Don’t Fear Failure

It’s just a step on the road to success.

Several years ago, I attended a live event with a motivational speaker. He had us write our goals, hopes, and dreams on one side of a 12″×12″ board. On the other side, we wrote our fears. Everything that was holding us back, keeping us from achieving everything we wanted. Every fear I could come up with came back to one common theme: the fear of failure.

Then it was time to punch through the board, karate-style. Like you see in movies.


He spent the entire evening building us up. We could do this. He even showed us the proper strike, stance, and scream. The only reason we didn’t think we could do it, he explained, is because we had never done anything like it before. We just needed to overcome our fears and break through the mental barriers that were holding us back.

I went first. I knew that I would get more out of it if I could break the board without seeing another participant do it first. I wanted to run at the fear head-on.

Life is full of firsts. Think about it. Your first kiss. Your first day at a new job. The first you used that word you just learned. The first time you used it correctly. The first time you tried Odwalla’s Superfood. First times lead to wonderful, new things.

There’s also your first heartache, your first broken bone, and your first case of food poisoning. First times can lead to unpleasant new things, too. This is what fear focuses on. The bad stuff. Forget about all the wonderful things that might happen, bad stuff might happen. Don’t even try.

Fear says failure is bad: you didn’t prepare, or you aren’t good enough. We have to let go of that notion. Failure is learning. Failure is growth. Failure is the stones that pave the way to success. Every successful person has learned to stand on their failures, to walk over them, and keep going.

There is a Japanese proverb: “Nana korobi ya oki”. Fall down seven times, stand up eight. Chumbawumba wrote a song about it back in the 90s.

They said I was the fighter who got knocked down the most, but I also got up the most.

—Floyd Patterson, American Boxer, 1935–2006

Don’t be afraid of failure. Fail as quickly as you can. Fail as often as you can. Fail for a different reason each time. Fail as many times as you need to.

There’s a first time for everything you do. Maybe you’ll fail. Maybe you won’t. It doesn’t matter what fear says. Success has a funny way of favoring people who get out there and do.

Garfield, January 19, 1982. © Paws, Inc.

Garfield, January 19, 1982. © Paws, Inc.

Yes, the board split. Right in half. It would have hurt more to punch a large bag of movie theater popcorn. He was right. It was purely a mental barrier. The only reason I thought I couldn’t do it was because I never had. I had listened to the voices telling me that it takes someone with more experience, someone stronger, someone else to do it.

Then one voice told me that I could. The question changed from “what if I can’t?” to “what if I can?”. Losing the apostrophe-t is subtle, but it makes a huge difference.

Question: What are you afraid of failing at? How can you turn that failure into momentum? Share your thoughts in the comments, or on Twitter, LinkedIn, or Facebook.

About

Colter writes software and blogs about personal growth and productivity. He lives in Silicon Valley (California) with his wife and children, recently took up golf, and watches mostly British TV shows.

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