Overcoming the Fear of Failure

I’m very fortunate to have a good number of high school and college students as “friends” on my Facebook page. Many of them, surprisingly, are from other countries. I often receive requests for quotes to be used in papers that are being written about a wide variety of business subjects and I, of course, am more than happy to oblige.

I’m also asked for advice by these young people on how to deal with a number of common, as well as unique, challenges. Recently, a young lady requested advice on overcoming her very serious fear of failure. I needed more information before feeling comfortable to address that issue so I contacted her by phone. We had a very interesting conversation for almost a full hour.

Listening to her concerns took me back to my early days in business … vividly reminding me of so many of my fears at that time. I remember one of my biggest fears being that of having to speak in front of my small class of 30+ students in high school. It was indeed a serious fear which would constantly lead to a trembling voice, knocking knees, loss of memory, a high pitched stutter, and enough sweat to fill my shoes after a single paragraph.

Years later, I would work in radio (I have a great face for radio!) and television. Today, I travel all over North America speaking to large and small groups ranging from Fortune 500 companies to small businesses. I speak to high school and college audiences in major auditoriums. I speak to CEOs, corporate boards and large groups of military personnel. And I make it a point to often think back to those high school days when I would rather cut off an arm than walk to the front of a 30-student classroom to share a simple book report.

When you think about it, we don’t have a fear of speaking in front of an audience or any other fear for that matter. We have a fear of failing—making a mistake that might generate laughter and even humiliation on our part. Fear of failing can result in tremendously negative consequences for us.

However, upon further examination, I think you’d have to admit that you’ve failed many times in your life, although you may not remember.

You fell down the first time you tried to walk. You almost drowned the first time you tried to swim, didn’t you? How many times did you fall trying to learn how to ride your bike? I remember spending hours and hours trying to learn how to tie my shoes, failing time and time again. To this day, I can’t cook a fried egg without breaking the yolk!

Did you hit the ball the first time you swung a bat? Heavy hitters, the ones who hit the most home runs, also strike out a lot. In his day, Babe Ruth was the home run king with 714 home runs to his credit. What few people know is that during that same time period he also held the record for striking out at bat more than anyone else with 1,330 failures.

R.H. Macy failed seven times, before his store in New York caught on.

Author J.K. Rowling had her Harry Potter manuscript rejected time after time. Today, after successful books, movies, toys, clothing, etc., she is the world’s richest author with a net worth of $1.0 billion dollars and 400 millions books published.

Michael Jordan was cut from his high school basketball team. His coach justified the cut by pointing out that Michael had little or no potential!

Wayne Gretsky, probably the greatest hockey player to play the game, pointed out that you miss 100% of the shots you fail to take! Don’t worry about failure. Worry about the chances you miss when you don’t even try.

Tom Peters, professional speaker and successful author of 15 best-selling books, tells an interesting story about Sam Walton, founder of Wal-Mart, and the fact that Sam was totally unafraid to fail. Listen to Tom and then go face a fear. Make it a habit. You’ll be glad you did!

About Harry K. Jones

Harry K. Jones is a motivational speaker and consultant for AchieveMax®, Inc., a company of professional speakers who provide custom-designed seminars, keynote presentations, and consulting services. Harry's top requested topics include change management, customer service, creativity, employee retention, goal setting, leadership, stress management, teamwork, and time management. For more information on Harry's presentations, please call 800-886-2629 or fill out our contact form.

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