5 tips for overcoming fear of failure

anxious woman biting her nails
Is fear of failure holding you back?

Has a fear of failure been holding you back? If so, you’re not alone: 33% of Americans say fear of failure has held them back from starting their own business. And if you deal with Imposter Syndrome on top of it, fear of failure can become amplified and really affect the success of your business. 

But just because this fear is prevalent, doesn’t mean failure is a given. Don’t let your worries about not succeeding get in the way of achieving your business dreams.

Nobody instinctually feels great about failure. Though some people are able to take failures in stride and seem to even welcome them. It’s these people who are best able to grow their business and accomplish their goals. Want to know their secret? Keep reading for five tips on learning how to overcome fear of failure so you can get out of your own way and achieve your business goals.

1. Acknowledge your fears

It seems so simple: if you ignore the fear of failure, it’ll go away. However, if you’re also learning how to overcome Imposter Syndrome, you probably know that ignoring problems is rarely ever the answer to solving those problems. 

You have to acknowledge your fear of failure in order to actually do something about it. Accept that you are afraid and understand just exactly what it is you are afraid of. Write down your fear, and any thoughts that come along with it, to get it out of your head. You’ll then get into a space where you can fully acknowledge it. 

Then, ask yourself the following questions:

  • What is the worst that could happen if you fail? 
  • How long and what actions would it take to recover from the failure?
  • What is the best that could happen?

Yes, this exercise puts you face-to-face with your fear, but you might find that what you’re afraid of isn’t really that scary. You might find it silly that you’ve put so much energy into worrying about failing at something that may ultimately bring you big learnings and bigger success.    

2. Look forward to the lessons

Okay, we’re entering into the realm of the cliché, but clichés have stuck around for a reason: they’re usually true. Our next tip is to remember that there are always lessons to be learned with every failure. 

Throughout the years of hosting The Joy of Painting, Bob Ross, one of the most talented and beloved painter instructors ever, often said, “We don’t make mistakes. We just have happy accidents.” In one episode dedicated completely to those happy accidents, he went further, “Anything that you do, you can learn to use.”

We might not all have the same view on life that Bob Ross had, but our failures can be used for good. You can learn from them and take those lessons with you as you move forward. While it might take some time, failures can eventually become happy accidents. As soon as you can start to look at challenges as opportunities to learn as opposed to risks for messing up, you will know how to overcome your fear of failure.

3. Look for the challenges

Remember acknowledging your fear of failure and finding out just what those points of possible failure were? Now it’s time to change your narrative. Instead of thinking of all the potential failures as things that could go wrong, think of them as challenges. Doing so will give you a positive and proactive outlook during the path to fulfilling your goals. 

Instead of worrying about getting rejected by a potential customer, look at it as a challenge to do whatever it takes to land that sale. Instead of saying, “I’m scared people won’t like this new video,” say to yourself “I’m going to prepare and rehearse as much as it takes to get this video right.” If you’re fretting that a new product release won’t go as well as planned, try looking at it as a challenge to create the best product possible, with the release being the first iteration of many to come. 

Remember that nobody is perfect. Chasing perfection can be paralyzing, which is toxic to a growing business. Believe that you can take on the challenges in front of you. Give yourself permission to take risks. You’ll soon overcome your fear of failure and grow your business to its fullest potential.

4. Change the definition

If you ask a room of five people to define success, you’re likely to get five different answers. The same could be said for failure. Part of learning how to overcome fear of failure is changing your definitions of success and failure. 

Having high expectations is not necessarily a bad thing, but perhaps yours are a bit too lofty. Take a look at what it is you consider to be success and what would make you feel like you failed. 

Be specific in your own definitions of the terms. Are they realistic? Are they actionable? Do they align with your own capabilities, or are you defining success and failure based on things that are out of your control? For the most realistic idea of what you can and cannot control, conduct a personal SWOT analysis. From there, you will know where your strengths and weaknesses truly lie and you can start to redefine the way you approach new challenges. 

Also consider where you were a year ago. Would your past self think you were at risk of failing now? Or would they be proud of how far you’ve come? You’ll probably find that you’ve exceeded even your own expectations—and definitions—for success. 

No matter how you define them, failures don’t ever have to be the end of your story. They could just be part of what gets you to your destination and are often stepping stones to success. 

5. Cut yourself some slack

Sometimes, we just need to remember we’re human. When you feel like your fear of failure is holding you captive, take a moment to step away from your work and breathe. 

Cut yourself some slack. Give yourself permission to make mistakes. Say it out loud to yourself if it helps: “It’s okay to make mistakes.” 

You have a ton on your plate and it’s okay not to be perfect all the time. You will have your share of failures along the way—everybody does. It’s what we do with those failures that often defines who we are. Don’t get down on yourself and certainly don’t punish yourself. Take a moment, reflect on how you got here, and learn.

Think of all the goals you’ve achieved so far. Write down your accomplishments and keep the list somewhere where you will see it throughout the day. As you race towards your goals and fulfill your life ambitions, remember to celebrate your successes and share them with those you love. By becoming your own cheerleader, you can overcome your fear of failure and take your business to new heights. 

Get out of your own way

Fear of failure is more dangerous to your business than failure itself. Business owners that see the greatest successes are those that take risks. In order to become the next Steve Jobs or Bill Gates, you need to overcome fear of failure and embrace the journey. 

By remembering that failures are really just opportunities to learn, you can get out of your own way and live up to your fullest potential. Go on—take chances and trust that you have the skills to reach your business goals, no matter what path you take.