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CL #21 – How to Overcome the Fear of Failure for Ambitious Students and Professionals

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Overcoming failure can be a challenge for motivated and high-performing individuals. We will discuss how to Overcome the Fear of Failure. It may seem counterintuitive, but the more motivated you are, the harder it is to overcome failure. This paradox is due to the high standards set by high performers.

However, failure is a necessary part of success. You cannot achieve great things without taking risks and sometimes falling short. So, how can you overcome your fear of failure and start taking more risks?

Unfortunately, most engineers power through failure without reflecting on it. While I am not an expert at overcoming failure, I want to share what has worked for me when faced with a challenging situation.

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Accept That Failure is Inevitable

The best way to deal with failure is knowing even the highest performers fail.

For example, imagine a NASA engineer who spent years designing a rocket to send to space. After the launch, something goes wrong, and the rocket gets destroyed. In a second, millions of dollars and thousands of hours of work are gone.

Instead of giving up, most NASA engineers take the time to reflect on what went wrong and what could be improved. They accept they failed.

After going through this initial acceptance stage, they turn around and work tirelessly to fix the issues and make improvements, leading to a successful launch the next time around. This failure ultimately led to a better understanding of the engineering process and contributed to future successes in space exploration.

Another famous example is Michael Jordan being cut from his high school basketball team. He could have called it quits then, but he didn't let that failure stop him. This led him to become one of the best well-known athletes of all time, winning six championships with the Bulls and arguably the best basketball player.

Reframe Failure as a Learning Opportunity

Failure is not a negative outcome; it is an opportunity to learn.

When you fail, take the time to reflect on what went wrong and how you can improve in the future. This mindset will help you grow and improve in the long run. For example, don't beat yourself up if you perform poorly in a job interview. Instead, ask the interviewer for feedback and use that information to improve your performance in future interviews.

Reframe failure as a learning opportunity and embrace it as a necessary part of success. Take Albert Einstein as an example. He was repeatedly told he was a failure, but he used all the feedback and was relentlessly curious about everything around him. When working on his theory of relativity, he made a mistake in his calculations, leading him to believe his theory was incorrect. However, he did not give up. Instead, he reflected on what went wrong and what he could do differently. This led him to realize that his initial calculations were correct, and he could continue working on his theory with renewed confidence. This failure ultimately contributed to his success in developing the theory of relativity, which revolutionized our understanding of physics.

Focus on What You Can Control

One of the reasons we fear failure is because it feels like we're not in control. But the truth is, there are things you can control and things you can't. Focus on what you can control, like your preparation, attitude, and effort.

An athlete cannot control what their opponent does. In an individual sport like Tennis, players can only control how their shot is hit rather than where the opponent will hit the ball. When I played at the junior level and in college, my mindset was on “winning the point” rather than “making my opponent fail”. Both of these have the same outcome, but only my taking charge of the play and focusing on what I can control can lead to better results.

Rather than being passive and worrying about what you cannot control, focus on what you can control.

Embrace Your Imperfections

The idea of perfection is often romanticized, but perfection is a myth. Even engineers, who are expected to be perfect, are not. When engineers aren't “perfect,” they often think their design will fail. However, the reality is that this is why factors of safety exist. Even if engineers have the “perfect” design, the materials and design methods are imperfect, and there is always room for improvement. It's essential to realize that nobody is perfect, and that's okay! Embracing imperfections and vulnerability allows for a more authentic connection with others and can inspire them to do the same.

For instance, J.K. Rowling, one of the most successful authors of our time, was rejected by 12 publishers before Harry Potter was finally accepted. She could have given up after the first rejection but embraced her imperfections and continued. Rowling's story teaches us that failure is not the end of the road but rather a bump in the journey to success.

As high-performing individuals, we often set high standards for ourselves. However, we may feel discouraged when we fail to meet these standards. It's important to remember that failure is not a negative outcome; it is an opportunity to learn and grow. Reframing failure as a learning opportunity can help us in the long run. When we fail, we should take the time to reflect on what went wrong and how we can improve in the future. This mindset will help us grow and improve.

One of the reasons we fear failure is because it feels like we're not in control. But the truth is, there are things we can control and things we can't. Focusing on what we can control, like our preparation, attitude, and effort, can help us overcome our fear of failure. For example, an athlete cannot control their opponent's performance, but they can control their own preparation and attitude toward the game. By focusing on what we can control, we can feel empowered and confident rather than passive and worried about what we cannot control.

Most Importantly, Take Action

Overcoming your fear of failure can be challenging, but it's important to remember that failure is just part of the journey.

Taking action is a crucial step in overcoming your fear of failure. By taking risks and putting yourself out there, you can become more comfortable with the possibility of failure. Think of it like how athletes practice; they train hard shots so that when they get to the game, the game shots feel more natural and easy.

So, remember these steps the next time you feel afraid of failure. By accepting failure, reframing it as a learning opportunity, focusing on what you can control, embracing your imperfections, and taking action, you'll be well on your way to overcoming your fear and achieving your goals.

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