to face the judgment from other people who don’t understand why they rocked the boat.

    But here is the best news: The worst thing that is going to happen is you will feel a negative emotion. You can feel a negative emotion and be fine. Once you truly understand this, there is nothing stopping you from chasing your wildest dreams.

    This week on the podcast, I go more in-depth into this concept of the fear of failure.

    For the month of October, we are running a 3-day Find Your Path Challenge. The challenge will run from October 12-14. You will be able to work through hang up’s on clarity, direction, and next steps. Sign up here:

Show Transcript
Hello, my friends. Welcome back to another episode. I am so excited to have you here. I am so excited to jump into this topic all about the fear of failure, but if you are just joining me today, I am running each challenge. Next month, October 12th, through the 14th, that is going to help you find your own path. It's going to help you get unstuck. Now, listen, I don't want to fill your days with fluff. So this is going to be three days of diving, really deep into what is blocking you from figuring out the thing that you want to do. We did the challenge. It was a five day challenge. I'm shortening it. So I don't take up so much of your time. And the response was incredible.

Last time, like I got so many messages from people saying like, I can't believe this was free.

This was so much content. I have to go back and watch the videos. And yes, you will get a replay if you can't join at the time that we were going to have, um, the calls, I will send out a replay, a video every night and you can watch it on your own time. Anyways, it'll be helpful. I want you to join. I think it will deal with a lot of the things that you may not even realize you're struggling with. So if you're interested, you can go to quitter and join us for that challenge. I really hope that I'll see you there. Okay. Let's jump into the fear of failure, dun dun the dreaded words. What if it doesn't work out? I hear this all the time. I think it is the biggest thing that stops you or that you think stops you.

At least it's what you think is stopping you. And I don't really think that you understand what that fear actually is. So that is what we're going to jump into today. You know, that I love talking about the brain. And so we're obviously gonna start there. Here's the thing. It makes sense that we always focused on what could go wrong. Our brain only cares about keeping us alive. Okay? That is your brain's job. Your brain does not care. If you're happy, it doesn't care if you're fulfilled. Literally it's only job is to conserve energy and to keep you alive. And so we have evolved to constantly look for danger and to look for what could go wrong, right? We have a negativity bias, which means we look towards the negative. It's just the way our brains work and understanding that is important so that you can overcome the natural tendencies that we have.

