The fear of failure

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When it comes to the creative process, fear of failure is the number one blocker. It’s not money, skill, time or knowledge. It’s the fear of failure.

A growth mindset

Four years ago I created an animation about the growth mindset, a theory widely personified by Professor Carol Dweck. The short animation compares two types of learners, those with a fixed mindset and those with a growth mindset. Fixed mindset learners can often start ahead of the competition, maybe they’ve had a head start in life but eventually, they will reach a hill that looks too scary to ascend. They’re afraid that they might not manage to get to the top, so they’ll take a route with less resistance. A route with far fewer chances of failure. That’s a fixed mindset. A growth mindset is quite the opposite, an individual that is accepting of failure, willing to fail. When they approach the hill that looks scary to ascend, they will go for it knowing that they’re likely to fall at some point. Anyway, that’s the premise of the animation. Give it a watch if you want.

The theory is extremely applicable to the creative process; that said, it’s not an easy thing to live by. In 2018 I published my first book and the feeling on the day of release was easily the most creatively rewarding experience of my life. It took a lot of hard work to get there and certainly required me to get into a growth mindset to complete it but that’s not what I’m here to write about. I want to tell you about how I’ve let the fear of failure cripple me for book two.

For over a year I’ve been thinking the same thing… “What if book two isn’t as popular as the first and it doesn’t sell as many copies.” Now objectively, this is a silly fear to have. First, why should it matter how many copies I sell, surely I just do it for the love. Secondly, I didn’t sell a ridiculous number of copies of the “Dark Winter”, so with a decent amount of promotion I should be able to sell even more than the first book.

Isn’t it obvious?

The problem is, fear can often be more overpowering than logic. The thing we all have to remember (myself included) is that a fear of failure is exactly the thing that holds us back from success. Imagine you’re looking for a new job, but you never go for the interview because you’re afraid you won’t get it. Well, no surprises, you won’t get it. You want to ask that person out on a date but don’t want to be rejected, then you’ll never get to go on a date with them. It sounds like obvious stuff but you’d be surprised how often we each do this in our own lives because we’re afraid of failure. If this isn’t you, well done, would love to hear your tips!

I’ve been delaying writing the second book in the Fateweaver trilogy for so long because I’m terrified of failing. The bar feels so much higher than the first book because there are people that now have an expectation and interest in the series. The truth is though, not writing it would be the real failure. I’ve been delaying it for over a year, saying I’ll start once I move to a new house or finish that project or after that event. But the time to delay is done. Today I start writing again. Not tomorrow, not next month. Today.

Learning to love failure

When I exercise, I get a little buzz out of not being able to do a full ten reps because I know getting to that point of failure means I’ll be stronger next time. It’s kind of crazy but I’m learning to love failure. You should see my face when I fall while rock climbing. I brush the chalk off my back and get straight back onto that wall, with a smug little smile. I just messed up, and I’m going to mess up again until I don’t. Others won’t even try that route because the route looks too tough or has a grade next to it that is above their own. Speaking as a parent, my son trying to do something that he knows he could fail at are some of my proudest moments.

Fail in front of your colleagues

There are so many ways for us to give in to fear within our work lives. There’s plenty of hills that look unclimbable, perhaps in the form of leading a project or going for a promotion. All these different ways that we can put ourselves out there can be quite frightening in reality and I’d argue this is because of the fear of failure. It’s even more scary to fail in front of others, especially those we see every day. What’s important is that we promote a healthy ethos of trying and encouraging others to do it too. Hold yourself accountable for not taking leaps of faith and challenge others to do the same. To grow we need a growth mindset and that means we’re probably going to fail along the way, but isn’t that better than not moving at all?

So, I encourage you to fail wholeheartedly, put yourself out there where success is not guaranteed. Doing this will give us a broader horizon of opportunities. Fear can be horribly crippling but what I think is worse is taking a path of less resistance wondering what could have been. We’ve got to fail, and fail again, fail miserably and with hope. Because it may take one hundred failures to have the success, but it only takes one choice to not risk failure, to truly do just that.



Cameron Lisney

Project Lead

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