The worst kind of failure (and how to avoid it)

I have been the vicim of Phantom Failure too many times in my life.

Phantom Failure is when you fail in your mind so hard that you don’t allow yourself to try. It’s like a stillborn idea – killed in incubation without ever really being given a chance. 

My first Phantom Failure was becoming an actress. It was my dream. I was going to be famous, a Hollywood Star. I could see my name in lights, articles being written about me – just as soon as I finished school.

While I was in school, the dream was allowed to thrive. It wasn’t something I had to do right now – I couldn’t. I had to be at school. There was no plan, no task list to ‘being discovered’.

As the end of school approached, I had to start being more deliberate about my choices. Would I go to University? Would I study Drama? Would I try on my own? What if I failed? I should plan for a fall-back job. Real-life set upon my mind.

I researched to try and help determine the next step to take. Mel Gibson and Kate Blanchett had gone to NIDA in Sydney, perhaps I would do the same. But NIDA involved an audition. A man in the year ahead of me had tried and wasn’t accepted and he was more talented than me, I believed. I was sure to fail if he did. This was a Phantom Failure – I never even auditioned.

So I wouldn’t go to NIDA. That’s ok, I could still become an actress a different way. I could audition for local shows. But could I handle being told no? Could I understand that I might not be right for the part? Could I handle being a starving artist and working as a waitress as I tried and tried and tried? Probably not. Phantom Failure would triumph once again.

“You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take”

~ Wayne Gretzsky

With Phantom Failure, the fear is so real, so palpable that it feels like there is no other way it could possibly go. We can almost touch it. So we call it off, we protect ourselves against that horrible, embarrassing reality and carry on with something seemingly safer.

The truth is, we’ll never know. If we took that shot it could have been that flaming ball of disaster. But it might not have been. When we succumb to Phantom Failure we don’t allow any room for fate and getting lucky (which happens much more often then we expect).

You know how to avoid Phantom Failure? Real failure.

Real Failure - Left (tricky, but leads to success)
Phantom Failure - Right. "Trust me it's safe". Easy road leads to the Dream Dump - you're doing the right thing.

I’m serious. We can learn from real failure and, sometimes, when we set out to fail, we end up succeeding. The only outcome of Phantom Failure is failure anyway, but the kind where you learn nothing and your fear is amplified and your self-esteem is crushed. Better to really fail, fail big, fail spectacularly, fail forward. Eventually, and sooner than you might think, this sort of bold, brave, risk taking action will lead to better connections, better choices and less fear. These elements invite luck and luck is one key ingredient to success.

My business is not a phantom failure. If it fails at all it will be a big, juicy real failure. But, my bets are on success.

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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