On the Fear of Failure

When it comes to pursuing things we want, the one thing that holds many people back is the fear of failure. This applies to relationships, friendships, career goals, health goals, and everything in between. And failure means different things to different people. It can mean rejection, lack of recognition, not being “the best,” or any outcome other than that which you hoped for.

This topic has been heavily on my mind the past few days, because I see it coming up over and over again with so many people I believe in so much. I talk with people all day long about reaching their goals, because the main part of my job is coaching people and offering advice and support.  I offer nutritional and lifestyle advice for clients, but I also support people in business. I coach those who are on my Beautycounter and doTERRA teams, and I do some consulting on the side for businesses and entrepreneurs when it comes to things like marketing. I also am a friend, and I listen to my friends’ struggles and worries. This is the repeating situation – I’m talking with someone who is determined, smart, creative, and has a lot to offer this world, but the only thing holding them back is themselves. It’s their fear of failure.

It breaks my heart that people are so hesitant to go after what they want and what they deserve because of that fear, and I wish they had the confidence in themselves that I have in them. I get it, though. It’s easier from the outside, and not so easy in your own head. The reason this has been on my mind so much over the past week is because a number of people assumed I don’t have this fear. “It doesn’t seem like you’re scared of anything… you just do it. I wish I could just do that.” I heard a variation of that multiple times.

Whoa. Pause.

That couldn’t be further from the truth.

Growing up, I never would have imagined someone would ever say those words to me. Throughout my life, I was well aware of the fact that two of my biggest fears were failure and rejection. These fears paralyzed me. I held myself to high standards, and I knew, or thought I knew, that others did, too. I was good at meeting those expectations, and I could depend on myself to do so. But I also never pushed myself out of my comfort zone. I only did things I knew I would succeed at. I also felt like people were always watching, just waiting for me to fail so that they could say something negative or point out that I didn’t succeed. For most of my life, that held me back from a lot of opportunities. It wasn’t until much later on that I realized that this fear was holding me back not only from opportunities to fail, but also from opportunities to succeed.

I felt a constant pull between desperately wanting to put myself out there and take opportunities that I saw others taking, and that voice inside my head telling me that it was better not to push the boundaries in case I fell hard. My confidence was fragile, if existent at all, and I didn’t think I could take it if my failure was on display for the world. I was torn, though, because I also didn’t want an “ordinary” life. I had dreams and ideas and aspirations, but I was just waiting for things to happen. Waiting around wasn’t going to make them happen.

I eventually realized that even if I was afraid, I needed to just do it anyways. I will never grow if I don’t put myself in situations that make me uncomfortable. I had to get comfortable with being uncomfortable. This was incredibly hard for me, especially with my anxiety disorder. My anxiety was truly crippling, but I was sick of it limiting my life. So I did a lot of self-talk and used some logic to work through it.

I asked myself, “What’s really the worst thing that can happen?” Well, the worst thing that can happen is that I fail or that I get rejected. And then what?

I started playing the game of “What’s the worst thing that could happen?” with every situation that scared me.

For example, competing for a job at a large, important studio, against people who I felt were much more qualified than me. What’s the worst that can happen? I don’t make the cut. Everyone else knows. Someone asks me about it, or someone makes a rude comment, or someone rubs it in my face. People I care about are disappointed. Other companies think I’m not good enough.

How realistic are each of those things? Not getting the job is relatively realistic. Someone making a rude comment – kind of realistic, depending on who you hang out with, but probably not that realistic. The truth is that we feel like we constantly have eyes on us, but most of the people we are worried about aren’t really thinking about us. Most of those people are also too busy worrying about what other people are thinking of them.

Let’s say they do make that comment. Is that coming from a place of insecurity? Is it really about ME, or is it about them? Beyond that, my response is my choice. I can choose to allow that comment to make me feel less than, or I can give myself some grace and not let that person’s response dictate how I feel about myself. I can give myself the power to decide what defines my worth. If the worst thing that could happen, really, is that I don’t get the job, then… okay. I can find another job opportunity. I can learn and grow. Maybe it wasn’t meant to be. If not getting a job is the worst thing that happens to me, I live a lucky life.

