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How to Overcome the Fear of Failure Making Important Life Decisions

Updated: Oct 5, 2021

I honestly think it is better to be a failure at something you love than to be a success at something you hate. George Burns

Are you afraid to follow your heart because you are afraid you won’t succeed? Or you will never ‘make it’ doing what you love?

Fear of failure is often one of the biggest barriers to living a fulfilling life

What's stopping you from pursuing your dreams?

But your life is too short to let your fear make decisions for you.

In my previous posts I talked about how to make important life decisions and how to break through the fear cycle and inaction. In this post I will talk about the fear of failure and risk, associated with any big life decision.

Fear of failure is often one of the biggest barriers to living a fulfilling life. We tend to cling to our existing situation, regardless of how destructive it might be, out of fear of uncertainty.

Uncertainty is scarier than the situation that is known to be unpleasant and harm us in the long term. In this post I will share a few strategies for how to overcome the fear of failure and better deal with uncertainty.

If you only take away one thought from this post, it’s this - if you never failed, you never tried anything in your life, you never went after your dreams.

Which is the biggest failure there can be. Imagine you are standing in front of a mountain. If you decide to walk away without even trying to climb it – you’ve already failed to reach the peak without even giving yourself a chance.

You’ll always miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.” Wayne Gretzky

Why do we hate to fail?

When we fail, we think ‘I am not good enough’, ‘I am not smart enough’, attributing the failure to ourselves, rather than the overall situation.

Everyone fails, it’s part of the growth process. If you have no fear, it means you are not pushing yourself hard enough. If you are not afraid, you are not growing.

We can learn from the business world and increasingly popular ‘fail fast’ mentality. A lot of companies these days are encouraging employees to embrace a mentality where failure is ok and seen as the only way to develop something genuinely innovative. Because innovation is a synonym to uncertainty.

Same applies to your life. If you want to achieve new heights, you’ve got to experiment and be prepared to fail. Only then you can get from having an average life to having an awesome dream life.

Let’s look at my Life Startup experiment as an example. I left my well-paid corporate job, a country where most of my friends live to see if I can build a portfolio career consisting of the jobs that are my passions.

Forget about the consequences of failure. Failure is only atemporary change in direction to set you straight for your next success. Denis Wailtey

That’s hell of a lot of uncertainty I had to deal with. There still is. I have a few of hypothesis around what kind of jobs I might like and what kind of lives I might want to live, but I don’t have all the answers yet.

Take experimental approach to deal with uncertainty

To get closer to the answers, I take experimentation approach. I am investing a certain amount of time in each one of my careers, e.g. a yoga teacher, an artist, a coach, etc. to see if I like it and if it works. But the key is that I am prepared to fail.

I still have barely any income from any of my careers and it’s scary. I also don’t have a guarantee I will ever generate any income from those activities.

When I run out of savings (or lose them to the economic crisis, which is more likely nowadays) I might need to return to a corporate career. I might also discover that I a corporate career was not that bad after all.

And that is ok. It doesn’t matter if I don’t achieve what I planned. In fact, it’s best not to have a fixed mindset. Because if you are too attached to your idea, you might completely dismiss the fact that maybe it’s not what you want.

Preparation is the secret to conquering your fears

Another way to think about risk is proactively define it and prepare for it. People often forget that the risk can be avoided or mitigated with preparation and that negative outcomes if occur are fixable.

The risk, after all, is simply a likelihood of an irreversible negative outcome. What can you do today to reduce the likelihood of that happening? If you are quitting your job to pursue your passions, maybe it’s good to have savings and a plan B, and C and D.

I, for example, know, I can always come back to a corporate career, stay with my parents or sister, borrow money from my friends or get a job as a waitress. I am not scared of that at all. In fact, this mental attitude is probably the only thing that is keeping me sane with the whole world and global economy collapsing day after day.

If I lose all my savings, have no income, I can always live on an island or in the village and grow my own food. I will be fine. If you are making a scary and risky decision, can you adopt a similar mindset?

Do this mental exercise

Imagine worst case scenario that could occur as the result of your decision. What often happens, is the fear is not as scary as you thought it would be once you face it. Now imagine it happened. What would you do?

Do the following fear setting exercise. Take a piece of paper and write down ‘What if I…’. Then define your fear – write all the negative aspects that can go wrong asking yourself every time ‘So what?’ to help you get to the root cause of your fear.

Once you’ve done that, write down all the things you can do to prevent each one of the things on the list from happening. And finally, what are the things you can do to fix it in case it happens?

When your fears are specifically defined, you can overcome them. It is important to face your fears. Don’t be afraid to fail. Embrace it. If you fail, you can proudly say – you’ve done everything you could.

You will also learn a lot. But also, what if you don’t fail, what if you fly?

What would life be if we had no courage to attempt anything? Vincent van Gogh
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