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  • Robert Cole

Stop Fearing Failure and Start Fearing the Status Quo.

Just admit it. We all spend our lives trying to win. From our days playing kick ball in grade school until we reach adulthood destined to live in the best neighborhood, land the best job and make the most money, our obsession with getting to the top remains constant.

With this eagerness to succeed comes the association of achieving a goal as being something positive, and not achieving a particular goal (failure) as being something negative. If we work hard to get a job promotion but fail, this is bad. But if we maintain our current job and do not experience this failure because we never pursued the promotion in the first place, we do not feel this negativity. In other words, the default emotion for maintaining the status quo is perceived as good for most people.

From a young age, we start to fear the idea of failure, because it brings the misperception of embarrassment, shame, weakness, devaluing of oneself, and uncertainty about the future. This mounting concern about “losing” also has emotional consequences. For example, fear of failure in college students has been shown to be associated with high levels of worry, anxiety, cognitive disruption, and low levels of optimism.[i] In addition, there was a strong association between procrastination and failure.

For many people, this fear will wall them in, forcing them into mediocracy and limiting their potential. The advent of mass communication, especially social media, has perpetuated this idea as certain users tend to advertise their presumed success, which reflects the false narrative that failure may not even exist.

Reality is different. To be successful and achieve a desired goal, you must first stop fearing the possibility that you might come up short. You must train your brain to fear the idea of not bettering yourself and not accomplishing a specific goal. You must learn to fear the idea of maintaining the status quo, especially if it does not satisfy you.

It is important to recognize that those you see in positions of success have many times failed in their pursuit of such ambitions. Abraham Lincoln, one of the most well-known historical figures of the last 500 years, knew what it felt like to fail. He lost his job, took part in a failed business venture, and lost multiple political races before he ever made it to the White House. He once famously said, “Success is going from failure to failure without losing enthusiasm.” Abraham Lincoln never lost his enthusiasm to succeed. He would go on to liberate millions of African Americans and help save the nation after the Civil War.

As you begin 2021 and start setting lofty goals, its imperative to eliminate your fear of failure. As you let go of this fear, you will find more enjoyment in the pursuit, less stress about coming up short, and in the end, more success. In addition, every failure will be a learning experience for future reference.


Check out How to Build a Smile: 14 Ways to a Better You for some tips on how to better eliminate this fear!

[i] Conroy, David E., Jason P. Willow, and Jonathan N. Metzler. “Multidimensional Fear of Failure Measurement: The Performance Failure Appraisal Inventory.” Journal of Applied Sport Psychology 14, no. 2 (2002): 76–90. https://doi.org/10.1080/10413200252907752.

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