Are you afraid of failing?
There’s an antidote to your paralysis.
Please, read on.
Why Failure is Great
You cannot learn without some failure.
Failure is a natural part of the learning process. Anytime you learn something new, you likely will be bad at it in the beginning. It’s impossible to do everything perfect all the time, but when the stakes are high, we don’t want to make a mistake in front of our boss, our CEO, or our friends.
Failure will happen, but it’s nothing to fear. Failure is how you give yourself feedback on what is working and what is not. Fear gives you an opportunity to recognize a need for change.
Don’t let fear of failure paralyze you: I propose that failure is our greatest asset.
When you fail, it teaches you humility: it teaches to not be afraid to ask for help and gives valuable feedback when we need to adjust our expectations. It can hurt, but when you remember failing is only a part of you getting better at anything, it becomes your friend instead of an enemy.
For example, when I chose to change my major in college, it was because I repeatedly failed at performance: I practiced all the time: every minute I wasn’t working, I was in the practice room trying to get better at playing the french horn. I distinctly remembering how much time I could be practicing if I just slept in the music building — a whole hour saved! At the time, I was averaging about 3-4 hours of sleep, 8 hours of work, and 5-8 hours of practice depending on the day.
I thought I kept failing because I didn’t have any talent. What I learned from my failure is I was practicing all the wrong things. Instead of breaking my problem down into parts, I looked at all the other students and how much better they were than me. So, I did what most people I think would do: kept trying the hard stuff, thinking I could play like them. I literally tried to place the high C at least 5,000 times, I’m sure.
I felt like a loser because I started applying myself seriously as a junior in high school, but many of my classmates had been seriously playing since elementary or mid-school.
Realistically, the music was too advanced for me. But by failing hard, it made me realize that, perhaps, this wasn’t the right career for me: I always felt lost when band directors talked about subtle issues and tried so hard but always ended up in failure. By reflecting on all these things, I did two things: I decided to get an English degree and decided that I needed to do things differently. Instead of looking at other English students, I made a list of things I thought I needed to know to be a good teacher.
Were those 3 years wasted? Absolutely not. I DID eventually learn deliberate practice. I also learned how to properly break problems down into chunks — one of my most valuable skills. When I felt overwhelmed by the literal mountain of things I needed to do, I always just focused on the next thing.
Dealing with the Fear
If you feel frozen by the fear, I suggest you do two things:
- Consider the next thing, no matter how small it may be and do it.
- If it still makes you weak-in-the-knees-afraid, consider perspective: this fear, if everything goes terribly wrong, will it matter next week? How about next month or next year? Often, this zooming out of perspective helps me realize how ridiculous I’m being with myself
What I suggest is preparing for those big moments, by allowing yourself to fail in the small moments.
Lessons from your Failure
There’s benefit to embracing things even when failure might feel imminent:
- Failure teaches humility: being right all the time can lead to dangerous habits that lead to lack of compassion and narcissism. By failing, it teaches you to reflect, adjust and try again.
- The more often you fail, the more comfortable you will be with failure. This builds grit and perseverance and also teaches you to pause and reflect on where you are, what you did, and what you should change.
- Being comfortable with failure will make you more comfortable with taking on new skills: you will be more willing to explore new experiences and less hesitant to let novelty stop you on your way to your dreams.
- Even if you fail, you may have gotten much of the way there and there’s value in that: I nearly got my degree in Music Education (band teacher), but realized I would be a terrible band director, but that still got me 80% of the way to a degree — two years later, I graduated with an undergraduate degree in English.
- By experiencing failure, you will develop a sense for when things are headed in the wrong direction: this can serve you to give you advance notice when the stakes are high.
- It will break you from analysis paralysis! Instead of being afraid of not succeeding, you’ll look forward to always going after your next step.
Be friendly to your failure and it will be kind to you back.
One of my goals in life has always been to optimize my learning. I love learning! It’s why I wanted to be a teacher originally: by constantly learning, we allow ourselves to grow and that enables us to do things we previously did not think possible. It pushes you closer to your big dream of life!
When I was taking calls for Nationwide Insurance in their call center, did I ever imagine I would become an analytics manager for a retail company with over 100 stores?
No, absolutely not. But it happened.
In small steps.
To learn quickly, we need to embrace that it’s ok to fail and anytime failure occurs to understand, adjust and pick ourselves up to try again.