For Fear Of Failure

For Fear of Failure

What keeps you from trying something new?

I grapple with this question in my work life and home life. We tend to stick to the things we know which keeps us from trying new things. You’ve seen that right? If you’re in L&D then the answer should be yes, but this isn’t about L&D.

My theory is that we get so comfortable in one place that we stop trying, you know, wresting on our laurels. We’d rather things stay the same and comfortable as they are now. The problem is comfort and keeping things the same doesn’t work, things quickly move past us and we’re left irrelevant.

Job security is a perfect example of this comfort frame of mind. One goal for a lot of people is job security.

Does job security today mean that we’re setting ourselves up for future failures?

It would seem to me that job security and career failure are slowly merging into one. Job security to me means that one day you’ll lose your job and be unprepared to find a new one, not be secure in your job forever. Some will be lucky and skate through and achieve true job security with no need to do things different and new, but not many.

How does job security and fear of failure fit together? I’ll try to figure that out for myself below.

Fear of Failure

Fear of failure shows itself by sticking to the comfortable and the familiar with the hopes that external forces will also stay predictable.

The question I don’t know the answer to is this:

Does comfort create the fear of failing or does chance of failure create the push to find that comfort zone?

I have a tendency to look at the unfamiliar and going a new path with question and hesitation. There’s always an internal fight between my want and need to do things different and better versus the comfortable option of doing it the same it’s always been done, usually the easy way.

When I approach a new project, like anybody I have that fear of failure and the fear of the unknown. Even with a high level of confidence that I can get stuff done, I still have those nagging questions that pull at me, that fear of failure.

I’ve fought the tendency for the comfortable, especially the past few years. How do I do it? Doing things differently each time, never accepting that I’ve found the best way of doing something. Accepting that I’ve found the best way of doing something to me is succumbing to the comfort that can easily suck us in.

Process is the enemy of innovation.

When I’m doing things different, I always seek perfection with the realization that I’ll never reach perfection, only continuous improvement.


Even I (who loves trying new things, learning new things, and figuring out new ways of doing everything better) have the tendency to also fall into a comfort rut.

It’s hard to kick when we’re happy (or maybe not even happy!) and in a good place at work and home. As I was writing that I had the though of not being happy.

Have you ever been in a situation where you’re comfortable but would rather not leave that comfort? You know it’s not making you happy yet you can’t stop it because it’s so comfortable?

Been there too!

I can think of the perfect example. How about the person that gets so comfortable not exercising, lounging on the couch watching TV and living day-to-day vegging out. It’s comfortable and seem like you’re happy, but it doesn’t feel good to be there. It’s depressing being inside and so dormant sitting on the couch all day everyday yet it’s one of those things that’s hard to kick. I think this plays in nicely to learned helplessness, you become complacent to the downward spiral.

Trying something new by getting outside, exercising, exploring your environment is the best way to get out of that rut and do something healthy for your life. It’s not an easy thing to do but something that requires pressure from yourself to get up and do it.

I think that same mentality works for a career too. Getting out of a rut, out of the norm and trying something new is the best way to move forward.

What’s Stopping You?

There are many things that can stop you from doing what you want. Failure is just one of those things but it can appear in hundreds of different ways.

Have you made a conscious effort to stop and think about what’s stopping you from getting where you want and need to get?

Is fear of failure one of those things and what can you do to overcome it?

I wish it where easier to recognize those fears of failure to stop them. Reflection is a great way to discover them and a conscious effort to do something different is the best way to stop them.

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11 thoughts on “For Fear Of Failure”

  1. I think you hit the nail on the head here – it can be an endless cycle. We are fearful of change, so we don’t change, then feel guilty about not changing and feel badly but still cannot make the first steps necessary to make the needed change. The cycle starts over.

    Fear, I believe, is a most difficult mindset to overcome. I have been mentally paralyzed by fear a time or two and it can be difficult to shake – a strong network is necessary to kick you in the preverbal rear-end, not to mention having a strong sense of self. The ability to self regulate whether or not you are too far deep into your comfort zone is difficult to see – especially when we are used to looking in the carnival mirror and seeing a distorted vision looking back, what is normal anymore?

