I HAVE A FEAR OF FAILURE
Yea* I said it.
I know that risk-taking is a trait found in most successful leaders, and fear of failure is considered taboo, but I have to admit it. I am afraid of failure. Many great leaders will tell you that their road to success was wrought with many failures, but even as I listen to them I find myself terrified at the thought of failing along my own path. They make it look so easy. Yay failure!
This is not to say that I’ve never failed in my life, but in those times I can easily say that it wasn’t the due to me taking a risk, but more so the result of a poor decision. Even then I was able to diagnose, pick up, and choose a new path.
In my career I am approaching the 4-year mark at my current company, and I can look over these past years and see real improvement in my development.
Am I leading successful teams?
Am I able to execute?
Do I work well with my cross-functional business partners?
I can check several boxes in my development plan, but I still have so far to go. Part of what holds me back is this fear of failure. It becomes difficult for me to think outside of the box or to take a risk because I want everything I create to be 100% perfect. I absolutely do not want to fail. The problem is I won’t have the chance to fail if I cannot even take action.
I work in an organization with several women in leadership positions. When asked how they got there they often talk about all the risks they took and how often they failed but that failing fast helped them to learn quicker. When asked for advice, specifically for other women, they tend to reply that we have to be willing to take the right risks. Anecdotally they explain that women have a tendency to expect perfection in themselves and as such have a harder time accepting failure.
This is where I stand. Looking at myself from the outside I know that I’m fully capable of dusting myself off after a fall, but I can’t seem to overcome the crippling fear I feel when I think that I’m not performing as I should. In some respects, it serves as motivation. Work harder. Get better. Get where you want to be. These are the things that I tell myself. Yet and still I also hear that small voice inside telling me to play it safe, don’t raise your hand, don’t ask that question or they will think you’re incompetent.
It reminds me of the story that is often shared in many a “Lean In” circle. A man will see a promotion with 10 qualifications and he may only have 3 of them. He’s still confident that he can do the job. He is unafraid, and so he applies for the job. A woman sees those 10 qualifications, meets 8 of them, and feels like she’s not ready until she has the other 2. The funny thing is the man will get the job, and he may even fail, but ultimately it will have all been for a greater lesson learned and will pave the way to another promotion.
This is something I believe we all have to confront. We have to face it so that we can overcome it. Knowing that it is something that has the potential to cap our potential is creating failure in and of itself. Ironic huh? Failing because we were so paralyzed by our fear of failing. Experience is the best teacher. In order to learn the best lessons, we have to be willing to put ourselves out there and stretch. If you fail, you will have learned something. If you succeed, you need to be prepared to stretch for another opportunity and another lesson. We just have to accept that failing is okay.
Anyone else willing to admit to a fear of failure?
Jennifer Walton is Director of Marketing for Nationwide Retirement Plans. In this role she leads a team focused on Acquisition and Growth opportunities for the Public and Private Retirement Plans Sectors. She has been a professional marketing for almost 6 years now and holds an MBA in Marketing Management from The Ohio State University, Fisher College of Business. In her spare time, she volunteers, is a member of a number prestigious organizations, and she loves chasing around her husband, toddler, and spoiled boston terrier.