Your Relationship With Failure

How To Overcome Fear of Failure Bob Phibbs

Your relationship with failure is critical to your success.

I am British, and in our culture we have an ingrained fear of failure. Failure is something that is looked down upon and despised.

Over the course of my business career I have enjoyed a certain amount of success, but I have also endured a considerable amount of failure - or deferred success as I prefer to see it.

Some years ago I was being mentored by a man who had achieved considerable business and financial success in the oil business - he had closed 9 major fuel contracts and made millions.

I recall once having a conversation one day when I asked him what he thought was the key to his success.

He told me something that has stayed with me through every failure I have experienced since then. He said:

"Stephen, one of the key things that has contributed to my success is that I am prepared to fail more times than everyone else in that business."

The following article was written by personal development blogger Steve Pavlina who is someone whose work I have considerable respect for, and it is republished here with consent.

Your Relationship With Failure - by Steve Pavlina

Here are some quotes from J.K. Rowling about the fear of failure:

"Part of the reason there were seven years between having the idea for Philosopher’s Stone and getting it published, was that I kept putting the manuscript away for months at a time, convinced it was rubbish.

Fear of failure is the saddest reason on earth not to do what you were meant to do. I finally found the courage to start submitting my first book to agents and publishers at a time when I felt a conspicuous failure. Only then did I decide that I was going to try this one thing that I always suspected I could do, and, if it didn’t work out, well, I’d faced worse and survived.

Ultimately, wouldn’t you rather be the person who actually finished the project you’re dreaming about, rather than the one who talks about ‘always having wanted to’?"

The notion that you might fail can really slow you down.

But it’s not the failure itself that’s the problem.

The problem is your relationship with failure.

Consider the grand opening of Disneyland, which happened about 65 years ago on July 17, 1955. It was supposed to be a press preview day with limited attendance, and it was a spectacular failure.

Here are some things that happened that day:

* Disney was expecting 11,000 guests because they sent out a limited number of invitations, but 28,000 people showed up. Someone sold thousands of counterfeit tickets. Another guy set up a ladder in the back of the park and charged people $5 to sneak in that way – and many did.

* The crowds trying to reach Disneyland caused a 7-mile backup on the Santa Ana Freeway. People were stuck in their cars for so long that they had to relieve themselves on the side of the freeway.

* The temperature topped 100 degrees (38 C), hot enough to melt the fresh asphalt on Main Street into a sticky tar that ensnared women’s high-heeled shoes.

* Some paint in the park wasn’t quite dry, and some people were getting paint on their clothes.

* Due to the huge crowds, the park’s snack stands and restaurants ran out of food at lunchtime.

* Due to a plumbers’ strike, the park wasn’t able to install enough drinking fountains before opening, so people weren’t finding enough access to water. Many accused Disney of doing this deliberately to gouge them for the expense of sodas.

* Due to the heat and the crowds, most of the rides broke down at least once, causing more frustrations.

* The Mark Twain riverboat was so overloaded with guests that it ran low in the water, and water from the river was sloshing up onto the deck.

* The park was full of press, who canned the experience, which was referred to as Black Sunday. Some press predicted the park wouldn’t survive.

Things didn’t immediately improve. Disneyland had more problems in the weeks after the opening, including people smashing up most of the cars on the Autopia ride by driving them too aggressively.

But these many failures didn’t matter that much. Disneyland still did a lot of things right. They eventually fixed the problems, which was like a game of Whack-a-Mole since new problems kept arising. Disneyland was always going to be a work in progress.

Our lives are like this too.

Just because you have a spectacular failure doesn’t mean the game is over.

You take your licks and get right back to working on your goals. Acknowledge and fix problems one by one. Keep learning and adapting.

Imagine being Walt Disney on Disneyland’s grand opening day. Tons of press are there. The park bears your name. It’s been a 20-year journey to evolve your vision for a theme park into a reality. You’ve struggled endlessly just to get the financing in place, and then there were even more struggles to get the place designed and built.

So many people have doubted you, including your brother and business partner Roy. You’ve been preparing for and anticipating this glorious day for a long time. And then some asshole screws up your plans by making thousands of counterfeit tickets, and your people can’t tell the real tickets from the fake ones.

Your plans for a wonderful opening start falling apart right before your eyes, and all the attention and the cameras are on you – not to mention all the investors who want to know whether investing in your vision was a good idea.

And what do you do? You shrug it off and get right back to work the next day.

