Fear Series: How to Overcome Your Fear of Failure

Date Published: Aug 8, 2022

Welcome back to Fearless Living! In my How to Overcome Fear series, I’m covering each of the 10 most common emotional fears, and today’s topic is a big one—fear of failure. 😱

Fear of failure is one of the most common fears people experience, and it’s one that may be keeping you from believing you’re capable of achieving success at all.

The good news is you are absolutely not alone. We all fear failing. Even though it may feel like it, failure is not unique to you. WE ALL FAIL. But just because we all do it, it doesn’t mean we enjoy it.

I have failed too many times to count. 

I have failed at trying to give up sugar. 

I have failed in my marriage. 

I have failed filling classes.
I have failed at healing my hip. (Long story for another day!)
I have failed to keep my morning routine.
I have failed to turn off my phone at 2 am. 

The list goes on. I have had an enormous amount of failure in my life. But that failure in itself is not bad. In fact, when you understand how to crack the code to that fear, failure can lead you to magical places. The good news is your fear of failure is curable, and once you find that cure, failure will become a valuable gift that propels you on to success. 

Let’s first take it back to basics and discuss what emotional fears are. Next, I’ll break down what causes fear and what symptoms to watch out for. And finally, I’ll end with actionable strategies you can use to turn your fear of failure into the gift of failure. 🎁

A Fearless Living Introduction: Overcoming Fear

Fear comes in all shapes and sizes. When many of us think about fear, we think about the more tangible fears that we can feel and see, such as a fear of spiders or a fear of snakes. Yikes! 😬🕷🐍

Or maybe when you think about fear, you think about your extreme fear of heights, public speaking, or your irrational and persistent fear of clowns.

While these fears are very real, these aren’t the types of fears we focus on at Fearless Living. At Fearless Living, we focus on emotional fears. These are the persistent fears that cut to the heart of our humanity and our mental health. These emotional fears cause us to make decisions, consciously or unconsciously, that lead us further away from our goals, dreams, desires, and living the life our soul intended.™ 

The 10 most common emotional fears are:

  • Fear of Failure
  • Fear of Success 
  • Fear of Intimacy
  • Fear of the Unknown
  • Fear of Loneliness 
  • Fear of Not Being Good Enough
  • Fear of Loss
  • Fear of Change
  • Fear of Being Judged
  • Fear of Rejection

We’ll keep working through all of these common fears in more detail on the Fearless Living blog. For a general overview of each type of fear, the difference between common phobias and irrational fears vs. emotional fears, and how to overcome fear, read: 10 Common Types of Fear and How to Overcome Them.

What Causes a Fear of Failure?

The cause of our fears is different for everyone, yet for each of us, it’s rooted in our past experiences, who we were raised by, and even our DNA. There’s far too much for me to cover about the root cause of fears here, but you can learn more in my article: What Causes Fear and How Do We Respond to It?

For now, we’ll take a closer look at why fear of failure is so common and the symptoms that may indicate a fear of failure.

Let’s start with a big question:

Are you more driven to AVOID failure than you are DRIVEN to succeed?

Do you look at the world through the lens of avoiding failure? If you are driven toward avoiding failure, that lens is always the filter in which you look through; it’s constantly preventing you from seeing clearly. Instead, it interprets everything based on the question: “will you fail or succeed” if you do a, b, or c? If your lens convinces you that you may fail, even a little, it will tell you it’s not a good idea to move forward, giving you really good “reasons” to say no to the opportunity before you. 

That lens of failure will stop you from moving forward and living the life your soul intended™. And it will also be really good at convincing you that you “shouldn’t” take that risk for very good reasons. 

Let’s be clear—your fear of failure is unconscious. You’re not weak, lazy, etc., if you experience this fear. It’s unconscious. 

So, are you unconsciously sabotaging your success?

Your fear of failure may show up as aggression towards anything you believe is stopping you from succeeding. It may show up as avoiding anything that even whiffs of mediocre success. We all process fear differently. But there are many symptoms of a fear of failure that may indicate whether or not your fear is holding you back.

