Overcoming the fear of failure


This last weekend I had multiple conversations about failure, success, and overcoming the fear of failure. It got me thinking a lot about my battle with the fear of failure and things that have helped me in the past.

For years I wanted to start a business, but was afraid that I would fail. I, just like many others, had heard some of the rumored statistics that the vast majority of businesses fail and was frightened by them. I wanted to step out, but I was longing for some kind of assurance that I would be successful.

Change your perception of failure

The thing that helped me was that I had to change how I perceived failure. I previously thought of it as being black or white. I assumed that you either failed or succeeded and that there wasn’t anything in between.

What helped me was thinking about it with shades of gray. So in terms of this blog – I initially thought that if tons of people weren’t reading it, I would be a failure (black). If they were, I would have succeeded (white). But thinking in shades of gray, the only way for the blog to be a complete failure was that not a single person ever read it. Even if a single person stopped by and read an article, that was a small success, therefore it was a shade of gray. Just having one reader was not my ultimate goal by any means, but it would be enough so that I could say it wasn’t a total failure!

I was intimidated by the big black wall of failure and the tiny white spot of success that I was longing for. Basically what I realized was that I had this very high and lofty goal and in my mind if I didn’t reach it – everything else was a failure. Changing my perception to see shades of gray as varying degrees of success was much more motivating and optimistic.

While it sounds like a minor thing, this mind shift was crucial to me getting over my fear of failure. It was exactly what I needed to take the first step.

Failure is the key to success

We have all heard the inspiring quotes that failure is part of the journey to success, but I am finding that it really is true. This last weekend I was talking to a friend about the success of this blog and he was pretty surprised when I said that it has been just a series of failures. I can’t even begin to tell you all the things I have done wrong with this blog. Any or all of them could appropriately be labeled as a failure – but because of what I learned from them, they are direct contributors to the blog’s “success”.

I am hesitant to use the word “success” because while I reached a major milestone by making decent money with the blog, it is still a work in progress. But the point is that each one of the failures has either taught me what not to do, or what will work better. Honestly, there is no way that this blog would be where it is had it not been for the numerous and continuing failures.

I love (and completely agree) with this quote from IBM’s Thomas Watson, Sr., “The fastest way to success is to double your failure rate.”

And one more great quote on success and failure…

“Success consists of going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm.” – Winston Churchill

Michael Jordan on failure

I really enjoy Michael’s perspective on overcoming failures. Arguably the best basketball player ever, he was cut from the high-school basketball team. To me, that speaks volumes. When he started, he was not very good – most people who get cut from their high-school teams concede to the fact that they aren’t gifted in that particular sport. Michael chose not to believe that and continued to work at his game – failing, failing, and failing some more. But, he must have failed so much that he figured out exactly how to play the game to be better than the rest of world.

“I’ve missed more than 9,000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. 26 times I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life and that is why I succeed.” -Michael Jordan

Final thoughts

For me, part of the process of defeating the fear of failure was making a conscious decision to FAIL. I was so bound up in fear that I wouldn’t take a step forward in any direction. I needed to just a take a step – whether it failed or succeeded, didn’t matter, I just needed to get past the fear of it.

If you are in that situation that I was in, I encourage you to prayerfully look at what God has called you to and don’t be afraid to step out.

“For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.” 2 Tim 1:7

  1. Angie

    Good words. Only with God can one step back mean two steps forward. I love His economy!

    Seems to me that FEAR of failure is rooted in pride. His power is made perfect in our weaknesses. Isn’t that something?

    When it is obvious that we surrender our failures to Him and allow His power to work through, then He gets all the glory! Trust me, I’m still learning how to live out this principle, but it sure beats the world’s way of measuring success and failure.

  2. Thanks for the post. I think we need to be mindful of two things when it comes to failure.
    First, we need to avoid endeavors that have the potential to be financially fatal. Get out there and risk something, but not everything. If you want to start a business see if there is not a baby step you can take along the way. Too many people risk everything on some wild idea.
    Second, when starting something new you might need to keep a failure journal to be sure you are learning the lessons those failures intended to teach you. Failure is only a good teacher if we are paying attention.

