Preparation: The Antidote to Fear of Failure
Some people are apparently more afraid of starting their own business than jumping out of a plane. That’s how powerful the fear of failure can be.
We’d rather do something that could get us killed than do something new. Researchers found that about a third of participants are more afraid of starting their own company than sky diving.1
Even if many of them hate their jobs and want to quit. Why are we so afraid of doing something new?
Moving to a different city, state, or country
Going to activities by ourselves
Starting a business
I can go on like that for a while, but you get the point. Doing something new or different that you’re doing right now is scary. You have to step out of your existing (and often safe) routines.
You have to step into uncertainty. You don’t know what will happen when you start something new. Maybe you’ll fail! And that fear of failure is scary.
But we all know we can’t let that feeling stop us. Here’s a strategy for conquering your fear.
Learning is the first step
When you’re afraid to take the first step towards doing something new, like going for a different career path, starting a business, writing your first book, etc., the best thing to do is to do a bit of research.
A study found that one of the best ways an entrepreneur can overcome feelings of fear is through information seeking.2 That’s probably why Bill Gates reads about 50 books a year and even takes two-week “reading vacations” now and then.
That applies to me as well. For example, when I started trading stocks in 2007, I lost a lot of my money the following year so I stopped investing altogether. I never got back into the stock market until around 2015.
In the meantime, I got a degree in industrial chemistry, co-founded a business with my mother, and consumed as much investing knowledge as possible.
So when I got back into investing — even if there are no guarantees that I wouldn’t lose my money again — I was no longer afraid.
It’s very empowering to dive into uncertain waters when you have the backup of preparation. And the best way to prepare is by learning.
Be proactive, not avoidant
People create goals in 2 ways: By being proactive, meaning they are motivated by achieving a positive outcome. And by being avoidant, meaning they develop goals to avoid something undesirable.
It’s the difference between people who play the game to win. And others who play to avoid losing. The thing is, we don’t control most of our results in life.
That doesn’t mean we should aim very low. When you’re in a situation where you have no control over the outcomes, remember what Marcus Aurelius said:
“You have power over your mind — not outside events. Realize this, and you will find strength.”
It’s better than being in a reactive mindset where other people’s expectations and needs pull you in various directions. And you feel like you’re constantly struggling to catch up. It’s not a good place to be in.
The LAA framework
How do you know when you’re “ready”? Try this.
Learn — Consume as much information as you can in a limited time period.
Act — There comes a time when you have to put down your book and start practicing what you learned. Many people never start.
Adjust — Most things we pursue in life are not final. You can always switch jobs, careers, start a different business, pick up new hobbies, move to another city, and so forth. Simply adjust your path if it doesn’t work out.
The most important thing about the LAA framework and overcoming the fear of failure is that life is a fluid process. You learn as you go. And you can always adjust when you’re moving. But it means you have to go in the first place.
Preparation is your safety net
Do you feel comfortable walking a tightrope without a safety net? I don’t know about you, but I will never do that. But if there’s a safety net, I’ll give it a try. Why not? If I fall, the net will be there to protect me.
Preparation helps you try out new things and go the distance. It’s there to reassure you that you have something to fall back on if things go wrong.
Starting a business, switching careers, investing in the stock market as a beginner, and so forth — these aren’t a matter of life and death. Not like walking an actual tightrope between two skyscrapers.
When you realize that your psychological fear can be allayed by preparation, you’ll be just fine.