How Fear of Failure Forces You to Fail

If you search for statistics on Americans’ levels of job satisfaction, you’ll find that about 70% of Americans are either “somewhat unsatisfied” or “unsatisfied.” If you conduct a search about not liking a job, you’ll get 1,440,000,000 results. Job dissatisfaction is obviously a large topic here in our country. It’s easy to conclude that either jobs have grown to be unbearable, or that we simply refuse to be satisfied no matter what we are given.

An interesting tidbit, though, is that the same percentage of workers who don’t like their jobs also reported that they were “not engaged” or “actively disengaged.” Now, you could conclude that hating your job causes disengagement, right? Not so fast. Why are we disengaged? Yes, some jobs are terrible and, yes, some of us won’t ever be satisfied; but for emotions that 70% of Americans feel on a daily basis, it’s about time we asked ourselves if there’s something else at the root of all this.

A few weeks ago, I noticed I was coming to work and approaching things with much less enthusiasm than usual. When co-workers asked me for help or gave me projects, I felt resentful and closed off. I was actively disengaged, keeping myself as far as possible from most things work-related. It was a terrible feeling. After a particularly dull day at work, I had to ask myself, “What’s causing me to feel this way?” A bit of reflection showed me that, when given a project, I was immediately jumping to conclusions about what the project would entail and why I thought it might be hard. “I’ll have to work the weekend to get this done,” or “This is going to be boring and take a long time.” But were those conclusions really true? No, they were scapegoats for my disillusion, and I knew it. Where was the true dissatisfaction coming from?

After dredging up some honesty, I hit on a hard truth: the thought at the root of my disengagement and dissatisfaction was, “I don’t know if I’ll be able to do a good job.”

Being afraid you won’t succeed is one of the most stifling, crippling, creativity-draining fears in the world. It keeps us from bringing our own unique perspectives to our work, closes off the part of us that comes up with never-before-seen ideas, and has us dread the work in front of us for fear someone will find out we can’t do it. Fear of failure keeps us from trying new things and keeps us from doing our very best. Basically, fear of failure blocks us from anything fun or interesting our jobs might have to offer.

As creative creatures, we have to allow ourselves the freedom to do our very best work the very best way each of us knows how. Acting otherwise will leave us powerless and unfulfilled. I realized I needed to express myself creatively, try my very best, and take responsibility for every single piece of work I touched, but I was still skeptical of the change this shift in philosophy and behavior might produce. To that end, I made a pact with myself to spend one week accepting every project cheerfully, doing my very best on everything no matter how big or small, and giving myself creative freedom regardless of circumstances.

Committed to the pact I’d made with myself, I watched my work life change at a rate I wouldn’t have dared to imagine. As fear lost its hold, my enjoyment increased along with the quality of my work. I had more fun in meetings and while working alone. I began to present ideas that I’d shut down and quieted before, and to my surprise, others enjoyed them.

We won’t ever completely conquer fear of failure. We are humans. But simply recognizing its dulling effect on our lives and the subtle way it has of sneaking into them is enough to cause a drastic shift in the way we live and work. If you are struggling with that same dissatisfaction and fear, I challenge you to make the pact I made and see what happens. Swap fear for freedom. You’ll be floored by the things you are able to create.

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