Overcome Your Fear of Failure

Last Updated Oct 29, 2008 5:27 PM EDT

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Fear of failure can prevent people from doing various things, but fear of success also gets in the way. We develop our self-concept from an early age and once it is formed, it is difficult to change. We "know" what we can -- and cannot -- do.

Sometimes when things are going really well and success is following success there is this little voice that starts saying: "This is too good. I'm not that talented. I can't sustain this."

If you listen to the voice, you will never be that good and you won't succeed. People who play competitive games know all about this. To overcome failure you have to have a level of self-belief and tenacity.

The trick is to overcome failures when they happen -- and they will. First, you must recognize that failure's an essential part of success and that it's an opportunity to learn and improve.

Second, look carefully at every so-called failure to see what didn't work and what needs to be done differently. Why is it that the sporting world understands the indispensable nature of performance feedback but public service organisations and companies don't?

Why does Tiger Woods spend hours practising? So he can play any golf shot imaginable. And why does he have a coach with him while he's practising? To adapt Bill Clinton's famous phrase: "It's the feedback, stupid."

Third, you need to persevere. The fur trappers of the far north used to say: "The next mile is the only one a person really needs to make". But if a fur trapper's motto doesn't suit you, here's another source of inspiration: "Perseverance is failing 19 times and succeeding the 20th".

How can you argue with Mary Poppins?

(Photo: Stewart Rassier, CC2.0)

  • Robin Stuart-Kotze

    Robin Stuart-Kotze is a founder of the consultancy Behavioural Science Systems, whose clients include P&O, BP, Oracle, and Johnson & Johnson. He’s also made his way in management, largely in the financial services sector in the UK and Canada. A distinguished academic with a PhD in organisational psychology, Robin co-wrote “Who Are Your Best People?” about effective talent management.