It’s something that haunts most of us. Chances are, it’s what is really stopping you from making the first step in your new venture. Starting on a new project, creating a company, a website or building the app you’ve been talking about for ages now. It’s the fear of failure, that big bastard.
Fear of failure and fear of others’ judgement of ourselves and our work hold us back from starting. Fear is cause for procrastination. It may also look like perfectionism: we think what we do is never good enough, never ready for prime time. The result? We just never set off to start, we don’t make that phonecall, we wait too long to put our website live. We keep making excuses, the name is not good, the logo is not right, email is not the best channel, the landing page could be optimised, the sign up button should be orange, orange converts better!
Our own fears
A year ago we wanted to test the simple business idea of providing small businesses with responsive websites based on templates. We decided to try it quickly, in a week we could start selling I said. Instead we took a day for the name, Milksites, pretty good we thought, and we have the .com. The logo took 2 days, quite pretty though. A basic website was done in a week, but we decided to build configurable landing pages that would allow us to tailor to different customers segments, that took an extra week. Then, well, we HAD to build at least 3 templates to start with. That took us a month and a half. We wanted them to be stunning – we’re as good as our templates we thought. The result?
After all that time, when we launched we struggled to find customers, those that we found were a big headache to manage and just not worth the candle. We shut down the project quite quickly. Could we have done it different? Sure, we could have been out there looking for customers on day 1, through email, phone and a number of other ways. We could have attempted selling a competitor’s service and immediately test our ability to find customers, our cost per acquisition and learnt the same things we learnt with three months of work to build a nice facade for our product. What stopped us? Fear of rejection by our potential customers. Fear of picking up the phone and making a cold call to a stranger.
We’re all great at finding reasons for not taking action. And our friends, families and colleagues are great support in that. We’re all genetically trained to point out everything that could go wrong. And most of us will find themselves, at some point, thinking the obvious: by taking action, I’ll risk to fail, hence better not trying at all. Or let’s just wait, a bit more. Who hasn’t thought about that? And it seems to make a lot of sense. If we fail, we’ll think less of us, we’ll feel embarassed about it with our friends and family, who might think less of us. And we can loose money, our reputation, our job, our house, the list of what’s at stake is potentially endless. And the more public the results of our actions are, the worse the fear. This applies to almost every business or career decision you’ll take.
The only failure
But hold on. What’s the worst failure, or may I say, the only failure? I’d argue it’s not trying at all. Won’t you really be failing yourself and everyone by never trying? Sure, you don’t have to try. And most people don’t – which is good news, as if you do choose to try, you’ll be part of the minority of the risk-takers. And that alone puts you on the path to success. And with risk, comes the reward.
“You gain strength, courage, and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You must do the thing which you think you cannot do.”
What you can do about it
So if you’re really keen on becoming an entrepreneur, building a product, getting your dream job, making a dent in the universe or even just amassing a considerable wealth for yourself, I’m afraid you’ll have to overcome your fear of failure. There’s no way around it.
“Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.”
Don’t take it personal
The best advice I think I can give you to get started with overcoming your fear is: don’t take it personal. You are not your project. You are not your product, company or blog. You’re much more then that. Somehow we lose sight of this, and we fear looking like complete idiots if our projects don’t succeed. Some might end up thinking of themselves as complete idiots when facing failure. Some may take all and every blame for a failure, when perhaps the circumstances are to blame. If you think like this, fear will keep you frozen and you’ll never take action.
Moreover, whatever you fail at, most times you can find something positive about. For example you might fail a French test but in preparing it you would still have improved your French! Always think positive. If you don’t succeed immediately, change your plans but do not change your goal. Little by little, you’ll get there.
Make sure you’re not trying to succeed by trying to meet other people’s expectactions or definitions of success. Define what success means for you, and work towards that. Is it about money? Impact? Doing what you love?
“I don’t know the key to success, but the key to failure is trying to please everybody.”
Or just forget about it
Remember when failure and success didn’t even exist in your mind as concepts? Remember that freedom and enjoyment in just trying, doing, making, attempting new things in life? The last time you did it you were probably a kid. Try to get back to that, focus on the process, don’t worry about the future, don’t regret the past and try to get in the zone, that area of intense focus on what you’re doing which is what great artists and successful people thrive in.
So go ahead. Fail. And again. Fail until you get rid of that fear. Try something new. Put yourself out there. Go ask a stranger a silly question. Send those difficult emails. Call your customers. Get into the habit of doing the things you fear, and slowly you’ll get better at it. And when the time comes to take that decision that might change your life and put you on the path to being who you want to be, following your real passion and making your dreams come true, just do it. Failure doesn’t exist. There’s just trying and learning. And try to enjoy the process, as that’s the key to doing good work.
What will you start on?