So not only, you know, when we were cavemen, where we looked for dangers such as being eaten by a tire. But if we were kicked out of our tribe, if we were not a part of the group that could have also meant death. And so we also worry about going against the group. There's a reason that you can viscerally feel the fear of death when somebody is mad at you or when you're, you know, getting the cold shoulder from somebody or whatever it is like the reason we're so afraid of not being accepted. And we blow it up to such big proportions because that is evolutionarily. That did mean death and our body reacts in the same way, except for that society has changed. And it no longer means death for you, right? If we don't live in small tribes, if you're not accepted by a particular group, it really doesn't mean much.
Except for that, you have to find a new group. All failure really means is that you tried something and it didn't work out the way you wanted, but our brain doesn't view it like that. And I think that's what we really need to understand is that it's not that your brain, I mean, your brain is a liar. All the thoughts that you have, most of your thoughts are lies. But in this situation, it's not that your brain is trying to be overly dramatic. It's just the way that our brains are wired. And again, knowing that can help you overcome it. But I want to talk a second about what failure actually means before we even jump into this fear, because it's such a subjective term, right? What does it mean to fail? Cause a failure for one person might just mean learning experience for somebody else.
If you, I don't know if you know James Wedmore, he is a business coach and he has a podcast on online marketing and business and mindset stuff. And he says this phrase all the time, I'm not sure if it's his saying or somebody else's, but I just I've just heard it from him. He says, you either get the outcome that you wanted or you get the lesson that you needed. What a wonderful thought to adopt. What have we all looked at it that way, right? That either I go after something and I get that result that I wanted, or I learned the things I was supposed to be learning along the way.
Because if you, as long as you learn something and then your mission is accomplished, congratulations, you have succeeded. Right. But I want to talk about like, if you look at it, the traditional way that we have somehow been instilled in that, like if it doesn't work out the way that you wanted and you failed, and we're all trying to avoid that. I want you to think about this though. No one in the history of the world has done anything of any type of import and not failed their way to it. Okay. You have never heard the story of someone saying, you know what? I started a business and never had any problems. Didn't run into one single issue. Everything just went completely as planned, totally smoothly. Um, I knew how to do everything and it all just worked. Right. I mean, like that doesn't exist or yeah.
I just wanted to write this book and really, it just all spilled out. I never had writer's block. I never questioned whether I should be doing this. I didn't have a hard time finding an agent or selling it or advertising it or anything. It just all really beautifully magically came together. I mean, when you say like that, like you realize how absurd it sounds like it doesn't work like that. Right. We all have problems along the way. And the question is, how do you look at them? Is it a failure or is it just a lesson? Is that a problem that you have to figure out? And the thing is, is we love the real stories. We love the stories of people, overcoming hardship and triumph. We love to hear that, sir, Richard Branson dropped out of high school or that Michael Jordan wasn't picked for his high school basketball team.
Right. We love to hear that he still pushed through and became the greatest basketball player ever to a plate. We realized that those set packs, which is all failure is right. Like these problems that we endure is what molds you. That is what builds your character and teaches you the lessons that you need to get to the, you know, quote unquote success. We love the stories of the underdogs, the startup founder, who failed three times, we almost had to file bankruptcy and then hit it big. Right? We like those stories. We just don't ever want to be the one that has those failed attempts. We just want to hit it big that first time, but it doesn't work that way. And I think even just hearing this, like you realize it doesn't… You realize that whatever you're going to do is not going to be a straight shot to success, right?
There are going to be tons of things that come up that are going to bring up tons of thoughts for you that are gonna bring up tons of feelings that are going to have times where you feel like you have no idea what you're doing and you're failing at it, or it's not working the way you wanted. And that doesn't mean anything has gone wrong. That is all part of that process. Right? And so I want you to realize that if you're avoiding failure, you're also avoiding success because there is no way around it. You will never get to that. Wherever the promised land is for you, whatever the thing is that you want to accomplish without failing along the way. And so if you don't try, because you don't want to fail, then you failed by default because sure, maybe you have on the outside the stable job, but you hate it.
You don't ever reach your potential. You die knowing that you had gifts inside of you, that you didn't get to use. You knew that there was another way to live, but you were just too afraid to try it. Right? So in my mind, that is failure. And so this is why I think it's really important to define what failure means to you. You know, I talk about mindset all the time and about how our thoughts create our feelings, interactions. And so I want you to understand that it's just thoughts that you have about failure, right? So if you're starting a business and the first five people you sell to don't buy, you could think I'm not cut out for this. I'm a failure. I should give up. This isn't going to work. Or you could think I have to try this a different way. This is just a puzzle.