What about failing a class in school? Getting anything less than an A in any class gave me crippling anxiety, because I associated it with failure. But what’s the worst that would happen? Let’s say I got an F. Then I would have to retake the class. Okay… then I’ll retake the class. Maybe someone will say something about it. Okay… so what? Was it even realistic that I would actually FAIL the class? No. Maybe get a bad grade, but probably wouldn’t fail. If I could mentally cope with actually FAILING, then getting a bad grade didn’t seem so bad. If I got bad grades consistently, what was the worst that would happen? I wouldn’t get into my grad school of choice? Well, there are always grad schools. I know people who barely graduated college who somehow got into grad school. There are also careers that don’t require grad schools. Worst comes to worst, I can make something of myself. Or I’ll start from the bottom somewhere, and I’ll work my way up. There are always options. When there’s a will, there’s a way.

What if I tell him how I feel, and he rejects me? Well, he’s not the right person for me. At least I know, and I can move on to eventually find someone who is interested in me. Or maybe I’ll get made fun of. But wait – why am I around the type of people who would tease someone for being open with their feelings?

What about starting my blog? That was a big one for me. I dreamed of starting a blog or YouTube channel all throughout high school, but I was too afraid. I was afraid of failure and rejection. What was the worst that could happen, though? People might find it and hate it. Maybe they would make fun of me and say mean things. Maybe it would even prevent me from getting job opportunities. Maybe I would say or do something embarrassing. I was opening myself up to be criticized publicly. What if I put something out there, and then I regretted it?

This one had more risks, and I weighed the pros and cons. I knew that if I didn’t put myself out there, I would always wonder, and I would always regret not knowing what could’ve happened. If I could help others by sharing my own experiences, I wanted to do that. I decided that if the WORST thing happened, and I was emotionally ripped to shreds by the harsh people waiting behind their screens on the Internet, it would be worth it if I helped someone else feel less alone.

I played that game with many situations, and I physically wrote it out. I needed to see things on paper to put them in perspective, so I could tell what was actually a risk not worth taking, and what was really just me holding myself back. 99% were the latter. When it’s out on paper, it’s not as scary anymore.  There was a lot of, “I can’t,” and, “I shouldn’t,” and, “What would they think?” and, “What if it doesn’t work out?” I discovered that those phrases had become automatic over the years. I realized that I was holding myself back from so many things because I was worried about failure, rejection, and what other people thought. I had an idea of what “failure” was in my head, and I was letting that define my self-worth. I thought that if I failed, I was worthless.

What is it about failure that scares us so much? Is it that we don’t know where to go from there? Is it that we are worried about others’ judgments? Is it that we are comparing ourselves to something? Is it that we’re just making up excuses? What are we waiting for?

Asking myself ,”What if?” and honestly answering that question was incredibly insightful for me. What if I fail? What if I get rejected? WHAT IF? What is the worst thing that can happen? Play it out in your head. Okay… You didn’t get the job. He’s not interested in you. No one’s buying tickets to your event. No one is reading your posts. Oh. Well.

When I kept asking that question over and over, I discovered that the worst thing that could happen meant I just had to try again. In even the worst case scenario, I would learn something. I would try again. And then I realized that not even trying was robbing me of that invaluable opportunity to learn and grow. My definition of failure started to change. The only real failure is when you don’t get back up and try again. IF I KEEP TRYING, I WILL NOT FAIL. Only I can stop myself from trying again.

It was a very slow realization for me, and to be honest, what kicked me in the butt when it came to changing my mindset was when my health hit an all-time low and doctors told me that I was at high-risk for heart attack and could die at any moment. Well, that was really the worst thing that could happen. When the possibility of death is on the table in front of you, everything else seems so trivial. What the hell am I waiting around for?! When I played the, “What if?” game after that, I always ended up at the same spot – at least I was still alive. Seems pretty morbid, but it puts things into perspective. I had a new gratitude for all of the opportunities at my fingertips – opportunities that I could create myself.

If he rejects me, SO WHAT? If they make fun of my recipes, SO WHAT? If I get a D in this class, SO WHAT? If I gain 20 pounds, SO WHAT? If I don’t get this job, SO WHAT? It goes on and on. I have my life, and I have determination. And no one can take that from me unless I let them. I didn’t have to let them.

