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Are You Worried About Failing … or Succeeding?

Topics: Career Advice
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I have a small metal block on my desk with an inspirational sentence: “What would you attempt to do if you could not fail?”

It’s certainly a question many of us might ponder in the darkness of uncertainty at work. It’s also one with no easy answer. Do we hesitate because we worry about failure, or because we worry about what will happen if we succeed?

Is it more important to try and fail (and get up again) or to play it safe all the time and never fall down?

Do You Have a Fear of Failure or a Fear of Success?

Those who hang on the sides of the fight and don’t participate certainly won’t get caught up in the frenzy in the middle, but they also won’t get the glory of winning, either. What keeps you from participating in a contest, a call for applicants or a potential change in your career? Are you worried about perceptions (I hear Carrie’s mother saying, “They’re all going to laugh at you!“)? That’s probably a fear of failure.

Do You Know What You're Worth?

If you’re worried about what happens if you succeed (“I’m not ready for so much responsibility, so I’m not going to apply for the management position”), then you’re a bit afraid of winning. But have you ever considered that if you’re chosen to lead, you likely have been deemed ready to lead in someone’s eyes? They believe in you, so you should believe in you! Don’t let imposter syndrome get the better of you.

List All the Ways You Could Fail

What’s the worst that could happen? Really! You apply for a promotion or a new job and…what…you just don’t get it. Someone has to win (and lose) presumably, but the world keeps turning, right? Some call this consideration of potential issues a “pre-mortem” (instead of a “post-mortem”) and it can be a helpful way to anticipate bumps in the road.

For example, for your big presentation, what would you do if:

  • You forget/lose the PowerPoint file
  • The video projector fails
  • Nobody is paying attention to you
  • The boss is late/leaves early
  • You don’t finish the presentation in time….etc.

That’s a lot of “if’s” right? Some of them just aren’t things you can control, but they are things you can react to in a professional way. You’re in charge of some of them, like finishing your work and practicing to make sure you know it forwards and backwards. Make a list and think about ways you can overcome problems.

Practice Visualizing Success

Have you ever said, “Oh I can’t even see myself doing that”? You might have never attempted visualization. It’s a fairly simple process that everyone from athletes to executives do to help them imagine their own success. It can include simple daydreaming of the moment you cross the finish line to creating a literal “vision board” full of things that inspire you. It’s up to you to set the stage and imagine your path to that moment of victory.

Think of it as the daily answer to the perennial question at your review, “Where do you see yourself in five years?” You should always have an answer (and a regular update) to that question.

Don’t Stop Reaching for Those Stars

Fearing failure isn’t a failing. Being nervous isn’t something that should block our path. Rather, it’s something to recognize and work through, especially when the going gets rough. If you need help, seek out a professional mentor, talk to a colleague, or simply get a friend to let you practice your presentation on Skype over and over again and get their advice.

There’s lots you can do to get yourself back up off the dirt and brush it off your shoulders. We believe in you. You got this.


How do you deal with professional struggle and failure (or fear)? We want to hear from you! Leave a comment or join the discussion on Twitter.

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