I just have to figure out the pieces, right? It's the same circumstance. It's the same situation. It just depends on how you're viewing it. I was on a coaching call a while back. It was for a business coaching program that I was in. And the woman that wanted to be coached in the group call had just launched a product. And she was really down and wanting to kind of throw in the towel. She didn't want to do it anymore. And she was talking about how she had done this launch of her product. And she had, let's say had like a hundred people on her webinar to sell this product to. And only six people bought. And she took this as a sign of failure and that it's not working and that she should pack it up. And she was really distraught about this.
And I'll never forget, the coach was kind of trying to slow her down and be like, okay. Cause she was really upset. It's being like, let's just talk through the numbers. Tell me what happened, how many people came, how many you sold. And when she said you had a hundred people show up and only six people bought and the coach was like, are you kidding? That's an incredible conversion rate on these types of webinars. The conversion is only three to 4%. So like, you should have only gotten three or four people buying, but you got six. So you doubled your conversion. That is a huge, like knock it out of the park success. And it was so interesting to watch and to watch her and how she changed because she went from thinking that she had a complete failure to realizing that it was actually success.
And I say this to him, talk about how nebulous these concepts actually are. Right. And how much we get in our own heads about what is a failure or what should happen or what, you know, we compare to these brands or people online or other businesses or whatever that are, you know, been doing it for years and knocking it out of the park, which is what I'm assuming she was doing. That she thought she should be selling tons and tons more because where was she deciding what a success would be, right? How was she figuring out what was a failure? But it was just because it didn't seem like it was good enough. There were that many people. So somehow out of the a hundred more people should have bought. And it was just a really great reminder of defining success and failure for yourself and really thinking about why you're defining it that way and why you're choosing those thoughts.
Because oftentimes failure is not this very concrete example of something that's going to happen. It usually isn't something as big or dramatic as having to file for bankruptcy or something where you can maybe demarcate like this was a failure. It's just a bunch of little steps. And what you define as a failure or a success is going to determine how long you keep yourself in the game. Every time I have a client that comes to me and has the very concerned question of like, what if it doesn't work out? What if I fail and trust me, they all do. I ask them very point-blank. Yeah. What if it doesn't? What would you do? I think oftentimes they're shocked for a little bit, but it takes them less than a minute to come up with an answer. And the answer is something like, I guess I get another job and I usually just smile because that's literally how easy the answer is to a question of what if I fail.
It's usually very straightforward. Maybe you'll sell some stuff. Maybe I'll move back into your parents. Maybe I'll get another job. You'll pick up a side hustle. It's usually not as dramatic or insane or, you know, life-altering as we think it's going to be. So oftentimes I have clients who are in jobs that they're miserable in and we talk about what would happen if they went after this dream job or dream career or business. And let's say in a year they had to go back and get a job that they were in right now. And when they really think about it, it's like, well, you're already in that position. Do you might as well give it a shot, right? You're already in a place you don't want to be. And then if you come back, like why is that a problem? And I'll tell you why it's a problem because it isn't actually a fear of failing.
Our fear is about failing in front of other people. So in reality, it's a fear of shame. We are afraid to feel that shame that we would feel if we had to kind of go back with our tail between our legs, it's a fear of starting small, right? It's a fear of what other people are going to say. When you put something out there and it's not a resounding success, it's not this Forbes article, you know, feature on how your business just took off from the first day, which will never happen. And so we don't care if we're going to fail at something when we're doing it just by ourselves, right? If you're learning to play the piano or something, and then it doesn't work out the way you wanted, nobody knew you were doing it. You were just doing it at night at your house.
You're not going to beat yourself up over that. What we care about is how it looks in front of other people. How am I going to explain this to my parents? What are my coworkers going to think? You know, my husband already thought I shouldn't have taken this risk. Now I have to kind of explain that it didn't work or whatever the person is or whatever the thoughts are. It's the fear in front of other people. And when you start really thinking about what would happen, actually, if this doesn't work, what are the actual, tangible goals and results I can come up with and strategies to deal with? If this doesn't work, they're really straightforward answers. It's just that you don't want to do those things in front of other people. It's all ego. It's all about how you will feel when someone thinks that, Oh, look, she tried this and it didn't work out.
Or who does she think she is for trying this thing and look serves her, right? She had her head in the clouds or whatever the thought is that you think other people are going to have. We're definitely afraid of that. And I want you to understand that that is the real problem. It's not actually failing. I had a talk with my 12 year old niece, like six months ago. She is a incredibly athletic child. She started out in gymnastics at the age of four and started rising up in the ranks and made it on these traveling teams was doing all the competitions was, she was wonderful at it. And then she got hurt and she hurt her, like to the point where the doctor told her she could no longer do gymnastics. So the next year she took up basketball for a season and tried that and decided she didn't like it.