    As you know, I bring up the impostor syndrome in my latest post (although in a different context) the fear of being discovered as a fake – this I believe keeps a lot of people in jobs/careers that they may have otherwise abandoned. Fear is a powerful emotion – thanks for opening up the topic.

    Post for reference:

    • I should have mentioned in my comment on yours that I also understand first hand impostor syndrome 🙂 Looking outwards at all the great things others are doing it just seems sometimes like what I’m doing is amateur at best. Of course I know that’s not the case, everybody does things a little bit different and it all appeals to different people.

      I might do something that I think is cool then see somebody else doing something similar and think, wow that’s really incredible, mine can’t compare to that. Then somebody else comes along and they might like mine better!

      It just goes to show that you have to do what you do and do what you’re passionate about regardless of what others think and those that matter will be there with you 🙂

      I appreciate the comment Shannon, keep doing what you’re doing and fight the good fight 😉

  2. I think the hardest thing is that with a background in L&D you recognise the signs and you know what to say to whom. When it comes to yourself, you may not be able to be open to such help yourself – or there is no one there to provide it. Trusted professional networks can be especially important.

    • Thanks for leaving a comment! You’re right, professional networks are very important, possibly the most important part of success. I think that’s why I have such a powerful interest in social learning. It’s because that’s what got us humans to where we are today, not formal learning.

      A professional network is another form of social learning because those important discussions that get stuff done happen there whether in an industry or within an organization.

      L&D doesn’t have a problem with not having anywhere to go or nobody to help, the problem is L&D as a whole doesn’t recognize that it’s not all about formal learning, that’s just a tiny drop in the bucket of learning. L&D wants the courses and the job aids and all that formal stuff but hasn’t realized like others have that networking and working socially is where you get the necessary education.

      Do it, learn it, live it.

  3. I love this article, Nick. I admit, I just love it. There’s a lot I want to say about it because it resonated with me on a personal level…problem is, I dunno where to start.

    At a very basic level, I see it as a bit of a Catch-22. Circumstances and motivation may dictate which one of those options is the correct sequence (afraid to try because you might fail, or you failed before and so you’re afraid to try). I will share that I have been “afraid to try for fear of failure” in many aspects of my life in days past, but I never really thought about the “comfort factor” and whether I was motivated to seek a new one and ignore the chance of failure.|

    Suffice it to say, it took me a long time to learn that failing was OK.

    • Thanks Mark for the comment! Glad you enjoyed it. I often think about it and how it’s one of those things that just kind of hangs in the back of my mind and I might not even be aware of it at times.

      Even being used to failure and understanding it’s extremely beneficial it can still be hard to overcome that fear of failure. I guess it’s one of those things that we never get fully used to.

      It also took me a long time to learn failing was OK. Although, I must admit that I still haven’t fully learned 🙂 I still have to push myself to do things even with that fear of failure overshadowing my thoughts. I’m getting better at just doing it though and understanding that things take time, there’s no defined point of failure for anything really, it’s all a work in progress, that’s life 🙂

      • If nothing else, it shows that we need to teach the value of failure very, very early in the education streams…instead of perceived/arbitrary success.

        • Yes! That’s absolutely true, celebrate and analyze the failures because you learn so much more and end up in a better place than just looking at perceived success and saying that’s it.

  4. Maybe it’s also the fear of success Nick? What if we are successful in trying something new and suddenly raise our profile significantly by doing so – forcing us to make changes in our life, show our passions and reveal our true selves? “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? ” Marianne Williamson.
    But yeah, plenty of fear of failure and fear of looking daft trying and not succeeding – the importance of working out loud I guess 🙂

    • I like your thoughts on this a lot Nigel! You’re right, it can be just as much the things you mention if not more so than what I mentioned. Succeeding can take so much more effort and put us outside our comfort zone. It would seem that’s the more likely case.

      Working out loud is definitely important to expose us to things we’d otherwise never be exposed to, helps get us out of our normal circle.

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