Fear: Name It, Claim It, Reframe It

Who hasn’t dealt with fear of failure in one’s career, at one time or another? Several process-oriented changes can lessen the effects of failure or reduce its likelihood. In general, conquering fear of failure is a process of naming it, claiming it and reframing it.

Robert Kelsey, author of What’s Stopping You?: Why Smart People Don’t Always Reach Their Potential and How You Can (Capstone, 2012), suggest some practical steps for dealing with fear of failure.

  • Assess the possible outcomes of a given situation. Make a list of the general causes and probabilities of each outcome. Most of the time, the likelihood of success is greater than that of failure if you apply your best planning and management efforts. Failure is often a more remote outcome. In many cases, a few simple actions can significantly reduce your chances of failure, making it less of a threat.
  • Recall past experiences where positive outcomes occurred in situations where failure was possible. A track record of positive results is not an accident. You devised plans and allocated resources that set you up for success. Sometimes, a fear of failure leads you to believe that doom is a random, come-out-of-nowhere strike of fate. In most cases, however, several unfortunate missteps must occur to generate a bona fide failure. Even if this sequence is initiated, you can make adjustments to counter it. In other words, failure rarely strikes out of the blue. It’s not that
  • Reflect on colleagues’ experiences. Even when failure hit them, did it do them in? Not likely. They kept going, adjusting, learning, growing and getting better at their jobs. They may have experienced a dip, but they recovered in the long run—in some cases, actually improving their situations. This is not uncommon.
  • Focus on the journey instead of fixating on the destination. We usually experience achievement in incremental steps, as we plan, adjust, correct and celebrate. Individual steps are easier to grasp and foresee, and failure is less likely as this process plays out. If failure becomes a concern, handle it incrementally, as well.
  • Set smaller, achievable goals to build confidence and moderate risks. Raise the bar gradually to enhance self-assurance. Emphasize the positive aspects of each step, while correcting or adjusting, to minimize the negative aspects. Choose your areas of focus. Before long, you can manage greater opportunities and risks with more courage and confidence.
  • Ask for help or advice, when necessary. You’ll feel more secure when trusted colleagues, mentors or coaches offer input and guidance. They can help reinforce action plans and improve your chances of success. There’s no need to go it alone.

What I see when working with leaders is that coaching conversations help tremendously. Some successful leaders make failure something to be grasped and managed, not feared. You and your organization will enjoy greater success when you learn to master your fear of failure.

What’s been your experience? I’d love to hear from you.