Embrace and learn from your fear of failure


Published Mar 7, 2017 on Lyra Blog

By Rebecca Aptekar, PsyD

In Silicon Valley, the pressure to succeed can be overwhelming. Many tech professionals are accustomed to achieving at high levels and being recognized for it. But every success creates an expectation of further success. That’s when fear of failure can show up. Sometimes it’s a good motivator, but it can also lead to a vicious cycle of feeling insecure, being angry about that insecurity, and then becoming depressed at “failing” to overcome it. But what if fear of failure is not something to overcome?

Many of the people you know and respect – even people you consider to be fearless leaders or emotional rocks – have had to learn to cope with their fear of failure, some with the help of a therapist. Fear is something that can be embraced rather than shied away from. And the first step in embracing fear is to be curious about fear as a learning experience that can help you grow.

5 strategies for approaching fear with boldness and curiosity:

  1. Change your relationship to fear.
    Fear isn’t your opponent. Fear is a normal, understandable part of living life based on your values. If you are going to do things you care about, then fear will show up. Ask yourself these questions: What fears do I need to learn to embrace in order to pursue my goals? Can I give myself permission to carry a thought such as “What if I fail?” and continue to move forward?
  2. Accept your feelings.
    Instead of trying to rid yourself of unwanted feelings, notice your emotions, acknowledge them, and make space for them. When you experience anxiety or fear, be compassionate toward yourself. Treat yourself with kindness. Validate your feelings – they are a normal and understandable part of your experience as you pursue what’s most important.
  3. Label your thoughts.
    A helpful technique for coping with self-defeating, anxiety-provoking thoughts is to notice and label them. This tends to take their power away. Acknowledge your thoughts, decide whether they are helpful or unhelpful, and let the unhelpful ones go by like clouds or passing trains. You can’t get rid of these thoughts altogether. And the harder you try, the more likely they’ll keep coming back.
  4. Real success is living your values.
    Your values represent what’s most important to you in your life. They guide how you want to be in any situation. Therefore, when fear of failure shows up, ask yourself, “What’s most important to me? How do I want to act?” A values-based answer might sound something like, “I want to be innovative, open to change, an effective team-player, and authentic.” True success can be defined as achieving outcomes that are within our control. And the one thing you truly can control is living a life that’s true to your values and true to yourself.
  5. Trust that failure is an amazing teacher.
    Failing can be painful. But pain can be a powerful guide that leads us to what’s most important. Accordingly, failure can be viewed as a tool that is instrumental to growth. Ask yourself these questions: Can I learn to value growth from failure? What can I learn about myself as I go through this journey?