“What will people think?”
Overcoming fear of failure
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 epic, public failure loomed over me.
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).
But this is tricky when the emotion of rejection feels so palpable. I hoped for, even expected, a positive reception. Why wouldn’t they want to work with me?
Focus upon the outcome reinforces the fixed mindset which says, “Things are great, or they’re not; there’s no changing it.” Focus on the process reinforces the growth mindset which says, “Everything can be improved by effort, strategy and help from others.”
I realised I was clinging to the positive reinforcement like a cliff edge. I was letting the outcome determine my motivation and worth. 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?
Conversely, when we show interest in the process regardless of outcome, the judgement is replaced by curiosity. “Why wasn’t that right for her? How can I make it more relevant next time? Who else do I need to talk to? What else do I need to learn?”
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!
With your next potential rejection looming, try to frame it as a learning experiment from the beginning. Detach from the outcome as soon as you can. And remember, when the emotion is strong, a calm place, some coloured makers and mindful scribbling can really help you process and move past the feeling.
As always, let me know what you come up with. I’d love to cheer you on!
Be brave and curious,