Common symptoms:

  • Are you reluctant to try new things?
  • If something doesn’t work out, do you make it a character flaw?
  • Do you experience excessive anxiety and feel like your life is out of your control?
  • Do you engage in negative self-talk and use phrases like “I’ll never be able to…”?
  • Do you label yourself “not good enough?”
  • Is perfectionism your go-to excuse?
  • After a single failure, do you believe that you will never succeed?
  • Are you ruled by perceived past failures?
  • Do you worry about what other people think of you?
  • Do you only think about negative consequences or the worst case scenario?
  • Do you believe that your success and accomplishments determine your value?
  • Do you experience physical symptoms at the idea of failure, such as headaches, muscle pain, or stomach aches?
  • Do you tell other people you probably won’t succeed to lower their expectations of your own abilities?

Have you ever felt this way? Do any of these symptoms resonate for you? They do for me! 

In my How to Overcome Fear Series, that’s available inside Fearless You, I dig deeper into a list of 16 different symptoms of a fear of failure. As a reminder, this article only scratches the surface of tackling and finally curing yourself of a fear of failure. Start here, but then I encourage you to dig deeper, continue learning, and continue making progress toward living the life your soul intended™. 

Fear of failure harbors a fantasy that there is a formula to success, and you’re just waiting for it to be revealed. It comes with the idea that we must wait before we act because there’s a secret that will come to us when we are more prepared… more skilled… more (insert any excuse here). 

Fear of failure takes control when you allow that fear to stop you from doing the things that could move you forward to achieve your dreams, desires, and intentions.

Everyone has a different definition of failure. That’s because we all come from different backgrounds and have been shaped by different experiences. What looks like failure to one person may not to another. 

Someone might look at third place as a complete failure, while someone else may be completely ecstatic with finally placing within the top three. One person’s idea of failure might be someone else’s learning opportunity.

And what is true, no matter what, is that failure is necessary. There are things you can only learn or gain from the experience of failure.

All of the great successes I’ve had were preceded by failure. My failure was a doorway to opportunity, and I wouldn’t be where I am today without those beautiful gifts of failure.

Think about it. You might need to write three unsuccessful books before honing your writing skills enough to finally come up with your masterpiece. You might need to lose your current job to finally have the courage to look for a new one that actually aligns with your goals and lifestyle.

When you were a child, you only learned how to walk properly and protect your body by falling down first. Failure is a form of practice. We learn from falling down, and that is when failure becomes a gift. 

For me, failure gave me humility, empathy, and courage to be able to ask for help. The true power of failure is that it can show you how resilient you are, who your friends really are, provide a new perspective, and pave the way for unprecedented success. 

So, now that you know the power of failure, how do you flip the switch? How do you turn your fear of failure into seeing it for what it really is—a learning opportunity?

Are you willing to shift your view of failure? Let’s find out how.

How Do I Stop Being Afraid of Failure?

Are you more interested in avoiding failure than you are in succeeding? It is possible to actually ENJOY failure rather than feel humiliated by it. Fear of failure is absolutely curable. And once you find that cure, you can begin enjoying failure and seeing it for the gift it really is.

Allow Yourself to Be Vulnerable

The first step is admitting to yourself that you are afraid of failure. When you admit you are afraid, you quit hiding how you feel and what you think, which immediately increases your self-esteem and confidence. 

Telling the truth is a powerful serum. It may sound counterintuitive, but admitting your fears and speaking them out loud is the first step in understanding and moving beyond your fears. Allow yourself to be vulnerable.

In fact, vulnerability in the face of any fear is quite powerful. Far too many of us grew up surrounded by people who were afraid to be vulnerable. We were taught at a young age that vulnerability is something bad or weak—when that couldn’t be further from the truth.

Being vulnerable, especially in the face of your fears, shows extreme fearlessness (even if you’re shaking in your boots.) Try being vulnerable around someone else (someone you trust!) by admitting and vocalizing your current fears. 

Learn more in my article: How To Be Vulnerable (Even When You’re Afraid).

