Why You Need to Finally Face the Fear of Failure

From Jeff: This is a guest post by Tim Sinclair. Tim is a radio personality, author, speaker, and entrepreneur with a passion for compelling stories and ideas. His biggest dreams happen while mowing the lawn (or shoveling the driveway) at his home in Illinois. To see his latest project, click here.

A friend of mine said to me recently, “Tim, it seems like every time I turn around you’re succeeding at something.” I don’t say this to toot my own horn. I say this because it is completely NOT true.

Batter Photo
Photo credit: dcJohn (Creative Commons)

Truth be told, I fail a lot. Far more than most.

The majority of my ideas, my plans, and my dreams end up dying way before anybody knows about them. They usually die in my head. They sometimes die in my computer. And they occasionally die in the court of public opinion.

But, trust me: they die. Frequently.

I have had a few successes. But I have had a TON of failures. Businesses and books, auditions and adventures — I’ve come up short on all of them.

Despite the seemingly endless string of unfinished and unsuccessful projects, my goal has always been to live by this motto: I would much rather fail at greatness than succeed at mediocrity. (You can tweet that if you want.)

There is reason for hope

I take heart in the fact that:

  • Michael Jordan missed more than half of the shots he took.
  • Henry Ford went broke five times before finally starting Ford Motor Company.
  • Thomas Edison went through thousands of prototypes before finally inventing the light bulb.
  • Winston Churchill failed the sixth grade and lost every public election he entered until being elected Prime Minister of Great Britain at age 62.
  • John Grisham was rejected by 16 agents and 12 publishers before getting his first book deal.
  • Walt Disney, Steven Spielberg, Abraham Lincoln, Beethoven, and Babe Ruth failed countless times, too.

None of these people would have made history if they had been frozen by failure.

But what if my pessimism is right?

Unfortunately, the realist deep inside reminds me that for every Edison and Grisham and Spielberg story, there are a million other inventors and authors and directors working fast-food or retail because their idea didn’t stick.

Every creative, subconsciously, feels like their big idea should work, but that it probably won’t work. Taking the first step toward a dream feels like taking the first step toward your pessimism being proven right.

It’s fair to say these types of fears have derailed more scientific breakthroughs, revolutionary businesses, and great works of art than anything else in history.

How many best-selling books have never been written? How many blockbuster movies have never been made? How many vaccinations and antidotes and cures have never been found?

There’s something worse than failure

This month, I took a risk. I put a 10-year-old dream of mine out there for all to see, knowing full well that it could easily fail in spectacular fashion. I don’t want my dream to die, but I know it can’t possibly live if I never try.

So, I’m trying. Will it succeed? Maybe. Maybe not. But the fear of never knowing whether success was possible is far more intimidating than the prospect of failure.

I’m guessing you have a few hopes and dreams, too. You have a book to write, a business to start, a trip to take. You just haven’t done it yet for fear of the dream dying once you try.

Which of your dreams need to risk dying so that they can have a chance of succeeding? Share in the comments.

To find out more about Tim’s big project, check out “Don’t Blink: Tiny Towns, Funny Names” on Kickstarter, and consider supporting it.

52 thoughts on “Why You Need to Finally Face the Fear of Failure

  1. This is so true. There certainly is something worse than failure. I have found this article plus many of Jeff Goins’ to be so inspiring that they’ve shaken me out of my pessimism and fear and given me wings, courage, to fly. Thank you.

  2. I tend to have to give myself pep talks and reminder talks about failure all the time.  In hindsight, I know I learn from failure.  I know I grow.  I know it is necessary in life if I ever want to move towards something better.  But still, I fear it each time I am faced with an unfamiliar road to walk down.    Retreating to my comfort zone is never the choice I should make.  The current “dream” that needs to die for me is the dream of not living up to other people’s expectation.  Yesterday, I had to do something new and I didn’t do it 100% correct and was asked to go back and make it better.  I hate looking stupid in front of people and getting things wrong.  Yet, I survived.  I am still alive.  And, hopefully, I am learning in the process.

    1.  Eileen…you hit the nail on the head when you mentioned “learning in the process.” Sometimes our hopes and dreams die because that death is required to teach us what we need to know in order to succeed later. It’s an “un-fun” lesson…but necessary all the same.

  3. This is so timely for me. I’ve not yet had books published, and next month I’ll be starting to pitch my book to editors and agents. As a November conference draws closer, the realist in me has started talking big time. But like you said, I know it’s time to risk the dream dying if it will ever have a chance to succeed. Thanks for the encouragement to go for it!

    1.  Cheryl…so glad to hear that you’re going for it! I went through my first book contract several years ago, and it was the experience of a lifetime. Scary, but wonderful! Hope you experience the same excitement.