Having that mindset shift was a game-changer. After that, though, it was never easy. I started making these realizations, and then putting it to the test. I did things I never would’ve had the courage to do before. I thought, I might as well give it a shot. If it didn’t work out, I could go back to my old ways of playing it safe and talking myself out of doing anything new. It started small… I half-assed assignments. I got rid of an exercise routine. I told people I no longer planned on going to grad school. I started a blog. I marched up to someone I wanted to work for and asked her for a job. I talked to people I was “afraid” of. I interacted with strangers. I started a podcast. I quit my job and decided to be an entrepreneur. I got used to getting a million “no’s,” but continuing to try.

I was not confident that whole time, but I decided to just fake it. When it comes to this kinda stuff, fake it ’til you make it. It works. I got so used to “faking it,” that eventually I wasn’t faking it anymore. I learned to manifest. I told myself things would happen. The universe picks up on that. I got used to doing things that made me incredibly uncomfortable – things that I used to let my anxiety stop me from doing. I knew I had to still do them, though, because experience taught me that the most rewarding experiences come from doing things that felt like a risk. I repeat – The things that scare you the most at first are the things that reap the greatest rewards.

What if I never had the courage to start my blog? To change my career path? To become a nutritionist? To start two podcasts? To launch a group coaching program? To have a Beautycounter business and a doTERRA business? To ask people for help? I don’t know what I would be doing now, but I know I wouldn’t be happy. I wouldn’t have grown as much as I have in the past few years. Doors opened for me because I asked them to. I learned to ask for what I want, and to be confident in what I feel I deserve. Much of life is subjective, and I was sick of letting other people’s thoughts and judgments influence my own. 

It’s not about not fearing failure. It’s about moving forward despite the fear. That is how we grow. So, no, I’m not fearless. But I can try to be, or just move forward despite the fear. The things that I’ve faked confidence in for awhile, I’m now pretty confident in. New things still scare me, but I do them anyways. I know I’ll be okay. The things that I was afraid of have happened. I’ve gotten plenty of horrible emails and messages. I’ve gotten made fun of. I’ve been told “no” and that I’m not good enough. I’ve barely scraped by with money. I’ve lost relationships. And guess what? I’m still kickin’.

I still get a little nervous every time I put out a podcast episode, every time I put up a vulnerable post, every time I post a picture of myself, every time I pitch myself to someone. I get nervous every time I launch a new project, and I get scared every time I have a big idea that may or may not be worth pursuing. Then I play the “What if?” game, and I kind of just detach. I’ve gotten used to moving forward despite the fear, or I’ve gotten used to talking away the fear. It doesn’t stunt me anymore. I tell myself I’m not afraid. I’m more afraid of losing out on the opportunity for something BETTER. If I try and “fail,” I have the opportunity to learn something that will put me closer to my goal. That is not failure.

Perfection doesn’t exist, and it is exhausting to chase an unattainable goal. I will never feel fulfilled or happy if I am chasing an unattainable goal my whole life. It was difficult, but freeing, to accept the fact that I will never be perfect, and that I will fail over and over again. I will be wrong so many times, and things are not always going to go my way. It’s going to happen, and I accept it. Phew. Big weight off my shoulders. The fear of failure and the fear of rejection – they are human emotions. I can feel them, but I don’t want them to define my choices or limit my life.

When I learned to write persuasive essays in English class, we were always taught to answer the question of, “So what?” in the conclusion. You presented your argument, but why should this person care? Now I try to apply that question to my own life when there are things I’m scared of. So what? What if? Should I really care? Why should I care?

The most freeing mindset shift I ever made was realizing that I don’t really have much to lose. If I’m basing my value off of what other people think, then I have more to lose. But I choose not to give people that power. There is much more to life. I realized that what I do value in myself is the ability to grow and to push myself. I want to be someone who creates change, and I want to be someone who is always improving and learning and moving forward. At the end of the day, the only person who can truly stop me from doing that is myself.

So here it is… So what? What was the point of this post? I encourage you to reflect on any goals you have or things you want in your life. Do you want a job? A relationship? A new house? A car?  Is that really what you want? Or is it health? Self-confidence? Happiness?

What’s holding you back? Are you telling yourself you can’t do it? Are you telling yourself it’s a bad idea, or that you don’t deserve it? Are you afraid of failure? Why? The worst that will happen is that you will try something, and then you will learn from it. The worst that can happen is that you don’t try, and you always wonder. The worst that can happen is that you limit yourself.

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