Reframe Your Definition of Failure

Reframe your definition of failure in your own words. This puts you in charge and begins to shift your neural pathways. 

The first shift in your definition might be that failure is “not trying.” Not trying means you’re not going for it and not taking a step out of your comfort zone—not trying is your new definition of failure. Another word you could use to replace the fear of failure is “practice.” Practice always works for me. As long as I’m practicing, perfectionism and procrastination do not have a hold on me.

Now, let’s talk truth about vulnerability. Refusing to fail is refusing to be vulnerable, and that means you’re refusing to open yourself up to the unknown. Your fear of failure will own you; it keeps you stuck when you refuse to speak about failure. It will continue to rule you if you refuse to focus on “practicing” or “trying.” It will keep your focus on the “If I don’t win, I don’t want to play” attitude.

Change your definition of success, too. Success is “trying” and “practicing” even though you know you might not succeed. This is where true opportunity lies. These are the moments others admire you. This is where you gain self-respect and confidence. This is when your life opens up to magic and miracles. When you “try” and “practice,” you are literally walking on the yellow brick road leading to the Emerald City. 

True success is being open about your fears and speaking them out loud. You determine the narrative. What’s really cool is you have all the power to determine what you see as a failure and as a success. It’s all in your hands.

My definition of success is “full self-expression.” My intention is to be authentically myself; therefore, I must be willing to practice expressing myself even if I sometimes appear to fail miserably.

I care more about “full self-expression” than how I look, how I sound, what I say, and the results I achieve or don’t achieve. When you have a definition of success that transcends circumstances, it allows you to transcend your fear of failure too.

Move Past Extremes: Did It or Didn’t

Failure isn’t black and white. Stop looking at failure from the view of “I did” or “I didn’t.” Moving beyond failure isn’t about extremes. Remember: it’s about practice.

Instead of “I don’t want to fail at getting a promotion,” which is a black and white goal, ensure your intentions are ones you can consciously practice. Instead, you might say, “I am practicing being authentic in all my relationships.” This is an intention you are able to practice on a daily basis. It moves you away from the extremes. Your outlook is no longer pass or fail or winner or loser—it’s about practice and progress.

Get conscious about where and how you want to practice your intentions and goals. This will shift your focus to who you are as a person, not the black and white results, such as “Got a book deal” vs. “Didn’t get a book deal.” There are so many ways you can publish a book! Or maybe you didn’t get the book deal, but you made a strong connection at a publishing company, met an amazing agent, or learned all of the steps you need to be more effective next time around.

It’s not all or nothing. It’s not black and white. It’s about moving forward. PRACTICE MAKES PROGRESS! 

Focus on the Positives: What DID You Do?

Reframe your actions and thoughts to acknowledge any movement forward. Turn your negative thoughts around by focusing on what you did do, not what you didn’t. In Fearless Living, we call this practice acknowledgments. Acknowledgments are all about you and your movement forward, no matter how small. 

Instead of “I didn’t get my book finished this week,” reframe that into, “I wrote a whole chapter of my book this week,” or, “I did research on self-publishing for 30 minutes today. Yay Me!” Or “I did the best I could and showed up for myself this week.”

This positive thinking reframing model will shift your negative self-talk almost immediately and will go a long way toward moving you beyond the black and white, helping you see all that you have accomplished. If you are making progress and moving forward, you are succeeding. If you are showing up for yourself, and if you are willing, you are succeeding. Empowering words will give you more confidence, control, and clarity.

Get Real and Work Through Possible Outcomes

Instead of seeing the future as a wide and scary unknown, help yourself understand the real, tangible outcomes. What might happen? What are the risk factors? What’s the worst case scenario? What’s your contingency plan for that worst case scenario?

Say you don’t get that promotion you’re aiming for. What are the real consequences of that? Are there any? If you don’t get the promotion, you’re not all of a sudden a failure. What will actually change? Would your kids love you any less? Will your partner think you are not as talented? Will the people at work look at you differently?

