How To Transform Your Fear Of Failure Into Motivation To Succeed

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Failed projects, abandoned goals, and unrealized dreams. What do all these things have in common? (other than making one miserable)

Their common denominator is not what you think it is, failure, but more accurately, the fear of failure.

Taking on something challenging can be scary. It can seem daunting and intimidating, and cause unnecessary stress and anxiety. We worry, and go down the “what ifs?” wormhole that just mires us in further self-doubt and fear.

How do we move past our fear of failure and increase our chances of success? Here are a few tips to help you move beyond your fears and achieve your goals.

Fear Is Your Biggest Barrier To Success

The biggest barrier to success is our inherent fear of failure. It can paralyze us, making it difficult to move forward and achieve the goals we’ve set for ourselves.

Fear is a destroyer of dreams; it robs us by replacing hope with doubt. In addition, fear causes indecision. We naturally look for the path of least resistance to any task, so we hem and haw over what will be the least painful way to reach our objectives.

Indecision doesn’t help us move toward something; instead, it leaves us stuck in a rut, going nowhere.

We think that by avoiding difficulty, we increase our chances of success, but life has a funny way of turning the tables on us.

How many times has a short cut ended up being much worse than the longer, seemingly “difficult” path?

How many times have you realized that you have to redo the work because the shortcut didn’t go to plan?

Cutting corners rarely saves time, money, or peace of mind. You have to “do the time” as they say.

Taking a short cut because it seems like the least scary, most successful option, will more often than not, backfire, leaving you anxious and stressed once again. 

Acknowledge Your Fears: They Are Real, They Are Valid

This sounds like the worst possible advice, but hear me out.

Putting your head in the sand and pretending that your concerns aren’t there doesn’t make them go away; in fact, it usually increases them.

Have you ever tried to force yourself to not think about something? It invariably causes you to think about it more, or, while it may work temporarily, the niggling thought eventually resurfaces at the most inopportune time.

Your fears will linger in the back of your mind, festering, and gnawing away at you.

Don’t do that to yourself; acknowledge you’re afraid, and exactly what you’re afraid of, write it down, and create a plan to move forward.

Getting your fears down on paper can be cathartic, and help organize that frightening jumble of thoughts into something coherent that you can tackle.

Turning Terrors Into “To-Dos”

When you see them on paper, your fears might not seem so scary. Once they’re concretely in front of you, you can devote time to conquering them.

Ask yourself the following question: Is this fear imminent? (as in right this second, today, this week, this month)

Yes? Then deal with it right then and there. You will feel better slaying that monster, rather than allowing a self-doubt boogeyman to grow under your bed.

An imminent fear would be: “If I don’t finish this report by Monday, I will miss the client’s deadline. I might lose the client, and, as a result, jeopardize my job.”

Is the answer to the question no? If your fear is a remote, unsubstantiated possibility, then shelve it for another day.

For example, “what if I get rejected?” is a common fear, but this assertion has no “due date.”

Rejection is an ongoing part of life; it can happen today, tomorrow, or a year from now. Shelve this negativity and concentrate on doing your best.

The fear is out in the open, on the table, and can now be turned into an ongoing to-do: i.e. bettering your self-confidence, or dealing with constructive criticism.

If you do get rejected, thus confirming that fear, see the silver lining. This is an opportunity for growth, it’s a challenge, not a game-ender; keep pushing forward.

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Your Best Measurement Of Success Is YOU

Once you have a plan in place to overcome your fears, don’t make the mistake of becoming someone you’re not to allay them.

Don’t compare yourself to others or measure your success based on theirs. This is destined for failure because you are your own person, with your own needs, unique goals, and circumstances.

You can look to others as a source of inspiration, because having a goal is a good way to focus your energy, but once you have set down a path, it’s your own and no one else’s.

Your journey is not going to be identical to the people you admire and want to emulate, and it shouldn’t be. You want to draw on their influence as a source of motivation, but still be your own person.

In trying to escape the dreaded fear of failure, people look at someone else’s success as a way to avoid pitfalls, and try to mimic that journey. But you have to remember, their failure will not be yours.

You might take their advice and not do “X,” but invariably “Y” will crop up and catch you out – and that’s ok. Welcome it, embrace it, learn from it, and keep moving toward your goals.

There Is No Success Without Risk

Know that all successful people are inherently risk-takers at heart. If you don’t risk something, you gain nothing.

Why do things the hard way? Why make it more painful that it needs to be? We often opt for what’s easy, comfortable, and safe. None of these things bring success because in order to be successful, you have to leave your comfort zone.

If you don’t want to take risks, that’s fine, but remember that you will also never achieve lofty goals, or see your dreams come to fruition.

There Is No Success Without Failure

In order to start moving forward, you need to move backward. While this might sound crazy, it’s true.

Success and failure go hand in hand – you can’t be successful without having experienced failure.

Unless you have magical powers, or can see into the future, you will not have the answer to everything. Remember this phrase: “I don’t know,” and get used to saying it. Then look up what you don’t know, ask questions, listen, and learn.

Don’t be afraid to fail because as cliché as it sounds, failure is your best teacher. You will never learn how to navigate through difficult situations, or learn how to manage difficult people, if you haven’t screwed up somewhere along the way.

Face your fears, and make failure your friend.


A few key points to take away the next time you feel paralyzed by your fear of failure:

  • Acknowledge that fear is your biggest barrier to success, then address your fears head on: they are real, and they are valid.
  • Write your fears down, accept that they are there, act on the things you can change now, and shelve vague doubts as ongoing to-do work.
  • Don’t measure yourself against other people’s success, they are not you, and your journeys will not be the same.
  • Understand that risk is inherent for success, as is failure. You cannot pursue your dreams without knowing that you will fall down, you will trip up, and that you don’t know everything.

Humans are messy, and the path to success is not a clean, straight line, as simple as A to B. It’s OK to be afraid, and it’s OK to fall down, just don’t stay down and stop living in fear.