  4. Uh, this is awesome. You click on Tim’s Kickstarter project and it looks like it failed in a mighty way. Please don’t tell me it’s a glitch and that it’s still going on – the failure is much more inspiring and encouraging. Great idea, wonderful effort, no support. Awesome.

  5. My dreams of writing are slowly coming to pass. For years I wanted to do something, but didn’t really know how, but about a year ago I simply started and it hasn’t been easy. It’s been tough, but success wouldn’t be enjoyable if there was not a risk of failure.

  6. Yes this is timely for me too !!  I’m about to embark on the crazy journey called National Novel Writing Month in November to start a second novel.  I’ve been a writer my whole life and occasionally made money at it.  My goal is to actually finish a novel without worrying about whether someone will want to read it or buy it or print it.  Just get the darn thing out of my head so I can move on.  Thanks Jeff your posts are inspiring !!

  7. One word – “Inspiring”. I really love this article Jeff. 
    Love the example of the legendary people, you’ve given.Falling down multiple times is very important part, when a baby start walking. And we should not afraid this phase 🙂

    1. Thanks Samm! So glad the blog meant something to you. Remember…with “inspiration” comes “action.” 🙂

  8. Interesting that you should use Edison as an example — he failed school, self-taught, caught fire to his first lab in a building he did not own, rescued a child playing on a railroad, was rewarded with lessons in telegraphy, invented a new kind of telegraph for people like himself who had poor telegraphy skills, became rich, invested it in inventions, burned down another enormous lab, and said, “Now we get the fun of leaving all our failures behind.” He also said he’d discovered thousands of ways NOT to do it.

    Einstein is another great example. Mr Einstein, that is, Albert’s dad was an electrical inventor and speculator. He charged fearlessly into the world of batteries, only to be left in the dust by those who prefered to be tied to the wall. Now look at us! If only he could have lived to be about 200 years old!

    1. Everybody’s got a story, don’ they, Katherine! We can learn from them all. Thanks for reading!

  9. I remember being asked to speak at a series of revival services in Myrtle Beach a few years ago. I was terrified. What terrified me more was walking away from the invitation and never really knowing if I had it in me to follow in my daddy’s footsteps . . . all the way to the pulpit! Well, I did, and God did, and it was one of the most affirming moments of my ministry life.

    Most recently, I published my second book about the faith lessons I received during my cancer season. It was an easy “write,” but a difficult delivery. I know that the words are needed, but I’ve had a few moments of wondering how this is all going to work out. This is a slow, fruit-bearing season for me. Or so it seems. At least, I did it. I survived cancer, and I defeated the silence. Now, to what’s next.

    Great post. Thanks for being here today, Tim.

    peace~elaine

    1. Thank you, Elaine, for reading. Your successes have inspired many I’m sure – especially since they came out of fear and trembling. Well done!

  10. Wish I could tell you that it was a glitch. But, no…it failed BIG TIME. I’m not disheartened though. Like Edison, I just learned one more way that this idea won’t work. I’m convinced, however, that there is at least ONE that WILL work. We’ll see!

  11. So glad to hear that Sarah. Be encouraged…sometimes our failure is necessary for our future!  🙂

  12. Perfectly said, Eric. If there was no failure, than there would be no success. Kudos on pursuing your dream. Starting is half the battle!

  13. So glad to hear that Jennie! Thanks for reading…and flying. You’re inspiring others as you do so. 

  14. Karen…that is a key distinction with art. Doing it for yourself or doing it because you think you can sell it. The former is much more gratifying, and it’s rare when an artist can find a way to do both! Proud of you for going for it!

  15. Tim, this is great! It reminds me of this quote, “Why not go out on a limb? That’s where the fruit is.”  Since the age of 8, I had a dream of learning American Sign Language. Fast forward to adulthood, and the thought of returning to the classroom  almost three decades past my own college graduation seemed ridiculous! What would people think of me? What was the point of doing this? Wasn’t I old enough to be the students’ mother? That was the negative self-talk.  But I had a true friend tell me “Time will just keep marching forward. Don’t you want to have something to show for it?” So, I followed the dream even though the risk of looking like a fool was huge!  It took me twice as long because I work full-time and have a family.  Time kept marching foward, but I now have my Sign Language Interpreting course completion to show for it. It was huge  for me to attempt this with no guarantee of success, but the process has given me courage to attempt other ridiculous goals.

  16. Thanks Tim, thanks Jeff. Interesting I read this today because last night I made a note to myself about growing in difficult places, including failure. In the last few months, I’ve been doing the hard things I’ve been afraid to do; sending my 3-year manuscript to the publisher, pushing out an eBook and giving it away free, helping others launch and lead on purpose. You get to the point where you stop worrying about failing because you’ve had enough of that fear. Thanks once again.

