Why people are afraid to fail

Why people are afraid to fail
Dropping your fear is the hardest thing to do. (Photo by Alex Green)

If failure has value to it, Why are so many people afraid to fail?

We always hear the importance of failure, especially in entrepreneurship and business as a form of growing personally and also guiding you towards that situation where things work out for you. Failure is highlighted as a natural process of one's business/life cycle; we hear well known entrepreneurs talk about the unavoidable fact that you will encounter failure in your life and/or your business.

Yet, why are so many people still afraid of failure?

I put the main component of this fear of failure being due to external forces and the anticipated negative financial and reputational consequences, if we are frank about it.

(Check out a helpful quote when taking decisions at the bottom of the article)

Fear is constructed around a situation that usually requires a leap of faith where the cost of failure is going to be potentially painful. For example, failing at that new venture means you lose your investment and savings. We experience this fear even if we are not experiencing the things we are scared of because we are anticipating the consequences (The hardest thing to do is drop this fear and take solace in the fact that you cannot predict your future and that your gut instinct is a good go to for guiding you).

There is an unfortunate negative relationship with society and failure and how it UNFAIRLY treats people who ‘fail’. If I go into entrepreneurship specifically, there is a love-hate relationship between governments/society and entrepreneurs. When you are successful they love it from their standpoint, more money in their pocket. However, if you fail there is firstly the financial pressure, how are you going to start all over again with no money? And from a reputation stand point you become a pariah.

Societies tend to rule by fear to keep you in line and not allow you to sway too far from the pack. This is counter intuitive as for most entrepreneurs, part of the job is innovating and trying out new ideas or projects. I would argue that is what makes it very hard to fail these days, the economic and cultural system is not built for small individuals/entities to fail, however it is acceptable for large institutions to fail though (will get into that below)!

Reputation and social pressure is a strong part of this as well, where societies and/or communities exert this onto you directly.

This is where connecting with people who can empathise and have been through what you are going through, is a great way of mitigating that fear. As you will be with people who have experienced it before and you will realise how common it is; and more importantly identify the steps to take to make it easy to overcome. If you don’t have anyone in your circle, seek out podcasts and online interviews.

I wish I could say that there are places that create environments for entrepreneurs/self starters/independently minded people to thrive but it is getting more constrained as ‘Darwinian Capitalism’ for entrepreneurs and wage earners takes more of a stronghold. In our current financial system ‘failure’ is acceptable for multinationals and individuals/entities that are untouchable and/or too big to fail. The risk is socialised for large entities, a clear example you can see is with financial crises or bank failures where they just get bailed out for their negligence (I will not call it risk taking as their behaviour goes beyond that). I highlight this because we tend to blame ourselves without sometimes knowing the impact of the external environment on us.

The light at the end of the tunnel is understanding this landscape and why things are the way they are. This allows you to comprehend that you fear it is an internal process you can control and that the external environment is wrong and is not there to serve you and your personal goals. So the intrinsic aspect is having self belief, understanding that failure is a natural cycle of learning and developing. If anything, it actually shows you are someone of substance and really went for it! And those are memories and personal lessons that you hold for yourself or may share with someone who may need to hear it at some stage.

Try to minimise your contact points with the elements of society that view failure negatively and mitigate the potential consequences.

P.S. A quote for anyone who needs to take a decision where there is a possibility of failure:

“Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back. Concerning all acts of initiative (and creation), there is one elementary truth, the ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans: that the moment one definitely commits oneself, then Providence moves too. All sorts of things occur to help one that would never otherwise have occurred. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one's favour all manner of unforeseen incidents and meetings and material assistance, which no man could have dreamed would have come his way. Whatever you can do, or dream you can do, begin it. Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it. Begin it now.” - William H Murray

Remember to fail upwards!

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