How To Overcome Fear Of Failure

Failures happen. This is part of life. While other people may make a huge deal out of it, is it really that big of a deal? So what if you have a spectacularly bad failure! That isn’t the end. It’s just a learning experience, so learn from it. Life continues the next day.

People may criticize you. You may be embarrassed. Accept the consequences, and then get right back to it and re-engage.

You needn’t retreat and slink away in shame.

Be proud that you failed.

So many people are too cowardly to even try working on something meaningful.

They talk themselves out of pursuing bold ideas before they begin.

They treat the prospect of failure as a reason to quit before they start.

Many of Disney’s ideas, including some rides they tried, had to be scrapped and replaced. Each ride was a big project unto itself, so some of those failures ended in the death of a project. But the death of a project doesn’t have to kill the big picture vision.

Take this idea to heart. You can fail a lot with your projects, but your big picture goal can remain intact and achievable. Some ideas and projects along the way will be dead ends, and you’ll have to let them go. So you’ll need different projects and ideas to help you reach your goal. Don’t equate the failure of your projects with the death of your long-term goal.

Don’t pursue your goals as if you know you can’t fail.

Of course you can fail!

But don’t make such a big deal out of failure.

It will happen. You’ll rack up plenty of failures if you do anything interesting in life. Let each failure be a badge of honour. It means you’re making a good effort.

"A good failure is a powerful learning experience."

  • Share on Facebook

  • Share on Twitter

  • Share on LinkedIn

  • Return for more Reflections & Experiences

    Contact me

    Click here to post comments

    Join in and write your own page! It's easy to do. How? Simply click here to return to Reflections & Experiences.

    Chinese (Traditional)EnglishFrenchGermanItalianRussianSpanishVietnamese

    Custom Site Search

    3 Keys Solutions

    Action -> Think = Change


    1. Massimo Pigliucci - How To Be A Stoic

      Feb 21, 21 05:14 AM

      My interest in Massimo Pigliucci is as a philosopher specifically as an pro-active exponent of Stoicism. He poses this question: "Are you making a difference in your own and other people’s lives? If t…

      Read More

    2. Julia Galef - Applied Rationality

      Feb 21, 21 05:10 AM

      Julia Galef is a writer and public speaker on the topics of rationality, science, technology, and design. Applied rationality is her speciality and she asks the question: “Do you have the scout mindse…

      Read More

    3. Stanford Prison Experiment - A Masterclass In Self Deception

      Feb 20, 21 06:19 AM

      "The military told me they used the SPE tapes to train people not to behave like our guards. I used to quote that as a good outcome of the research. Now I know they also used it to train interrogators…

      Read More

    4. Philip Zimbardo - How Good People Are Transformed into Perpetrators Of Evil

      Feb 18, 21 06:30 AM

      Philip Zimbardo has contributed greatly to our understanding of the situationist perspective as to why people can change and choose to exercise bad/evil behaviour in response to the pressures and dema…

      Read More

    5. Deep Work - Producing At Your Peak Level With Full Concentration

      Feb 05, 21 08:06 AM

      Reframing the discipline of applied concentration for the millenial digitally distracted age

      Summary - DEEP WORK by Cal Newport

      Read More

    6. Elon Musk - “Failure is an option here. If things are not failing, you are not innovating enough.”

      Feb 04, 21 12:00 AM

      SpaceX launched the Starship SN9 prototype to an altitude of about 10 kilometers on its first test flight last Monday night. It was destroyed during its landing attempt.

      We have an incredibly skewed vi…

      Read More

    7. Elon Musk: "I Think It Is Possible For Ordinary People To Choose To Be Extraordinary"

      Feb 03, 21 09:49 AM

      Elon Musk is an extraordinary man. He has founded, co-founded, and leads a cross-section of the world's most technically innovative companies. One of the most interesting things about Elon Musk is the…

      Read More

    8. The Why and How Of Effective Altruism

      Feb 02, 21 12:00 AM

      Most of us want to make a difference. We see suffering, injustice and death, and are moved to do something about them. But working out what that ‘something’ is, let alone actually doing it, can be a d…

      Read More

    9. Why You Should Practice Failure

      Feb 01, 21 12:00 AM

      We learn valuable lessons when we experience failure and setbacks. Most of us wait for those failures to happen to us, however, instead of seeking them out. But deliberately making mistakes can give u…

      Read More

    10. We Are What We Remember

      Jan 31, 21 02:26 AM

      Memory is an intrinsic part of our life experience. It is critical for learning, and without memories we would have no sense of self. New memories build on the ones that are already there. The more we…

      Read More

    Support This Site

    Email Address:

    Expert Author Alerts