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Facing Your Fear of Failure

“No matter how hard you work for success, if your thought is saturated with the fear of failure, it will kill your efforts, neutralize your endeavors and make success impossible.” – Baudjuin
Fear of failure can immobilize you. Many people have goals in their lives and a sincere desire to achieve them, but for some reason they are never quite able to get past the initial roadblocks they encounter on their path to success. They allow themselves to be defeated by a few failures early in their quest.

I believe that the biggest reason people have a fear of failure is not that they are afraid that they’ll waste their time or even their money. I believe that they are afraid of embarrassing themselves. The interesting thing is that embarrassment is a state of mind. No one can make you feel embarrassed without your permission. If you understand that failure is a normal part of success then you should be willing to fail repeatedly while you are on your path to your goals. Don’t be embarrassed or make apologies for failing. Just evaluate what went wrong and try again.
“Our greatest glory is not in never falling but in rising every time we fall.” – Confucius

In my seminars I give people the confidence that they can and should succeed. I help them develop the mindset that if they take pride in their efforts and enjoy the journey that the results will take care of themselves.

Here is a list of some well known and well respected failures from throughout history. Would you be willing to persevere through their failures to reach their successes?

  • Winston Churchill failed sixth grade. He was subsequently defeated in every election for public office until he became Prime Minister at the age of 62.
  • Charles Darwin wrote, “I was considered by all my masters and my father, a very ordinary boy, rather below the common standard of intellect.”
  • Thomas Edison’s teachers said he was “too stupid to learn anything.” He was fired from his first two jobs for being “non-productive.”

  • Albert Einstein did not speak until he was 4-years-old and did not read until he was 7. His parents thought he was “sub-normal,” and one of his teachers described him as “mentally slow, unsociable, and adrift forever in foolish dreams.” He was expelled from school.
  • Henry Ford failed and went broke five times before he succeeded.
  • R. H. Macy failed seven times before his store in New York City caught on.
  • An expert said of Vince Lombardi: “He possesses minimal football knowledge and lacks motivation.” Lombardi would later write, “It’s not whether you get knocked down; it’s whether you get back up.”
  • Michael Jordan was cut from his high school basketball team. Jordan once observed, “I’ve failed over and over again in my life. That is why I succeed.”
  • Babe Ruth is famous for his past home run record, but for decades he also held the record for strikeouts. He hit 714 home runs and struck out 1,330 times in his career (about which he said, “Every strike brings me closer to the next home run.”). (John Wooden once explained that winners make the most errors.)
  • After Carl Lewis won the gold medal for the long jump in the 1996 Olympic games. He was asked to what he attributed his longevity, having competed for almost 20 years. He said, “Remembering that you have both wins and losses along the way. I don’t take either one too seriously.”
  • Walt Disney was fired by a newspaper editor because he, “…lacked imagination and had no good ideas.” He went bankrupt several times before he built Disneyland. In fact, the proposed park was rejected by the city of Anaheim on the grounds that it would only attract riffraff.
  • Charles Schultz had every cartoon he submitted rejected by his high school yearbook staff. Oh, and Walt Disney wouldn’t hire him.

  • After Fred Astaire’s first screen test, the memo from the testing director of MGM, dated 1933, read, “Can’t act. Can’t sing. Slightly bald. Can dance a little.” Astaire kept that memo over the fire place in his Beverly Hills home. Astaire once observed that “when you’re experimenting, you have to try so many things before you choose what you want, that you may go days getting nothing but exhaustion.” And here is the reward for perseverance: “The higher up you go, the more mistakes you are allowed. Right at the top, if you make enough of them, it’s considered to be your style.”
  • After his first audition, Sidney Poitier was told by the casting director, “Why don’t you stop wasting people’s time and go out and become a dishwasher or something?” It was at that moment, recalls Poitier, that he decided to devote his life to acting. (What will failure motivate you to do in your life?)
  • When Lucille Ball began studying to be actress in 1927, she was told by the head instructor of the John Murray Anderson Drama School, “Try any other profession.”
  • The first time Jerry Seinfeld walked on-stage at a comedy club as a professional comic, he looked out at the audience, froze, and forgot the English language. He stumbled through “a minute-and a half” of material and was jeered offstage. He returned the following night and closed his set to wild applause.
  • Enrico Caruso’s music teacher said he had no voice at all and could not sing. His parents wanted him to become an engineer.
  • Van Gogh sold only one painting during his life. And this to the sister of one of his friends for 400 francs (approximately $50). This didn’t stop him from completing over 800 paintings.
  • John Milton wrote Paradise Lost 16 years after losing his eyesight.

Don’t let the fear of failure stop you from achieving greatness in your life!

One Response to “Facing Your Fear of Failure”

  1. Michelle Ridgley says:

    Poignant and empowering …. thank you, Rich.