Fearing Failure Part Two

In part one, I discussed fear and how to overcome it.  I suggest reading it before this article on learning from failure.  

Failure comes in many different forms, and your realization of the failure can come either suddenly or slowly.  The slow recognition of the failure may be the most gracious because you may feel that you have some options still available to turn things around.  The sudden realization of failure is most likely the hardest–being so unexpected.  In the end, though, the feeling is roughly the same.  

How could I have made that decision?  Why did I do it that way? Why didn’t I see that?  If I had only known that earlier?  Those are some of the questions that may haunt you once the point of failure hits.  While those questions initially surface only as a way to kick yourself in the backside for starting something that, in hindsight, you perhaps shouldn’t have started—you can turn them around to be beneficial.  You can use them to make failure educational.  So, when you find yourself in a pit of despair because you tried something that didn’t work out, get O.U.T!  

Own The Failure

The first step in turning your failure into a learning opportunity is to own the failure.  Now is not the time to pass the buck, lay blame elsewhere, or try your best imitation of “Teflon man.”  Now is the time to simply say, “Yeah, I got here because of me.”  You may feel that it is counterintuitive, but by realizing that you were empowered to make the decisions that got you into the failure implies that you were also empowered to have prevented the failure.  

Understand What Triggered The Failure

The next step is difficult, and it may take a little or a lot of research.  However, with the benefit of hindsight, you have an advantage.  The question you need to ask is, “Where did things go wrong?”  In my professional career in Information Technology operations, I have spent multiple hours doing root cause analysis.  It involves looking at the data and letting the data lead you to theories.  Once you have a theory, test it out in different scenarios to see if that theory holds up.  Your analysis may lead you to a specific decision that turned your ship into a wrong decision.  The study may yield that you never even should have started a particular project because you were doomed before you began.  Either way, now is the time to dig in to find the truth.  Once you find the truth, incorporate it into your decision-making process.  

Turn The Page

The last step is to turn the page—get over the fact that you had a failure.  Sometimes that is easier said than done, but you need to do it!  Once you turn that page, you have a feeling of empowerment or even accomplishment.  If you leave that page unturned, you may still have lingering thoughts of failure or also being a failure.  How sad would that be?  You may have just learned a piece of truth within months or with a few thousand dollars when someone else had to spend years and hundreds of thousands of dollars in school tuition to learn.  In most positions within the economy, an academic pedigree isn’t a good indicator of future job success.  What is a good predictor of future job success, though, is past job experience.  Now, you have that experience.  

Fear Of Failure

So while you have ample justification for wanting to avoid both fear and failure, don’t!  Analyze your concerns and analyze your failures.  Learn from them both!  By learning from both of them, you will likely accomplish more not only in your professional life but also in your personal life.  Once you exercise these muscles in one part of your life, you will end up feeling more confident.  Confidence breeds more confidence.  

If you still feel unsure of starting a new effort, you may benefit from hiring a coach.  By working with a coach, they can help you work through some of the decisions that you will need to make and can likely highlight some items in the future that you’d need to try to avoid.  Hiring a coach is an investment, but they may be able to help you avoid some of the more significant challenges you’d be facing.  

Fearing Failure Part One

Fear and failure.  Separately, they both are powerful.  When you combine fear and failure into the fear of failure, it can become immobilizing.  But why is that?  Fear, while often viewed as a negative emotion, can be very positive because it warns us of the potential of being harmed.  If you have that warning, you can do something to prepare for or mitigate the potential harm.  Having failed at something is also viewed as a negative outcome of attempting something.  However, trying something new is often very educational.  

By going through a process of trial and error, you have the potential of gaining knowledge capital that you could potentially apply throughout many different aspects of your life.  For instance, in starting this blog, I had the opportunity to either following a ‘do it yourself’ model or following a ‘managed service’ model. What I had learned from a previous “failure” is that paying for the managed service would free my time up to generate content for my blog rather than spending my time working on the technical infrastructure.  With a previous business, I was writing all the HTML code myself to create and manage the website.  In doing that, though, it pulled me away from other aspects of my business that could have generated more revenue.  As a former developer, I was veering toward what I was comfortable with rather than what I needed to accomplish.  

A common saying is that FEAR stands for False Evidence Appearing Real.  That isn’t necessarily the case.  It truly depends upon what is triggering the feeling of fear.  If you needed to rely upon a skill that you had never developed to be successful, you would have a reason to be fearful.  For instance, if fear comes over you when asked to make a presentation in front of a broad audience, there are some steps you can take to deal with or eliminate that fear.  The steps are define the fear, address the fear and then overcome the fear.

Define It

Defining your fear takes some introspection and self-honesty.  In the example of giving a presentation, is the fear centered around your public speaking skills, your knowledge of the subject, or something else?  This step sounds very straight-forward, but it can be challenging.  

Fear can be based upon conscious thoughts, but it may also be based upon subconscious thought.  Depending upon the root of your fear, the path forward to be able to overcome the fear could be widely different.  Because of that, you genuinely need to be honest with yourself as to the why behind the fear.  Getting down to the real root of your fear is the only way that you’ll be able to overcome it.  Being fearful of standing up in front of a broad audience because your speaking skills aren’t polished is vastly different than being afraid of the possibility of ridicule over some physical imperfection.  Therefore, the more fine-grained that you can get on the why behind your fear, the more successful you will be in overcoming it.  

Address The Fear

You have to want to overcome a fear.  The fear emotion is based upon an assessment that you are facing harm.  The natural tendency is to avoid that potential harm. So, if you want to overcome that fear, eventually, you need to reach a critical point.  You need to realize that the pain of staying the same is greater than the pain of change.  Once you get to that point, your whole world could change.  From that vantage point, you can put together a plan for eventually overcoming your fear.  

If your fear of public speaking is rooted in your presentation skills, you can pull together a plan for improving those skills.  Or, if your fear is based upon your physical appearance, you can work with stylists to modify your update your physical presentation. If there are some underlying emotional issues, you can set aside some time to talk with a counselor or a religious leader.  This is where the rubber meets the road, and you can start seeing the possibility of overcoming the fear.  It may be a one-step plan, a two-step plan, or a multi-step plan, but as you progress through the steps, you should be able to see the light at the end of the tunnel. 

Overcome It

Having followed your plan, now’s the time to re-approach what you had been fearful of in the first place.  Hopefully, at this point, the fear is gone.  But it might not be.  If the fear isn’t gone, you’d need to go back to the first step and reassess the why of your fear.  If your fear is based upon your subconscious, it could take a few cycles through this process to realize that reaching out to others may be necessary.  

In part two, I’ll review the failure component of the fear of failure.