Could It Be Fear of Failure That’s Holding You Back?

Seventeen months of planning have gone by… you’re no closer to opening the doors to your practice than you were at the start. For some reason or other, you just can’t “pull it off”.

Could fear of failure be part of the problem?

If there is commitment to a dream or a goal, yet little or no progress to make it come true, fear of failure may well be the reason.

But what is fear? What is failure? Aren’t they simply part of being human?

Yes, both fear and failure have been with us since the beginning of time and probably always will be. It seems they are part of our DNA…

However, if fear and failure reach a level where they hold you back and stop you from moving forward, there is a problem.

What Is Fear?

So what is fear and why do you experience it?

Fear is a basic human response, warning us of danger ahead, real or imagined. Fear is not always bad.

Fear can be a “good thing”. It has kept the human race alive.

It was fear that started us sprinting at the sight of a saber tooth tiger. And it is fear that makes us dive for cover at the sight of a funnel cloud today.


Beyond that, we fear things we don’t know or understand. Good or bad, this is the reason some people shy away from experiences and situations where the outcomes are unknown.

Fear in Business

When it comes to business, fear certainly can interfere with wanting to start or grow your business.

There are so many unknowns… anything could happen. How could you possibly be certain that nothing will go wrong?

Unfortunately, you can’t be certain that everything will work out and that nothing will go wrong.

Both, business and life carry inherent risks. Nothing and no-one can change that.

However, you can reduce inherent risks and minimize your fears by preparing:

  • Know what you want to accomplish.
  • Consider all your options, including opportunity costs.
  • Get current and reliable data to plug into your marketing and financial plans.
  • Make your decisions based on real numbers.
  • Reduce the number of unknowns by getting informed.
  • Accept you will always have some fears. Fears help protect you by keeping you alert.

What is Failure?

So what is failure and why do we experience it?

Failure is very different from fear. For one, it doesn’t directly contribute to keeping the human race alive.

Additionally, the concept of failure is subjective in nature (aside from product or test failures, which can objectively be measured).

When you and I speak of “failure”, typically we refer to an outcome different from what was intended or expected. Typically we also attach a negative meaning to the “failure”.

So here you have it!

Failure is an unexpected and undesirable outcome. We attach negativity to it. We feel bad about the outcome and sometimes even feel ashamed.

Failure almost always is a subjective assessment. Most often it’s the individual declaring she or he has failed.

The Other Side of Failure

But there is another side to failure. It’s the side of failure that’s helped us learn and grow.

Here’s what I mean.

You learned how to walk, not by getting it right the first time, but by failing repeatedly.

You learned how to walk by falling over and over again. But you kept getting up, taking step after step until plopping down on the floor yet another time.

Eventually, you got it right… today you walk, without giving it a second thought.

This is how we learn; by doing and by failing.

We correct what didn’t work and try again until we get it right. It’s what we call feedback!

It’s unfortunate that our educational system is not exactly conducive to this style of learning.

There the prevalent thinking is: if you don’t succeed you have failed, by default. If you didn’t ace the test, it means you have failed to some degree.

This either/or style of thinking is limiting and discourages us from trying something new. It tends to hold us back because we’re afraid of making mistakes and being judged accordingly.

So how can you effectively deal with the fear of failure, in business or otherwise?

  • Accept that you will “fail”… you will make mistakes.
  • Resolve to get up and continue until you get it right.
  • Question the very concept of failure.
  • Don’t allow yourself to be defined by failure.
  • Redefine what failure means to you.
  • Remember that you learned to walk, talk, count, spell, ride a bike, read a book, drive a car… by failing over and over again, until you got it right.

In summary, fear and failure are not inherently bad. Both have their place; they both serve important functions.

But when people do experience problems it is because:

  • Fear of failure has taken on a life of its own.
  • Fear of failure has stopped them from reaching for their dreams or realizing their goals.

Here is what to do next…

When you have a quiet moment, a little time for yourself…

  1. Ask yourself if you are afraid of failing in some areas of your life.
  2. Next, contemplate this quote by Robert H. Schuller…

“What would you attempt to do if you knew you could not fail?” 

As always, let us know your thoughts…


By Johanna Hofmann, MBA, author of “Smart Business Planning for Clinicians” and regular contributor to the NPBusiness blog.

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