5.03.2009

Fear of Failure is Fear of Success

I have a friend - let's call him Mike, because that's his name - who has what I would consider to be a paralyzing fear of failure.

I consider it paralyzing because it keeps him from trying absolutely anything in which failure might be an option. A perfect illustration of this fear comes via a conversation I had with him about 30 minutes ago, discussing an upcoming project I'm doing. I've sent a full description and detailed plan of my project out to be evaluated by someone, and he asked me "What's to keep that guy from just stealing your idea?"

"What, you mean doing it himself?" I asked.

"Well, yeah, or claiming credit if he passes on it and you do it later?"

I told him "Nothing. But I trust that he won't."

"But how can you know he won't?" Mike asked.

"I don't know. I trust he won't. And if he does, I'll deal with that if it happens. But I'm not going to let that fear stop me from trying to move forward on it."

And it's not just this one instance, or this one type of obstacle. Mike's brought up all sorts of what-ifs throughout my career.

In 1996, it was "What if you don't get a job writing code? Or worse, what if you get one, and lose it 6 months later? How can you quit school knowing that might happen?"

In 2005, it was "But what if you can't get stores to carry your book? How will you sell it?"

In 2007, it was "What if you don't make the AFL? Will all that training be for nothing?"

And I'm not trying to pick on Mike. His questions come from a very honest place in his heart. He's looking out for me - and never once has he ever told me I shouldn't do something. He's been the second most supportive person in my life next to my wife. And I'll even go so far as to say that he's not the only one who asks this stuff - but he's definitely the only one who asks it in a manner that's positive, and more about looking out for me (it's a shame I can't say the same about most of my family...). But he always takes the time to point out that these sorts of questions are what keep him from doing stuff the way I do it.

And I'll admit, I have a condition that keeps me from ever considering consequences. It's part of the reason my stories are so entertaining, and part of the reason my juvenile record is sealed by court order. So the next thing I'm about to say is, to me, just a plain no-brainer. But the bottom line to any form of success in anything you ever do is to not care about the consequences.

Your passion for your success must outweigh your fear of failure. Period.

You can be scared -- It's okay. You might fail. You might lose some money. Someone might steal your idea. You might sell 1/10th what you need to sell. It's all very, very likely. And you can do some studying and some learning and some research to minimize these risks - that's a very, very smart thing to do. But no matter how much (or how little) you learn or discover or know in advance, there's going to be a point at which you decide to fish or cut bait. To do anything else is to just sit in the boat and get sun poisoning.

The trick is, no matter how scared you are, just be that much more passionate.

And once you get moving, you'll be surprised how much you learn on the job. You'll also be surprised, regardless of the research you've done or how many other things like this you've done, how much you just flat got wrong and don't know. But you get things right pretty quickly, and you move forward and don't stop until you either reach your goal or your legs fall off.

And that's where success starts. Not in selling a million units, or getting a writeup in a magazine, or getting 1,000 fans, or any other metric you think you'll use to measure success. Success happens DAILY. Sometimes, even hourly. It's all the little stuff you never even thought about that you suddenly learn, figure out, conquer... Those are the real successes. They mean you've progressed, and every time you can put one foot in front of the other, you've done something great.

And you simply cannot do that if you're standing still due to fear.

I think that the majority of fear comes from what might happen if you actually succeed. What do you do if, all of a sudden, you have no more excuses? What happens when all the barriers are gone and you have a success on your hands... What happens if you drop the ball? What happens when you actually have to manage this thing you've built?

That's the real problem. Conquer that, and you conquer fear. And the only way to actually conquer it is to get to that point on the map and see what happens.