Every person fails at some point in their life. And, it’s undoubtedly one of the scariest parts of starting your own business.
Though, that concern is valid. After all, it’s long been reported that an astounding 90% of startups fail. Moreover, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), approximately 20% of new businesses fail during the first two years of being open. After five years, 45%, and after ten years, 65%.
But, let’s say that you’ve considered the possibility of failure. To stop this from happening, you made a checklist of everything you’ve done to prepare for your startup launch. You’ve done your research. Plus, you know people need/don’t have this product/service/company.
Despite making all the right moves, your startup still fails. Maybe it was because there were flaws in your business plan, your sales strategy was sloppy, or perhaps you trusted the wrong investor. And, sometimes, there are things out of your control, such as a declining market.
Whatever the exact reason, to build a successful startup, you have to face your fears and overcome them. But what if you just can’t shake this off? Well, that means you’re less likely to pursue new opportunities.
The good news? It’s possible to break free from your fear of failure And when you do, the sky’s the limit.
Signs That Your Fear of Failure is Holding You Back
If you haven’t admitted to yourself that you’re afraid of failure, here are some telltale signs.
You’re cautious about trying new things.
To be brutally honest — failure sucks. And, one reason why? It takes away your zeal to break out of your comfort zone.
There once was a time when I leaped at trying new things. Whether it was eating at a new restaurant, seeing a band you’ve never heard of, or attending a networking event. But, after the failure of your startup, you hesitate.
While there’s nothing wrong with saying “no” occasionally, you must be open to new opportunities. I get that you only want to tackle challenges you believe you can achieve. However, avoiding failure by not taking risks can prevent you from developing new skills, taking risks, and making cool stuff.
Get in the habit of saying “YES” when someone invites you to try something new. You’ll be surprised what can happen when you step out of your comfort zone.
In the words of Teddy Roosevelt, “Far better is it to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs, even though checkered by failure… than to rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy nor suffer much, because they live in a gray twilight that knows not victory nor defeat.”
You procrastinate or avoid responsibility.
“Did you know there’s a direct correlation between the fear of failure and a person’s ability to manage assignments within the time allotted?” asks Kate Rosenblatt, MA, LPC, LMHC. “According to Adam McCaffrey, a researcher discussed that those who continuously have negative thoughts and panic at the idea of failing exhibit a lower sense of self-determination.”
Often, this makes people feel unmotivated to finish deadline-driven projects. Also, it makes them insecure about taking on significant responsibilities. When the fear of failure paralyzes you, you won’t be able to get things done.
“It might be helpful to ask yourself: ‘what fears do I have around success?’” suggests Rosenblatt. “You can journal or voice note your answers and see what comes up so you can figure out any best next steps for you.”
For example, if you experience low self-esteem or perfectionism, journal about it. Then, you can figure out how to support yourself here to get past your fears and closer to your goals.
The quality of your life, relationships, and mental health has declined.
“When you fear failure, it can paralyze you at times,” writes Deanna Ritchie, Editor-in-Chief at Calendar. “Many people believe that going after anything wouldn’t be worth it because all efforts are bound to fail.” As a result, this can cause missed chances and an inability to succeed.
“The potential negative consequences of such a mindset can go far beyond the failure to achieve a goal,” Deanna adds. “Mental health, relationships, and overall quality of life are adversely affected by fear of failure.” Plus, it could lead to;
- Procrastination or avoiding tasks
- Low self-esteem
- Low self-efficacy
- Reduced resilience
- A sense of helplessness
- A high level of anxiety elsewhere in life
- A state of emotional instability and upheaval
It’s counterintuitive to fear failure. “Since you’re terrified that you won’t reach a goal, you won’t even start,” Ritchie adds. “In turn, this inhibits you from living life to the fullest.”
You settle for less than you are worth.
You absolutely adore your creativity-stifling, monotonous job. You’re thrilled with your non-committal partner, who isn’t all that nice to you. No, it’s not that you’re afraid of change – you’re just ecstatic at the thought of living every single day the exact same way as you have for the last year.
You don’t want to be complacent just because you’re content with your life. In reality, you can change your situation and your life if you want to. For that to happen, though, you have to admit that you want and deserve it.
Sure. There’s a risk involved. And you’ll be more likely to fail if you do that. However, on the flip, you’ll also have a higher chance of living a more fulfilled and happy life.
If you’re like this, take some time to think about how your life is going. Assess your work, relationships, and current situation. What are you satisfied with? What would you change?
You can then think about what changes you could make to improve your life. Think about what good could come out of facing your fears. And put a plan in motion that helps you take a step toward your goals.
You’re projecting onto others.
According to Karen R. Koenig, M.Ed, LCSW, projection is when you unconsciously attribute unwanted emotions or traits to someone else that you don’t like about yourself.
A cheating spouse who’s suspicious that their partner is unfaithful is a classic example. They transfer their partner’s infidelity rather than admitting it to themselves.
So, if someone is uber-successful, you assume they must be excellent. Yet when you see someone failing, you automatically assume they screwed up. Or perhaps they aren’t cut out to be an entrepreneur.
You should be mindful of how you see failure and success when they don’t involve you. After all, this can be very insightful in learning what you did right and wrong. Furthermore, you avoid acknowledging a part that you dislike about yourself by projecting it onto someone else.
