“What would you attempt if you knew you could not fail?” - Robert Schuller
I’ve often thought of this phrase as merely an ‘inspirational quote’ to help us push through our fears. I still believe it can be inspirational, but what if that quote isn’t just inspiration, what if it’s an actual question that begs to be answered?
What if you knew you would not fail?
Would you run a marathon?
Would you go skydiving?
Would you quit your job and start your own business?
Become President of the United States?
Move to Hollywood and become the most sought after actor?
Learn to fly an airplane?
Create and sell art?
It’s an interesting question because if there’s no possibility of failure, no obstacles to overcome... then what does your accomplishment mean? What is it worth?
If the path to success is paved with butterflies and rainbows, what will you be proud of yourself for achieving? Will you swell with pride for all of your ‘hard work?’ Will you experience growth?
There's always a back-story to every Success-story
Think about Olympians for a minute—there is always a back-story for the athletes. Oftentimes during their interview they talk about what they had to overcome in their life to be on this elite team. It didn’t just happen because they wanted it really bad. They worked for it. They worked HARD for it. Could they have failed? Certainly. Did they fail? Likely. Were they afraid of failure? Probably… but that fear of failure—of not making the team—may have been exactly the thing that made them practice harder and practice smarter.
These athletes may shed emotional tears on the podium for many reasons: pride when they hear their anthem, sheer exhaustion, and the pride they have for themselves for the arduous journey it took to get there.
Would they exude so much pride and emotion if they had woken up one day and said, ‘I’m going to win a gold medal one day,’ and then walked directly from their bed to the podium? I’m guessing not. My guess is that their emotion is tied to the long road and immeasurable effort it took to get there.
Can “Fear of Failure” be a good thing?
Depends on how you look at it.
Is the fear itself good? Not exactly, but kind of. Instead of calling it fear, let’s call it motivation, impetus, or creative energy to make sure that you’re thinking through all the possibilities to give your dream the highest chance of success.
That motivation to not fail can help you see the road bumps and obstacles ahead and create plans to overcome them.
Instead of being afraid of failure, embrace it as part of the process. When you’re trying something new, there is always a process, right? Ideation, planning, execution, and then a finished product or outcome.
The finished product could be something completely different or better than the original idea, as a result of failures or diversions along the way.
What if you built in failure as part of the plan? This is not to suggest that you plan on failing, but plan on failure being part of the process. When you accept failing as a step toward success, you know that you’re moving forward, and making your vision come to light.
Are you a loser if you don’t win?
It seems that society is increasingly informing us that failing is not acceptable.
“Winning isn’t everything, It’s the only thing.” –Vince Lomardi
We’re led to believe that failing isn’t an option, and when we do fail we should feel shame, regret, and disappointment.
Our social media feeds are filled with others’ successes, promotions, achievements, and things that they’re proud of. It’s not that we don’t want them to be proud or share, but it gives us the false impression that those things just happened without effort.
It’s not often that missteps are shared on your news feed (or they’re deleted with a simple click). Most of your friends (acquaintances) are experiencing some defeats along their journey to those achievements. As a result, there is a theme of ‘winning’ that is being portrayed to us.
I was inspired by a Podcast episode I was listening to from The Minimalist recently about the documentary “The Social Dilemma” on Netflix. At the very end of the episode, one of the guys talked about having a video series called, ‘My Biggest Failure’ because they want to change the narrative of ‘constant winning’ and de-stigmatize failure. I love this idea because contrary to the popular saying that ‘failure is not an option,’ failure is part of the plan and ultimately your success.
Instead of shame, try to look at failure from a different lens.
When the fear of failing overrules your thoughts, ideas, and dreams, that’s when it can stunt your progress. Fear is considered a negative emotion, and it has been implied that it can negatively affect creativity, which can constrain forward progress and dis-allow you to see obstacles or possibilities. It can also prevent you from reaching outside your comfort zone to try and/or learn new things, or go after whichever dreams you want to chase.
What if we flipped the script? Instead of falling into the trappings of shame, regret, and negative self-talk, what if we turn it around and embrace failure. Failing at something can mean that you tried something; that you put yourself out there and attempted something new. It means you grew and expanded your world.
How I failed fantastically!
Two summers ago, I decided to try my hand at group health coaching. It had been something I’d been wanting to do for a long time but had been too afraid to take the initiative to do anything about it.
I read up on what I could find about group coaching and put a plan together. I found a company that was willing to let me come in and do a presentation on habit change, which allowed people an opportunity to sign up for my group coaching program.
The group started with 5 participants on the first day, and by the time we finished 3 months later, there were 3 people left. Overall, I felt the experience of the group was ‘ok-ish’ but it did not meet my expectations, by any stretch of my imagination.
At first, I was incredibly disappointed in myself and my skills. But after a day or so of sulking, I started to re-think the experience and came to the conclusion that “I failed fantastically!” I failed on several levels, but I didn’t fail at trying. I didn’t fail at putting myself out there. The 3 participants all reported positive changes, so at the end of the day it was a success, despite my perceived failures.
What I learned from that experience far exceeded what I could have learned by not doing it at all.
What if I hadn’t tried? Who knows, but the important thing is that while I was indeed afraid of failing, I did it anyway.
The fear did not stop me.
Is the fear of failure Preventing you from even trying?
What I don’t want to happen is that you let fear cripple you, to let it stop you from even trying. There can be a healthy amount of fear associated with failure, but in my mind, that’s the impetus to have a plan, to get to know why you want to do something.
When you know why, and have a plan, then you have a great starting point.
How many times has fear of failure stopped you from even trying?
I could tell you all the times that fear of failure has kept me from attempting something, but then this blog would be 10 pages long. I’m inspired daily by people who do overcome it, Like Kelley-Dee, my hair stylist for over 5 years. She has been dreaming of ‘having her own chair’ and being her own boss for 2 years.
At first, she was scared of failure, that she would not succeed, but she channeled that fear into making a plan, talking to others who have gone before her, and going for it.
In her words, her process was like a ‘how to paper,’ she went about creating her plan one step at a time. She said, “once the switch was flipped, I didn’t turn back. It was a mindset shift for me, and I’m totally flexible with how things go. It’s a failing forward mentality for me.”
Now Hair By Kelley-Dee is a reality for her and opens on November 4th in Dallas, TX! Congrats Kelley!!
Are ready to shift your mindset on failure?
Mindset is what it boils down to. Shift your mindset and you can shift how you experience failure and anything else you choose.
So I’ll edit the quote and ask you, “What will you attempt to do knowing that failure is part of the plan, and that it’s ok?!”
If you're ready to make changes in your life and could use a coach, browse our VHC directory. Our board-certified coaches are experts in the change process and can help you navigate your way through the fear of failure and onto success.
Connect directly with Jeralyn here.