  17. Great post Tim, thanks for sharing.

    I’ve had lots of little “failures” lately with a current venture and I say – bring it on! I’m trying to get through as many failures as quickly as possible, as the law of averages says eventually I will get a success, I just need to wade through the failures first.

    And I wanted to add …. the first Harry Potter book (aka the best-selling book series of all time!) was rejected by over a dozen publishing houses before it got to print…

    Thanks for making failure so normal for all of us.

    1.  Andrea, I love that: “…the law of averages says eventually I will get a success.” Well said!

  18. Tim,

    You are so right about the importance of going after our dreams in spite of the fact that we will fail sometimes. It’s sad to see the many people who have talent, dreams and aspirations who are so frozen by fear of failure that they never launch. Not only do they miss out, but those of us whose lives they could have helped miss out as well.

    Many times I’ve had to push myself to put my ideas out into the world only to watch them receive less than standing ovations. Yet, I’m so happy that I didn’t wait for the perfect time, enough money or the right people before creating my projects. Trying something new is always scary and I always think about waiting until everything is in place, until I remember that there is no perfect time, just this time.

    Since the Internet, I’ve had to push myself even harder since the speed of getting things to market is faster and the risk is greater of flopping in front of the whole world, not just my  small circle. And yet, it must be done if I am to share the value I have with the world.

    Four things have helped me moving forward with my dreams
    1.  increasing comfort with uncertainty and imperfection
    2. determination to not die with my dreams inside me
    3. realization that failures are opportunities
    4. observation that success is not best measured by best-seller (or other status)

    I love your Don’t Blink idea and hope you will continue to pursue it with gusto even though it didn’t make the Kickstarter deadline. Learn from what you did, regroup and put it back out there with indiegogo and other crowdfunding programs. There are many folks like me who would love to see this type of show, book, etc. on the market. Not only that, I know that the small towns you highlight will get visibility and perhaps a little of influx of new visitor revenue as you shine the spotlight on them. The best part of all is that once you get rolling you’ll never run out of these small towns with funny names to explore.

    1.  Thanks, Flora! You’ve clearly got this concept down – well done.  I appreciate your encouragement, too.

  19. I loved the examples you gave with other famous inventors and other inspirations. It really confirmes your point of even the most successful people being failures at some point in their career. Thanks for sharing Tim and thanks for posing Jeff. 🙂

    1.  Thanks, Shaquanda! Failure is a part of life, for sure. It’s just what we do with it that differs.

  20. A mentor once told me to practise generating ideas. For every 20 ideas you generate, there may be one that will be good. For every 100, there may be one that will be great. The rest die in your head.

  21. I waited a year and a half to start an idea because I was afraid of “putting it out there” for others to see.

    I finally came to the realization that taking the risk and failing would be better than never taking the risk at all.

    Such a timely post for me, Tim.  Thank you!

  22. My dream to share the hope of Jesus Christ with a broader audience simply has to move forward. Coincidentally, I just posted an article on failure last night. Great to see we’re thinking along the same lines.

  23. First you have define failure. I am learning from perceived failure as I write this. Deciding to be a writer, needing to learn about self-publishing, I wrote, illustrated and published an eBook “Finn MacCool and the Woman, Kittens to Cats: Adventures at Home” during this past June. After the initial, that’s cool, everyone asks how many have I sold.
    That number seems to define success or failure. But I have decided not to allow that number to define my success or failure. Maybe a low sales number is a marketing failure to learn from, but writing, illustrating and publishing the book is a success.
    Learning from both sides of the fence: success and failure.
    I can’t wait to fail again. And again and again. Because eventually I will get the success as others define it too.
    Thanks for the post.

  24.  “You just haven’t done it yet for fear of the dream dying once you try.” Thank you for speaking directly to me. I’ll run with this.

  25. I dare say there’s a lesson here for parents: don’t let your own fear of failure create a fear of failure in your children!

    Perhaps some people truly get encouraged by what I call “New York motivation.” From what this south-of-the-Mason-Dixon-Liner has seen, that means berating someone whenever they don’t do something absolutely, 100% perfect. I know an owner of a hoagie (or sub, or whatever they call the foot-long sandwich in your part of the world) who was always “barking” at his employees to do better. Sometimes it was somewhat tolerable. Sometimes even his wife had a hard time handling it. Several times I walked out, even if I was next to be served, because I couldn’t stand the attitude.

    There is a subtle difference between encouraging greatness, and discouraging less-than-greatness. I pity the people who cannot see the distinction.

  26. A friend told me I’m brave to put my blog posts “out there” for everyone to see. Maybe so, but I can’t seem to bring myself to write for publication with payment.  The few negative comments I’ve heard in the past stick in my brain instead of the many positive comments I’ve received. I need to realize that not everyone likes everyone’s writing, so it’s OK if someone doesn’t like my work. I need to overcome my fear of not pleasing everyone.

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