Don’t let fear of failure hold back your career

Fear of failure

Fear of failure can work against you, if it's holding you back from speaking up, tackling challenges in new ways or taking on projects usually out of your comfort zone.

A famous quote from Michael Jordan goes like this: "I've missed more than 9,000 shots in my career. I've lost almost 300 games. Twenty-six times I've been trusted to take the game-winning shot and missed. I've failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed."

While Jordan is one of the most celebrated sports stars in history, known much more for his accomplishments than any of his failures, his point is that failure, while scary, ultimately leads to success.

That's easier said than done when you're in a business environment, especially when you may be new to a company or team. When your performance is measured by how well you've achieved your goals, the idea of failure in any capacity can be terrifying.

Why fear can be your worst enemy

Yet, fear of failure can actually work against you, if it's holding you back from speaking up, tackling challenges in new ways or taking on projects usually out of your comfort zone. "Professionals who let the fear of failure impact their work don't take risks or suggest unusual innovations," says Simon Slade, CEO and co-founder of Affilorama, an affiliate marketing training portal. "They tend not to make errors, but they also don't initiate grand ideas or make significant improvements."

So while you might have a spotless record at work, by letting fear rule your everyday actions, you may find yourself missing out on a promotion or not being seen by others as a leader. "When someone has a fear of failure at work, they often will not volunteer when an opportunity is given for new assignments," says Denise Macik, HR client advisor at G&A Partners, a national professional employer organization and HR services provider. "This shuts down the chance to be seen as a team player by peers, or to be seen as a creative and energetic employee by supervisors. When this happens, the employee is often overlooked when significant opportunities for advancement or promotion occur."

One person's failure is another person's breakthrough
In order to start taking more risks, you have to look at failure differently. As Michael Lan, senior resume consultant at Resume Writer Direct points out, not everyone views failure the same way.

"What one might consider to be a failure, another might consider a wonderful opportunity to learn something new," he says. "A failure is only truly a failure if we do not gain new insight or take anything away from the experience. Making mistakes is simply a process to ensure that we learn from them and do not make the same mistakes down the road."

Overcoming fear can open up new opportunities

Slade says that to conquer your fear of failure, you first need to lower your expectations "and realize that perfection isn't realistic or a healthy aspiration. Also, don't be afraid to ask for help. Seeking assistance isn't a sign of weakness; it's an indication of openness to teamwork and acknowledgment of your co-workers' strengths."

Macik agrees, and says that building a relationship with a supervisor or a senior colleague who has succeeded in the areas you're struggling with can help build confidence. "Asking for advice from a superior also has the added benefits of strengthening that relationship and creating a mentoring time that allows the employee to improve and enhance their own skills," she says.

Lan suggests that in any scenario, taking all of the possible outcomes into consideration can mitigate anxiety. "Such is human nature to fear failure because we fear the unknown; we can mitigate the element of the unknown by careful analysis," he says. "Although things do not always go according to plan, increasing confidence goes a long way to determining our success. In the case that your plans go awry, have a back-up plan or a plan B to fall back on."

That way, you know that even if your new idea doesn't work, you still have a way to accomplish your goal.

Fear is normal, it's what you choose to do with it that matters

"Fear of failure is a very natural and important human emotion," says Kelly Babb, resource manager at staffing agency Kavaliro. "It's what keeps us from pulling out in front of cars when we don't have enough space or climbing too high up a cliff we could fall from. If you're afraid to fail, that doesn't make you unique or special. What makes somebody extraordinary is knowing when to push through that fear and perform at an even greater level than before. Race car drivers and mountain climbers have the same fears as you, they just walk a line far closer to the edge."

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