How to Squash Your Fear of Failure

May 13, 2014

11:30 am

This post includes extra content from Startup Mixology, my upcoming book on starting up – including how to prepare yourself for the harsh reality and celebrate positive moments along the way. Go here to pre-order the book (due July 8) and subscribe to updates!

“I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”  – Thomas Edison

Thomas Edison was right: he embraced failure as a means to learn – literally by trial and error. But many of us naturally avoid failure. The fear of failure pushes you to take fewer risks and innovate less, sticking to easy challenges rather than big, thorny, world-changing problems. This could stem from an education system that rewards correct answers rather than the learning process itself. If you are like me and were educated for decades in this way, it may take a little time to reprogram your brain to be okay with failure.

HubSpot’s inbound marketing evangelist Laura Fitton, coauthor of Twitter for Dummies, says, “Nothing world-changing ever came from, ‘Yeah, I’m pretty sure this’ll work, let me go do it now.’ If you are not getting yourself to the edge and being willing to build the wings on the way up or build the wings on the way down (whichever it happens to be), then you are really cheating the world on the stuff that only you can figure out and only you can do.”

For Edison, his failures (or “tests,” as he prefered to think of them) were lightbulbs that didn’t work. For startups, failure might be not getting product traction or press, a marketing campaign that doesn’t resonate, investors who aren’t interested, or a star employee who leaves.

So, how do you embrace failure?

You need to expect to fail, learn from it, and be open to talking to other entrepreneurs about it. You’ll discover that they’ve had similar failures – it’s part of the process of entrepreneurship. To become more comfortable with failure, you can read books, listen to speakers, or attend events where entrepreneurs share their lessons learned. You can take some time to reflect on past failures of your own that led to learning and ultimately had positive outcomes. In the end, failure is not only an opportunity for learning, but an opportunity to prove that you’re the type of person who can deal with obstacles.

In a similar vein, entrepreneur Zainab Zaki conquered her fears of public speaking by diving in headfirst and signing up for every opportunity to get up on stage and talk. She raised her hand and asked questions with all eyes on her. She didn’t hesitate to go first, to lead, to volunteer. “Eventually, people and their judgements, opinions, critique, ridicule didn’t scare me anymore,” she recalls.

That’s one of the reasons entrepreneurs are advised to fail often – not only does it help you iterate toward success, but it also hardens you against the fear of failure.


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Frank Gruber is the cofounder, CEO and Executive Editor of Tech.Co (formerly Tech Cocktail). He is the author of the book, Startup Mixology, Tech Cocktail’s Guide to Building, Growing, and Celebrating Startup Success. He is also a startup advisor and investor to startups. Find Frank Gruber online and follow him on Twitter at @FrankGruber.

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