How often do you let a fear of failure stop you from doing something? In our mentoring programmes, it’s perhaps the area where we can have the most impact when working with leaders, helping them to understand the barriers they unwittingly create for themselves, and then learn to overcome them and succeed beyond their wildest dreams.

I know exactly where I got one of my fears of failure from, and it took me many years to realise how to get past it. I was 13 years old and in an English class at school. It was my turn to read out a passage from the book we were studying, so I stood up in front of the class and began to read. One of the words was hyphenated, split across two lines, and I stumbled over it. Everyone laughed and I tried again, but the harder I tried, the worse my mispronunciation got and the more they laughed. I can still feel the sweaty heat of embarrassment and shame, the pounding heart and deep-seated sense of failure, four decades later. It was many, many years before I spoke up in class again and even in my adult life I had a terrible fear of public speaking for a very long time. So, isn’t it ironic – and wonderful – that I now spend a large part of my professional life speaking to groups of people with absolutely no fear at all?

Pinpointing the problem

It is perhaps an unusual source of leadership wisdom, but pop singer Miley Cyrus points directly to the heart of the problem in the lyrics of her song, Malibu:

“I always thought I would sink, so I never swam.”

The key word here is ‘thought’. It is ALWAYS our own thinking that is the root of our fear of failure, an insecurity brought about by our thoughts. The truth is, we only ever live in the feeling of our thinking as all our feelings stem from our thoughts. Insecurity and fear are feelings which arise from a story that we are not good enough. A STORY, not a FACT!

My experience in that English class became a powerful blocker to my ability to speak in public because I let my thinking take over. As we explored in this blog on limiting beliefs, “We can get so wrapped up in our own story, a made-up narrative with no hard evidence to support it, and we allow this bullshit story to stop us progressing. These limiting beliefs can prevent us doing things that are good for us, that will help us learn and grow, even things that will make us happy. We really do put the biggest barriers in our own way!”

My experience in that English class is a case in point: I let that one moment of embarrassment grow into a story I told myself every day: that I was incapable of speaking in public. One tongue-twisting fumble became an insurmountable flaw in my ability to express myself, all because I wasn’t able to think about it calmly and objectively and see it for what it was: an insignificant and entirely commonplace blip. I’m sure that not a single one of the other 30 people in that classroom remember what happened that day, yet it blighted my life for such a long time.


Overcoming our thinking

There is a simple answer to this problem, although it takes time and constant practice to achieve.

We must learn to see our thoughts for what they are: just thoughts. They will pass, they are not reality, and they are made up stories. I sometimes use the idea of standing next to a stream and watching the water flow past as a way of helping people to let go of thoughts. We can see them float past our field of vision but we don’t need to bend down and fish them out of the water, or do anything about them. We can simply observe them going past and disappearing from view.

As sure as a soap bubble will burst, we can just let them go.

Don’t let your fear of failure hold you back, in your leadership or in your life. If you’d like support with changing your mindset, please get in touch. We’d love to help.

Let’s start something new!

Get in touch with us today and take the first steps to transforming your business.