Fearing Failure

If I had a nickel for every time I've heard people confess to their fear of failure as the reason for abandoning their dreams, I'd be a wealthy woman today.

Yet failure, however much we might fear it, is often how we learn best, if we'll open ourselves to the learning along the way.

Unfortunately, fear rarely travels alone.

"Failure is often how we learn best. Fear and pride are what keep us from the lessons."

In my experience, one of fear's favorite companions is pride -- and not the kind of pride that leaves us feeling good about ourselves and our accomplishments, either. Sometimes it shows up as "I'm too good for" or "not good enough." When we think we're too good for, we avoid taking risks; we avoid the inevitable vulnerability that comes from stepping out of our comfort zone, choosing instead to maintain the false mask of control and perfection.

Conversely, when we think we're not good enough, there is the temptation to internalize failure, allowing it to defeat us instead of failing forward -- limiting us from learning the lessons needed to ensure our success in the future. But perhaps there's a better way.

"Fear of failure and pride lures us into false thinking about ourselves and others."

This past spring I attended the McColl Center for Art & Innovation's Innovation Institute, a Charlotte, NC-based program that uses artists-in-residence to facilitate and teach the creative process, with both a business innovation and personal leadership development perspective in mind. On day one we met Shaun, a talented sculptor with a passion for public art.

"Do you ever struggle with fear of failure or of being criticized by others?" one participant asked.

I honestly don't recall whether there was a time in his distant past when he feared failure, though one part of his answer has remained with me since. He shared that instead of fearing failure, criticism or condemnation, he instead approaches his work with an open mindset of curiosity, exploration and continual learning, actually inviting critique and disruption as a way of learning more about himself, about others, and the infinite possibilities for his work - an approach I have since adopted in my own pursuits that has in turn helped minimize my fears, while expanding my own sense of possibility.

Do you struggle with a fear of failure? Has a fear of failure ever kept you from pursuing your dreams? What might happen if you replaced pride and a fear of failure with a mindset of curiosity, experimentation and learning? Can you view failure as an invitation to grow rather than a condemnation of your own value and self-worth?