So the year after that, she signed up for swim. And so she was on the swim team and she was going to practice and she's a very competitive overachieving child. She's already internalized society's messages of only doing things you're good at and really trying to Excel and always be perfect. And even though I'm trying to, uh, take those out of her, she has somehow adopted a lot of these false narratives that we all get from society. And on this particular day, she was having a ton of anxiety before she was going to go to swim practice. And I was just talking to her and she was crying and she was really upset. And I was trying to figure out like what she was so upset about. And what about swim was making her feel anxious? Cause she was saying that she, my sister was telling me that she was having these anxiety attacks every time she had to go to swim practice.
And so we're trying to get to the bottom of this and figure out like, you know, is it something from her coach? Is it something within practice? Like what is it? And so as we continue to kind of like delve deeper and I'm asking her questions about her thoughts and what she's thinking, that makes her feel this way. And we come to realize that she doesn't like swim. She doesn't like the practices. She doesn't like the meets. She doesn't like her coach. She doesn't have fun. She doesn't think it's something that like she wants really to go, um, to continue doing. And so after we kind of get to the bottom of this, I'm like, okay, well, if you don't like it, then why don't you stop doing it? Because I know her parents aren't in any way forcing her to do it. And they don't care if she does it or not. And she says to me, well, I've already quit gymnastics and basketball. If I quit, this I'll look like a failure.
And I just remember kind of being speechless at that moment and looking at her like, are you kidding me? You were 12. You could try every sport under the sun. And that is the only way. First of all, that you're going to figure out which one you like is by trying them. And you can decide that every one of them is not for you. And it still does not make you a failure. Right? And I think that oftentimes when you listen to children, it's easy to see the faulty thinking that they have. Right? It's easy to see for anyone listening to this, that it's insane for her to stick to a sport that she hates that is now giving her anxiety because she doesn't want to look like a failure because she thinks that because she's tried to then the third one, if she, you know, try something else.
And somehow that says something about her character, but I want you to understand this is exactly what it sounds like when I talked to so many of you about staying in a career that you hate. It's the same exact reasoning. You just have decided that because you chose something because you told the world you were going to do something or you got a degree in something that you will look like a failure if you leave that. And the only reason you care is because you care about what other people will think about it. My niece, wasn't worried about failing. She was worried about looking like a failure in front of others. We make these huge existential crisis for ourselves that causes physical harm. She was literally having anxiety attacks because of something that is so meaningless, who cares, if you try something and you decide you don't like it, what if it just means that you want to try something else?
How can you know, until you try it, you have this one life to live and maybe you want to make it the biggest dreamiest, most exciting life possible. Maybe you want to see what you're capable of. You want to experience a bunch of different things you want to continue to grow. And with that, it means that you have to change that meaning of failure for yourself. Tony Robbins changed his definition of success. To mean, if you learn something new that day, he would consider it a success. What if that is where you set your bar at? What if it's not jumping to make a million dollars or to have his huge success, but to learn something new, to push yourself, to grow, to see what else is out there to see how interesting you can make your life. So what I want you to do is first define what failure means to you.
What would it mean if you failed at something? Are you making it mean something about you and your character, or does it mean like you took a step that didn't work out the way that you wanted and you learned a lesson and then I want you to actually answer this open ended question that our brain likes to give us, like, what if it doesn't work out? Yeah. What if it doesn't, what would you do? Because I guarantee you that the answer is not that difficult. And when you can start killing off that ego, when you can start realizing that the biggest fear is not actually the fear of failure, but it's the fear of shame when you fail. And you realize that feeling shame is just feeling a negative emotion and you can handle a negative emotion and be okay.
You will open yourself up to an entire world of possibilities. You will realize that the only thing stopping you from trying and going after what you want and living a full life and reaching your potential and constantly pushing yourself and going out of your comfort zone and trying and trying again is just your fear of failing in front of other people. And what a silly thing to let you stop yourself from living the most full and beautiful and expansive life that you can find. So I hope that you will learn to start failing and failing often and failing forward to that life that you dream of. And I will be back with another episode next week. Bye you guys. Thank you so much for listening. I can't tell you how much it means to me. If you liked the podcast, please rate and review us on iTunes. It'll help other people find the show. If you want to connect or reach out, follow along on Instagram and Facebook at lessons from a quitter and on Twitter at Twitter podcast, I would love to hear from you guys and I'll see you on the next episode.