A bird does not sing because it has an answer.  It sings because it has a song.

14 April 2009

Fear, Episode 1: Fear of Failure

Most fear falls into one of three categories: fear of the unknown, fear of change, or fear of failure.  People's ways of coping, or not coping, with these fears can be dramatic, or even downright crazy.

I happened to catch about half of the Robin Williams movie, "Man of the Year" on cable last night.  In this story, a huge technology company makes all the voting machines that people use to cast their votes for President.  As it turns out, there's a bug in the software that causes 60% of the votes to go to Williams' character, a comedian and TV talk show personality.  The company goes to extremes to prevent the public from finding out about the error, using all its considerable resources to discredit (and even attempt to murder!) the whistle-blower and lock the hapless comedian into the presidency.

What was so crazy about this is that it was a simple software error - not voter fraud, not a conspiracy, nothing anyone would go to jail over if they just admitted the error and took steps to correct it.  The "terrible consequence" would be the voters needing to go back to the polls for a redo.

But the fear of failure - of being seen to have released a faulty product or not performed flawlessly - so consumed the leaders of the company, that they were willing to conspire, commit fraud, and even kill someone to prevent anyone from finding out they had failed.

This story is fiction, and an extreme example, as all the best fables and cautionary tales are, but does it really miss the mark in any aspect but scale?  Have you ever gone to a great deal of trouble to conceal a small failure?  Have you lied to someone about failing?  Hurt someone's feelings without meaning to, because you avoided owning up?  Done any of those things in your adulthood despite learning better as a teenager?  Perhaps you decided not to try something at all, just so you could be spared the possibility of failing.  Your comfort zone is a really nice place, full of the safe, cozy status quo.  But to FAIL is the First Action In Learning.  Failures are important milestones you can never pass if you don't reach them.

If you fear failure, consider these two simple steps that can motivate you to "feel the fear and do it anyway":

1) Connect to your purpose.  Find the "why" that makes doing a scary thing worth the risk.  Envision your success clearly in your mind's eye, seeing the benefits in detail.  Know before you start what's really important to you, and be confident that the endeavor promises rewards great enough to be worth enduring a few setbacks along the way.

2) Acknowledge the possibility of failure, and what that really looks like.  Sometimes we mix up fear of failure with fear of the unknown, and create implausible scenarios far more terrible than any likely reality.  Picture failure in your head, and play the scene past it.  After you fail, what happens next?  Probably some variation on picking yourself up, dusting yourself off, and starting all over again, right?  You've done that before.  Surely you can handle it again.  Besides, your imaginary failure may have already sparked an idea about how to avoid the real-life version.

Whatever you do, don't deny, evade, or lie about failure, to yourself or anyone else.  Efforts to avoid the consequences of failure very rarely lead anywhere you want to go.  Take ownership of your actions, both successful and unsuccessful, and when it does go wrong, do everything you can to make it right.  This will show you to be an honest professional worthy of others' respect, even when everything doesn't quite go according to plan.


Anonymous said...

I agree with you 100% and find your words inspiring. Thanks for sharing this, Tracy!

Kris said...

Thank you for your words of inspiration, Tracy!