In fact, far from overlooking it, most people strive to avoid this at all costs fearing that it will be their undoing. That humiliation and disaster lay just around the corner. Yet, contrary to popular belief, it really is one of the fundamental keys to success.
So what is this hidden key…? Conversely to what you might expect – it’s ‘Failure’. Many people perceive failure as something to avoid at all costs, yet in reality the opposite is true – it’s something we must learn to embrace if we want to be truly successful.
When we’re really young we just experiment and play without a care in the world. We try things out, see what happens. Gradually this changes though and we learn from those closest to us that we have to get it right – that getting it wrong is BAD! One of our most dominant experiences of this is at school when we start doing tests and exams. It is firmly drummed into us that pass = good, fail = bad, and it remains that way throughout our education. These associations work well in the context of exams, but the problem is that we take them into other areas of our lives and associate ‘failure = bad’ across the board – in every area of our life and work. We become fearful of failure and this is where the problem begins…
You see, as soon as you want to try something new, step into the world creativity or entrepreneurialism, become innovative in business, then you need to develop a whole new relationship with failure, it must become your friend, because in these contexts failure is inevitable. It is guaranteed. Avoiding it is a fool’s pursuit and ultimately becomes a lose-lose. Author Dan Millman says “Ultimately, fear of failure generates a vicious circle that creates what is most feared. To break this cycle, you need to make peace with failure. It isn’t enough to merely tolerate it; you need to appreciate the failure and
This may seem counter-intuitive but there are many successful people who will tell you that if you want to succeed faster, then you need to fail faster and more often. Take Sara Blakely, founder of Spanx and the world’s youngest self-made female billionaire, for example. In a recent interview Sara shared that her entire life has been about failure. She said “My dad encouraged us to fail. Growing up, he would ask us what we failed at that week. If we didn’t …have something, he would be disappointed. It changed my mindset at an early age that failure is not the outcome, failure is not trying. Don’t be afraid to fail.”
For many of us, this is the exact opposite of what we learned when we were younger, yet it is some of the best advice I’ve ever received. I know from my own experience that shifting your relationship with failure is not easy, but I also understand that it is both necessary and a cornerstone of success.
Another manifestation of the fear of failure is when ‘perfectionism’ starts driving your behaviour. Whilst often perceived as the desire to produce great work and results, for most people this gets hijacked by the fear of failure, of it not being good enough, and the ‘perfectionism’ inhibits success rather than drives it. Excellence drives success, but perfectionism inhibits it. They look very similar so pay close attention to which one is truly in the driving seat.
The detrimental effects of fearing or avoiding failure often show up negatively in the corporate world too. Many companies have developed a fear based culture whereby getting it wrong is taboo and many ambitious professionals fear getting it wrong. They worry that this will result in them getting fired, or their promotion prospects vanishing down the toilet. The intention of this is to drive high performance and focus staff on delivering, in reality though, it stifles creativity and innovation and results in mistakes being hidden from key leaders for fear of these reprisals – and therefore they end up making key decisions based on inaccurate information. A recipe for potential disaster I’m sure you’ll agree.
So if you want to be more successful, then learn to turn your mistakes into stepping stones for success and make failure your new best friend. After all, the only true failure is not trying!
If fear of failure or perfectionism are impeding your results and you want to banish them into the netherworld, then please get in touch or check out the following recommended reads:
Failing Forwards by Stuart C Maxwell
Pursuit of Perfect by Tal Ben-Shahar