  3. MoneyEnergy

    Or as Gretzky would say, “you miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.” I love that. You just have to double your trying rate. Easier said than done, sometimes!:)

  4. TK

    re: Craig
    Thanks for your response. These are both good tips. I think many times Christians think they can just throw in all their chips and God will rescue them if they don’t win.

    Your second point serves wonderfully to emphasize the value of journaling. This is especially true when working towards goals, whether personal, spiritual, or financial.

  5. TK

    Bob, thanks for your post. I also have a tendency to see things as being either black or white. Unfortunately, this is not helpful in any arena of life. I have found it takes practice to remain in that “middle ground” of gray. It even sometimes requires help from others to determine what the gray area may look like.

  6. Gary

    Awesome post! I needed this today. I so much appreciate what you had to say about “gray.” I, like most of us, need to remember that failure (and along with it, the WILLINGNESS to fail), IS the key to success.

  7. Excellent article! One thing I stress to my followers is that if God gave you the vision He’ll always provide you with the tools and resources to build it. You can’t be afraid to step out into where God wants you to be. That only hinders your blessing and someone else’s. I was interviewed on a radio show (yesterday actually) and I said something that I think is relevant to this article,

    :”I failed in business three times, but I am succeeding in my purpose.”

    It’s that purpose and passion that keeps me in this thing. Great post again, I will definitely be sharing it with my followers!

    Success Always,

    Rod Kirby

  8. Cecilia

    I love your post! Honestly, fear of failure hinders me from moving forward. I have the habit to stop and think “Hey, don’t do this and that you might fail!”. It’s really scary especially when you don’t know what will happen next. It’s the fear of the unknown that keeps me from going forward. Right now, I challenge myself and dare to accept the unknown. Thanks for your motivating post!

  9. joel_zw

    What a wonderful post Bob. I’ve been learning the principle of failures as the stepping stones to success for a few years now.

    I used to be a straight A student for most of my schooling life before university (or college, as you may call it). At that point I enrolled to do an electrical engineering degree.

    I failed miserably in my first year, not because I lacked the intelligence but because I hadn’t learned how to persist. Complete reliance on my natural abilities led to my failure as I dropped out in that first year.

    Feeling severely depressed and suicidal, I cried out to God “I give up!! I can’t do this anymore”……. I’ll never forget His reply, “Finally. NOW I can use you.” It’s the most audible I’ve ever heard His voice.

    At that point, I made the decision to live by faith not my own plans. I had experienced my worst fear, the fear of failure, but realised I was still alive, still loved and still believing in God. That place of brokenness enabled me to overcome that fear and start living by trusting God.

    After that I wasn’t as afraid to take the risks God was calling me to as I walked in His will. I enrolled in a college closer to home to do economics and eventually graduated last year.

    Funnily enough, the college I had attended when I dropped out was in the city where I first met the woman who would eventually become my wife.

    God has it all planned out!

  10. Paul Wilson, Jr.

    In my recent conversations, I am running across so many Christians who are paralyzed by fear. I believe more people are incarcerated by fear than by prisons. If we as Christians truly had faith in God, we would realize the infinite power that we have access to. Failure is a learning experience that God uses to get us where He ultimately has planned for us, which is a much greater place than what we have dreamed for ourselves. You might as well jump – either you’ll fly or He will catch you. We need to walk by faith, not just talk by faith!

    Paul Wilson, Jr.
    Author of “Dream B.I.G. in 3D: How to Pursue a Bold, Innovative, God-Inspired Life!”

  11. Persevere

    Bob, Thank you for the encouragement! I’ve enjoyed the comments, also!

  12. edd b0ii

    This was an amazing article. I enjoyed it very much. I do believe in failure will lead to success but keep that enthusiasm to do what you love to succeed. I’m a Filipino by the way =]

  13. Uta

    Thank you for this article. It has helped me in ways words cannot paint.
    Bless you.

  14. You should fail, you might fail, it is usually piece of the building techniques, part of the way we humans discover, and the only method we undoubtedly learn. Failure is only doing a thing the wrong manner. We may have nine things perfect even so the 10th wrong causing our method failing. Using this method you could beat the fear of failure.

  15. vicky


  16. Kalu James

    One may fail in academics and repeat a class or course , may fail in business and start all over from the scrach but what if one fails in marriage ?