Is a Fear of Failure Sabotaging Your Career?

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“The greatest mistake you can make in life is to be continually fearing you will make one,” says writer Elbert Hubbard.

Yet so many of us live with a stymying fear of failure.

This fear, called atychiphobia, straps us in our seats, holds our tongues, and keeps us in our comfort zones.

What exactly is behind our fear of failure, and what can we do to prevent fear from sabotaging our careers?

How Fear of Failure Affects Business

Fear of failure expresses itself in many ways in business.  The most obvious may be low employee self-esteem and negative self-talk.  It’s also an unwillingness to try new things, be a part of new initiatives, or expand skill sets.  Interestingly, fear of failure can also come across as perfectionism when someone is only willing to do something when it can be done perfectly (MindTools).

To grow and evolve, business means taking risk. “Even if you’re doing well in business, your fear of failure is likely causing you not to scale out,” says R.L. Adams of Entrepreneur. “It compels you to stay in the same markets, not to expand your offers, not to hire more personnel, not to grow sales too far, too fast.  And why? Because we’re scared of what would happen if we couldn’t meet our obligations.”

Shame is Behind the Fear of Failure

Parents commonly say that their young children seem to have “no fear.”  Kids are much more willing to try new things, even if success is not guaranteed.  But as we grow and experience failure, we also start to feel shame.  “A fear of failure is essentially a fear of shame,” says Dr. Guy Winch of Psychology Today.  “People who have a fear of failure are motivated to avoid failing not because they cannot manage the basic emotions of disappointment, anger, and frustration that accompany such experiences but because failing also makes them feel deep shame.”

Shame taps into the core of who we are on a personal level.  If we promise and cannot deliver, the shameful emotion we feel on a personal level (perhaps first experienced in childhood) is so devastating to us, that we avoid taking risks.  “Everyone hates to fail,” says Dr. Winch, “but for some people, failing presents such a psychological threat their motivation to avoid failure exceeds their motivation to succeed.”

In any business, there will be times of failure and delayed or unmet obligations. This is why many interviewers ask candidates to describe a time of failure.  Is a candidate able to manage growth and risk or does shame stymie them?

Facing Our Fear of Failure

To conquer fears, we must first acknowledge that they exist.  Start with personal reflection and talk to other people about the feelings behind any big decision.  A simple pro/con list can be helpful.  Pay close attention to the cons to see if they are factual or emotionally driven.  Dr. Winch says that bringing feelings of shame to the surface can help you recognize when you are unconsciously sabotaging yourself.

If there is risk involved, spend time focusing on what you can control to minimize the risk instead of the potential to fail.  “Brainstorm ways to reframe aspects of the task that seem out of your control such that you regain control of them,” Dr. Winch explains.

You can also practice the art of taking risks on a smaller scale and observe how you handle failure.  For example, if you have a great idea you want to present at the board meeting, run the idea by just one board member.

Job Searching and Fear of Failure

When seeking a promotion or new position, candidates need to step out of their places of comfort. Presenting a resume to someone is literally putting yourself out there for critique, even when your qualifications may not match up perfectly. An interesting gender study reported on LinkedIn reveals that “men apply for a job or promotion when they meet only 60% of the qualifications, but women apply only if they meet 100% of them” (Mei Ibrahim).

Conquering your fear of failure means failing and bouncing back from shame and disappointment.  For any one position filled through Artemis Consultants, there are many candidates who did not get selected.

We say to keep trying. Keep applying. Take the risk. “Everything you want is on the other side of fear,” says author Jack Canfield.

-Exclusively written for Artemis Consultants by Content Writer Mellody Melville

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