Is fear of failure paralysing you?

Is fear of failure paralysing you?

I’ve been meaning to tackle the issue of fear for a long time.

I mean the sort of fear we feel in our professional lives, which prevents us from doing anything new or making changes to our circumstances, even when we’re unhappy continuing with the status quo.

Perhaps I’ve been too scared to do so until now.

It’s much easier to feel safe in our comfort zones than to push ourselves to do something different.

Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway

If you’ve read the book ‘Feel the Fear and Do it Anyway’, first published in 1987 and now a bible for personal development, you will know that the author Susan Jeffers believes that fear comes from not feeling good enough about ourselves.

She also believes that whatever happens, we can handle it — with the right tools and lots of practice to develop our self-belief.

I’ve felt fear throughout my professional life. I was fresh out of University and started temping when I first felt that cold sweat spread through my body, as I realised that I was completely out of my depth, and working for a very impatient monster-boss.

Six months later, I was terrified about starting my first ‘proper’ job in Public Relations. I’d managed to blag my way into an account executive role without thinking about the consequences — for them or me. I didn’t even know what PR was.

As I gained experience in PR, and subsequently in recruitment, I still suffered from a paralysing fear: whether it was about making a call to a hostile client, pitching to a busy journalist or hosting my first seminar.

My armour took the form of procrastination. I’d delay any frightening activities by coming up with a series of excuses, usually starting with ‘what if…?’.

What if I make a fool of myself? What if I give people the wrong advice? What if the client is really rude and I crumble? What if the event isn’t successful?

But if I wanted to keep my job, I had to eventually just do it, push through the fear and do my best to come out unscathed.

I always survived.

Choose fear, choose life

Now that I’m self-employed, I can choose to do things that scare me, or I can choose not to.

Because I get bored easily, I usually choose the former.

When I finished my coaching course, I wasn’t ready to coach. But when my first potential client came knocking, I found myself at a ‘sliding door moment’. I could coach her and learn from the experience, or I could come up with an excuse and wait for perfection. Which of course never comes.

Saying yes before I’m ready is a pattern of behaviour:

I have presented at events, on subjects other people are much more qualified to talk about.

I led a training session with a group of fundraisers to improve their professional impact. Never done that before.

I have given a couple of lectures to undergraduates at Syracuse University.  Me, a lecturer! When the invitation came through I said yes immediately, without thinking about the consequences.

In all of these examples, if I hadn’t said yes before I was ready, I would have procrastinated until paralysis set in.

Progress is more important than perfection. I felt the fear and I did it anyway. And survived.

Aim for progress, not perfection

Once you realise that you can achieve most things you put your mind to, the fear becomes addictive. Each time I have the courage to do something scary and survive it, my confidence grows.

The pay off for feeling the fear is huge. Not only the sense of achievement that follows it, but the experience and knowledge gained in learning that new skill.

As long as we push ourselves to do new things, we will feel fear. The path to confidence is via courage. As Susan Jeffers says, the ‘doing it comes before the feeling better about yourself.’

By reading personal development books — and believe me I’ve read a LOT of them, I have started to train myself to replace the ‘what ifs’ with ‘so what, I’ll handle it’.

Everyone experiences fear. Even the most composed and accomplished people are anxious about their next big challenge. It’s human nature. Knowing that the people I’m presenting to are fighting their own inner battles, helps me to put my own fears into perspective.

Nothing exciting happens in the comfort zone. You have to feel the fear to grow.

You might fail (in which case you’ll learn). You might succeed. Wouldn’t you like to know?

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