When assessing how you’re doing, focus on your internal qualities instead of your external success. Also, be careful not to compare yourself with others. However, there are a lot of lessons to be learned from other people’s successes and failures. Therefore, measuring yourself against them isn’t productive.
You make excuses.
There are a million reasons why you shouldn’t, can’t, or won’t start a business. It’s too expensive. There’s no time. It’s not the right economic condition. So there is a good chance your awesome idea does not work out.
Fear spouts excuses like a river. Sure, some of them are valid. Nonetheless, if you genuinely want to start a business, you should never let an excuse stand in the way.
You can’t move on from your failures.
“Those with fear of failure still accomplish much in life,” notes Team Tony Ribbons. “The difference between reaching your peak state and simply existing lies in your reaction when you do fail.”
“It’s normal to feel sad and disappointed,” they add. “But if you tend to wallow in these emotions or experience prolonged distress, it could be because you’re unable to find the lessons and move on – two absolute necessities if you are to learn how to overcome fear of failure.”
How to Overcome Your Fear of Failure
Fear can only be overcome by facing it head-on. Despite your fear, you still have to take action. And, yeah, there will be moments when your fears creep in again. However, you can learn to ignore it and focus on what you’re doing.
How? Well, you can give these strategies a spin.
Choose the right reasons to start your business.
“There are a lot of different valid goals,” says Vinod Khosla, co-founder of Sun Microsystems. “It may be important not to have to answer to somebody else. That’s a reasonable goal.”
“Maybe you want to make enough money not to have to balance your checkbook,” he adds. “Maybe you want to work with friends. All of those are valid goals for being an entrepreneur. The trouble is when you confuse those goals.”
A significant reason why many aspiring entrepreneurs fear failure is that they view it as a negative. It’s interesting to note that all successful entrepreneurs had “failures” before becoming successful.
In other words, you can’t have success without failure. So it’s a part of success.
Failure consists of getting results that you didn’t want. That’s it. Failure is just feedback, so it can’t be all bad. The key is learning from this feedback so that you can take the next forward. And more importantly, avoid the mistakes you’ve made.
Failure reveals flaws.
“There is an essential function to failure that most people miss, at a severe cost to their development,” adds entrepreneur Aaron Vick in Forbes. “When you fail at something, you get a rare chance to see your deficiencies.” Failure shows flaws and weaknesses that must be addressed.
That’s what development is about. “Your company finds flaws in itself after failing at something and then works to improve them,” Vick adds. “Over time, those efforts pay off as the company gets the skills it needs to take on larger and harder projects.” And when those more significant projects are completed, you can use the profits to grow your company further.
“Don’t ever languish in failure; it’s not something you should be comfortable with harboring,” Vick advises. Instead, get back on your feet whenever you lose and do your best to avoid it again. “There’s nothing shameful in failing fast; it’s admirable.”
Overall, failure is part of growing.
Tap into your intrinsic motivation.
According to Harvard leadership expert and best-selling author Bill George, entrepreneurs should chase intrinsic motivations rather than extrinsic motivations. To accomplish this, align your strengths with your intrinsic motivations.
In Bill Gates’ case, he wanted to make a positive impact on the world. Instead of trying to make money, Guy Kawasaki aimed for meaning. Doing great work was what motivated Steve Jobs.
And, personal growth and accomplishment have motivated other entrepreneurs.
Get in touch with your passion before moving on from failure. What makes you happy? What excites you?
If you are motivated by your intrinsic motivation, you will be able to overcome any obstacle.
Find techniques to help you disconnect emotionally from the business.
“This may sound strange, but I’ve found that I’m much less afraid of failing in business if I use techniques to help me disconnect myself emotionally,” Erik Bergman, co-founder of Catena Media, writes for StartupNation. “For example, after my party planning business, I started calling new ventures’ hobbies’ instead of businesses.” He adds that I began with a few hobbies before starting Catena Media, an affiliate marketing business.
“From a psychological perspective, calling new projects’ hobbies’ rather than ‘businesses’ allowed me to distance myself.” This also relieved some of the associated fears. “After all, have you ever heard of someone failing at a hobby?”
Distancing yourself from something doesn’t mean you stop being passionate. Instead, it “simply means delineating between what’s business and what’s personal and learning how to identify yourself beyond your work.”
Focus on the present.
“I once had a conversation with an oncologist about what it’s like to give people a dire, late-stage cancer diagnosis,” Arthur C. Brooks writes in The Atlantic. “He said that some of his patients—people with a particular need to control all parts of their lives tightly—would immediately go home and start researching their prognosis on the internet.” However, he advised them that this would only make them sick with anxiety.
His advice to them was to start every day with this mantra: “I do not know what will happen next week or next year. But I know I have the gift of this day, and I will not waste it.” Besides changing their outlook on the disease, he said it made them happier in general.
“I recommend this same refrain to anyone suffering from a fear of failure,” adds Brooks. “Own the unknown future through gratitude for the known present, and watch your happiness rise, as you enjoy what you have in front of you.”
Start small and keep track of your accomplishments.
Lastly, what’s the best way to overcome your fear of failure? Take baby steps, achieve some success, and keep building.
Perhaps you’ve heard the phrase “go big or go home.” People use it to justify taking massive action or talking themselves out of it. In some cases, this is sound advice. However, it can be more beneficial to start small in the case of startups.
Don’t forget that success leads to success. As you consistently produce positive results on a smaller scale, momentum builds. It’s that momentum that helps you make more significant gains later.
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