Overcoming Fear of Failure

What will people think? What if I fail? Have you ever thought these thoughts before?

I was pretty nervous when I started my business. I knew I was going to have to talk with people and outreach but I didn’t know how they would react. Would they think I wanted something from them? What if no one would meet with me or told me my idea was useless. Suddenly, I felt so scared to even try because this epic, public failure loomed over me.

When I became aware of this feeling, I started thinking about where it was coming from. The truth is, everyone I’ve told about my business has been supportive. No one has told me I’m wasting their time or shouldn’t pursue this – even if the solution wasn’t something that could help them in particular. I have been met with complete acceptance. So why do I still feel like the rug can be ripped out from under me at any moment?

Carol Dweck, the Professor of Psychology at Standford University, is known for her work on mindset psychology. Her book Mindsets talks about a growth mindset and a fixed mindset. As I was reading her book, a lot of it seemed common sense – if we see failure as a learning experience we’ll bravely embrace challenge and develop as a result (growth mindset), whereas, if we fear failure, we will shy away from challenge and settle for safe mediocrity (fixed mindset).

What surprised me was the fact that praise can push us into a fixed mindset.

Praise focused upon the outcome reinforces the fixed mindset which says, “Things are great, or they’re not; there’s no changing it.” Praise centred on the process reinforces the growth mindset which says, “Everything can be improved by effort, strategy and help from others.”

That’s when I realised I was clinging to the positive reinforcement like a cliff edge. If I let go of it, I’m worried I will fall into the abyss – that’s the unspoken dark side of praise. Instead of embracing the process, the journey and challenging myself to make mistakes, I was allowing myself and others to judge the process.

So what can I do differently? How can I step past this fear and allow myself to fail in order to advance my business?

It turns out that praise and criticism are just two ends of the judgement spectrum – one implies the other. When we judge something as good, it sets us up for potential failure. “That’s beautiful, Sweetie,” feels really good in the moment but what about next time when Mum’s too busy to notice and the positive reinforcement isn’t there. Does that mean that it’s not beautiful, that I’m not valuable?

"Don't judge, teach. It's a learning process." - Carol Dweck

Conversely, when we show interest in the process regardless of outcome, the judgement is replaced by curiosity. “Wow, tell me how you made that.” Why did we win? Because of the training. Why is it beautiful? Because of the inspiration and experimentation. Does it matter if it was the best?

Judgement means there’s something to lose, curiosity means there’s something to discover.

All my life, I have had a fairly fixed mindset. I fear the judgement – not because I have ever had anyone judge me harshly, but because I have been afraid to push the boundaries where they might. It’s been nice on the sidelines, but my legs are restless and I want to run. Does it matter if I trip or stumble?

I haven’t struck gold. My business is not moving as fast as I thought. But that’s ok. I am putting in the effort every day. I have coaching and help from others regarding my strategy. I’m sharing my journey and I hope you all keep me accountable if it all sounds too good to be true! 

As you go about your work today, try to use some growth mindset language. Allow yourself to wonder about someone else’s process. If you offer praise, link it back to the effort, strategy or help from others that led to the result (it wasn’t magic).

Be brave and curious.

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Published by hanfitz.creates

I'm Hannah, a business coach for creative professionals. The world needs creativity and innovation: this is how we progress as humans. But, the creative journey is paved with challenges: we're told the story of the starving artist since we're children, our brain is hard wired to resist anything new (like creative ideas), we doubt our ability and worthiness to succeed and we crush our ingenuity with judgement and comparison. Yet, we know our purpose is to create. I help visual artists, designers and illustrators bridge this gap with my uniquely curated knowledge and experience of graphic design, finance, human behaviour and neuroscience. You have invested time and resources into their technical skill; now, it's time to invest in your mindset and strategy. After working with me, you can confidently communicate the value of your work, attract clients and charge what you're worth through multiple income streams. This frees up more time and energy to do what you're best at: create.

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