Fear of Failure (why are we so afraid to start things and fail?)

Photo by the blowup / Unsplash

Are you afraid of failure? Do you choose not to start things because you have that overwhelming feeling that you’ll fail? Do you lose that battle in your own head which prevents you from trying something new? Well good. Because I do too. 🙅🏾‍♂‍

I used to think that some people just had that ‘get up and make it happen’ factor. The entrepreneurs, the musicians, the actors and other successful people. That I didn’t have this. What I this thing I was or wasn’t doing, that meant that made me so reluctant to just say ‘f*ck it’ and go for it. 🏃🏻‍♂‍

Now in my twenties, this fear of failure is common in most aspects of my life. My ability to start a business, my ability to progress in my career, to live abroad, to get into a relationship, to try a new hobby or even a new skill. 🏂

Doing some reflecting I have put this fear of failure down to 2 things: my upbringing and my need for perfectionism.

Now don’t worry. Blaming my upbringing isn’t as deep as it sounds. I’m not about to offload a horror story of my childhood. In fact, it’s the complete opposite and I’m sure a lot of you can relate. 👨🏽‍🏫

Ever since I can remember I was reasonably good at most things. I never excelled at anything, but I got a good grasp a lot. From sports to science, computer games to passing tests – I never struggled too much. I never really ‘failed’ much… or made to feel like I failed. 🏅

Gaining my professional chartership in accounting back in 2019

Growing up we were comforted by people around us protecting our self-esteem. Prizes for finishing last, cheers for everyone just for taking part and parents that would give us (most) things, as they wanted a better life for us than they had. But it kind of had the reverse effect in practice. 🏆

Unfortunately, I didn’t get ‘Three cheers for Alex for trying’ when I failed my first ever exam at 23 years old. Or a ‘Well done for taking part’ medal when I didn’t get the job I interviewed for. Or the second job. Or the third job. This was my first real set of rejections in my life. I struggled to deal with it. I wasn’t prepared for it. I didn’t like it. ✋🏽

We then use these experiences as our baseline references for future things. We doubt ourselves for the next opportunity, as we think, ‘Well I didn’t get the last job, why would I get this one?’ 👷🏾‍♀‍

The same for business start-ups. I’ve tried 2/3 and none have taken off. I often have ideas for new ventures. I build a scenario in my head, but thoughts are then flooded with counter references from my past failures. This in turn makes me think… nah, best not. 💡

The second reason for my fear of failing is my need for perfectionism. I can’t begin to tell you the self-sabotages and excuses I have used over the years to avoid doing things I know I’m not good at. 🚷

However, what I am starting to learn is that the anticipation of failing due to not being good at something is almost all the time worse than the result of trying. The result being that I did a sh*t job… and failed. 💭

We tend to be more resilient than we give ourselves credit for and underestimate our ability to bounce back, or in most cases... just not really give a f*ck after a couple of days and couple more double Gin & Tonics. 🤷🏻‍♀‍

Social media these days has us all feeling these snapshots of people’s lives is the societal norm of what perfection and success is. So there begins the never-ending comparison to unrealistic aspirations (of which most are altered truths through editing apps and set up photographs…don’t ever get it twisted). 🏎

Think of the business owner at 22 with a multi-million-pound business. Seems great to see right? But how many people do you know who have quit their start-ups because they couldn’t make a profit after a few months. Or is this even you? 💰

We feel shame if we can’t immediately see the level of success others seem to have. Living our lives through screens connected to the world these days, it’s easy to feel a sense of embarrassment if we fail. ‘Oh no everyone will see and hear about it!’ I know I feel like this. 🤳🏼

But the truth is. Nobody really gives a fuck. Nobody will care that your brownies didn’t sell, or your YouTube video only got 30 views. Everyone is too busy worrying about their own lives. Get over yourself… we aren’t as interesting to people that we think we are! 🎥

Not at 100 subscribers but I doubt anyone even cares...

No matter who we are, we all feel failure hit us in the face from time to time. It’s around the corner whether you can see it coming or not. Whether you walk into it knowingly or when it randomly blindsides you on a wet and windy Thursday afternoon. 🎱

Don’t resist it. Embrace it. Accept it. Learn from it.

In an attempt to accept some of my failures and normalise being vulnerable to failure, here are some of mine this year:

Expanding my side hustle business – failed and no longer doing it
Looking for a new job in London – searching for months and no closer to getting an offer
To get the TV working in my house – gave up and my mum bought me a fire stick
To keep to my monthly budget every month – spend it all on going out and get annoyed with myself every Sunday when I look at my banking app
Learning a language – started 4 and never completed more than 1 podcast/lesson
Take a sabbatical – blamed it on covid and bought a house instead
Keep a YouTube schedule – said I’d do 1 video a week and I’ve failed that target after 2 weeks
Run a 10km – ran a few 8km’s but gave up when gyms reopened
Write a book – did about 80% of it after 50+ hours of work but haven’t touched it since March.

The list could continue but breaking these failures down, what I can do, is see opportunities from them all. I have learned something from every failure. Each failure has added value to me to which I wouldn’t have had if I never gave it a go. 🙋🏼‍♂‍

Whether it be the process of dealing with suppliers for my business. Or understanding what salary I could earn in London job searching (which is a lot more than I thought). Or how to shoot, edit and upload videos on YouTube. Or the countless facts I learned from the research I did for my book. Or that because my house doesn’t have an aerial or dish means I can’t get Freeview… 📺

I could waffle about this subject for more time than I could keep your attention. So, for now I’ll leave you with this from a book I’ve recently read (in less than 48 hours as it’s so relatable) from Elizabeth Day – ‘Failosophy: 📕

‘…we start by removing, as much as we can, the feeling that failure negatively defines us as people. It doesn’t. Failure happens. We respond. The nature of our response will determine how we feel about it.’ 👌🏽

Again, thank you to everyone who has subscribed to the blog as well as reaches out after each one to connect and share experiences. I hope you have gotten value from this one and i look forward to hearing from you!

Alex Dean

Alex Dean