I believe that if a person can handle failure appropriately, it will help them handle success as well. This is the third post I'm doing this week on the topic of failure.
I have been a bit surprised by the surge in interest in this topic from my last two posts. I guess it is because everyone fails at certain points along the way. And if everyone fails, then everyone wants to be reminded about how to navigate through their failures in the most positive way possible.
That last statement may be a bit naive. Only because many of us are paralyzed not by failing, but by the fear of failing.
In his book Failing Forward, Dr. John Maxwell explains that what typically happens to someone who is unable to overcome the fear of failure is that they get caught in the fear cycle. Prior negative experiences cause the person to develop a fear of failure that starts the cycle.
For example, let's say someone experienced failure as a child trying to sell candy door-to-door to raise money for school. Later as an adult, he/she is put in a situation that seems similar, and fear strikes. Whether they are a salesperson with a need to make calls on a customer or a pastor with a mission to visit people in their homes, that old childhood failure may generate fear.
The fear of rejection creates inaction . Because the person doesn't act, he/she doesn't gain personal experience in that situation -- which is key to learning and overcoming future obstacles. The lack of experience breeds an inability to handle similar situations. And that ultimately feed and increases the fear.
The inaction that results when people are stuck in the fear cycle takes on many forms. Here are the three most common ones observed:
For some people, fear of failure brings about absolute paralysis. They stop trying to do anything that might lead to failure. President Harry S. Truman offered this opinion: "The worst danger we face is the danger of being paralyzed by doubts and fears. This danger is brought on by those who abandon faith and sneer at hope. It is brought on by those who spread cynicism and distrust and try to blind us to the great chance to do good for all mankind." People whose fear paralyzes them give up any hope of moving forward.
Other people maintain the hope of progress but never get around to following through. Someone once called procrastination the fertilizer that makes difficulties grow. Victor Kiam stated it even more strongly; he called it opportunity's natural assassin. Procrastination steals a person's time, productivity, and potential. As President John F. Kennedy said, "There are risks and costs to a program of action, but they are far less than the long-range risks and cost of comfortable inaction." Procrastination is too high a price to pay for fear of failure.
Tom Peters, coauthor of In Search of Excellence, emphasizes that there's nothing more useless than someone who comes to the end of the day and congratulates himself, saying, "Well, I made it through the day without screwing up." Yet that's what many people who fear failure do. Rather than pursue worthy objectives, they avoid the pain of making mistakes. And in the midst of transition, they lose sight of any sense of purpose that they might have once possessed.
As fear of failure and the resulting inactivity compound, a person in the fear cycle exhibits additional negative side effects:
- Self-pity - He/she feels sorry for him/herself. And as time goes on, the person takes less responsibility for their inactivity and starts thinking of themselves as a victim.
- Excuses - A person can fall down many times, but they won't be a failure until they say that somebody pushed them. In fact, the person who makes a mistake, then offers an excuse for it, adds a second mistake to his/her first. A person can break out of the fear cycle only by taking personal responsibility for his/her inaction.
- Misused Energy - Constant fear divides the mind and causes a person to lose focus. If he/she is going in too many directions at once, the person doesn't get anywhere. It's comparable to stomping on the gas pedal of a car that's in neutral.
- Hopelessness - If allowed to run their course, continual fear and inaction rob a person of hope. And poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow described the situation in this way: "The setting of a great hope is like the setting of the sun. The brightness of our life is gone."
Do you have an example of how the fear of failure stopped you from moving forward? What words of encouragement would you offer to those who are trapped in this type of cycle?