What if you don’t win the 5K race for your age group or don’t have as many people as you expected show up for your 40th birthday? Or maybe your last work assignment was only 95% perfect instead of 100% perfect. 

If you really think about it, there are probably WAY fewer consequences than you imagined originally. And if the worst should happen, how will you deal with that? What will be your next steps? What’s your contingency plan? When you separate your success from your character, life gets a whole lot easier and the world becomes a whole lot friendlier. 

By analyzing potential outcomes and being willing to see the good, the bad, and the ugly, you become a possibility thinker. People will want to hangout with you because you’re inspiring and growth-oriented. Therefore, your opportunities naturally increase and more doors open for you with less effort on your part. 

Cracking Your Fear of Failure With Fearless Living

Thank you for taking the time to get this far, and thank you for being willing to begin your Fearless Journey. On my final note, I want to remind you that a fear of failure is natural. You feel this strong fear because you have such a strong sense and desire to succeed. You’re afraid of failure because you want something so badly. 

And we all have a need to belong and be valuable to the tribe—it’s literally in our DNA. It’s how we survived in the wilderness when there were sabertooth tigers. This is the other reason a fear of failure is wired into our brains; we’re afraid we’ll be kicked out of the tribe. But just because it’s wired, it doesn’t mean we can’t change the wiring. 

Failure is a guarantee on your journey. You will fail along the way, but that failure is fertilizer for your success. Yes, failure can stink and hurt and be a huge embarrassment, but it’s what helps you grow and learn. Failure will also bring you closer to other people. They will admire your courage and be inspired by your willingness to move forward even if the odds are against you. 

Because you don’t connect with others through perfectionism—you connect with people through shared flaws, imperfections, and failures. Think about any underdog story. Isn’t that who you cheer for? Isn’t the underdog who you relate to? Isn’t that the kind of story that draws you in?

Be willing to see the true power of failure.

Use failure to help you grow. 

Use failure to refine yourself. 

Use failure to become closer to other people. 

Use failure as a gift to help you succeed.

Cracking the code to your fear of failure is just one of the journeys you can take with the community at Fearless Living. In my How to Overcome Fear Series, that’s available inside Fearless You, along with dozens of other courses, you’ll learn how to release your fear of failure in 9 actionable steps. 

A Fearless You membership gets you access to the entire How to Overcome Fear series, which includes Fear of Change, Fear of Rejection, and Fear of Not Being Good Enough, among others. You’ll also gain access to weekly teachings and a back catalog of courses that will guide you to finally begin living the life your soul intended.™ 

Learn more about Fearless You, and continue following the Fearless Living blog for free weekly content on everything from how to set clear boundaries to how to start over

The Foundation of It all

In her groundbreaking seminal work, Rhonda Britten shows you how to master the emotional fears that keep you stuck in old cycles. Fearless Living is the foundation for all of Rhonda’s work, and it gives you an overview of her philosophies on how fear can take your life captive.

Enter your name and email address below to receive Rhonda's Fear of the Unknown course.

By Rhonda Britten

Rhonda, voted America’s Favorite Life Coach is here to help you get unstuck. “Everyone needs Fearless Living”- Oprah Winfrey With her acclaimed method called Fearless Living, Rhonda Britten has helped thousands of people let go of indecision, gain clarity of purpose, and take life-changing risks. Her work exposes the roots of fear and gives you the tools to move beyond that insidious universal feeling of “not being good enough.” The result is unstoppable confidence and a world of unlimited possibilities.

Related Articles

Fear Series: How to Overcome Your Fear of Success

Fear Series: How to Overcome Your Fear of Success

Everyone wants success in some form or another. We want success in love, work, home, family, etc., and that’s because success means you're feeling good and on the right path, living your purpose and feeling passionate about your life. It can feel like you’re on top of...

read more
The Real Reason Why I Was Born

The Real Reason Why I Was Born

Do you want to know the real reason you were born? The reason that will make your life “make sense” and give you so much joy and peace that you will feel like you can do anything. No more doubting or worrying about the future. No more confusion about the direction you...

read more