May 14


An Entrepreneur’s Guide to Overcoming Fear of Failure

By Harry Heijligers

May 14, 2021

Avoiding Making Mistakes, Fear of Failure, Perfectionism, Procrastination

One of the most common fears that entrepreneurs face is the fear of failure. While this fear can be crippling, it doesn't have to be. All that's required is an understanding and accepting how we fail and learning to take it as a fact of life.

Often, people fear failure because they've never tried something outside their comfort zone – the zone where they feel safe. Even people who are confident and skilled sometimes experience fear of failure.

The good news is: there is a way to push past your fears and strike out into the unknown to find growth opportunities for yourself or your business.

Have you ever experienced fear of failure?

Do you sometimes think that just because you've failed, it's time to give up?

Do you wonder how to overcome the fears of failure that can stop you from finding success in life or business?

Then this article is for you!


What does it mean to be afraid of failure?

The fear of failure is the fear of criticism, embarrassment, and ridicule resulting from making mistakes. People who are afraid of failing often set themselves up for failure by avoiding doing anything that could experience a possible humiliation. They make excuses for not attending social gatherings. They decline promotions. They refuse to try something new. They return to their safe zones and never risk their comfort zones.

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This can prevent people from pursuing their dreams, and it can even stop them from pursuing a goal that they feel is worthwhile. It's not that they are bad people or have poor morals. They could be competent, intelligent, passionate, and skilled businessmen or women who just don't realize the harmful effects of running away from the fear of failure.
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Why do people fear failure?

The most common reason people fear making mistakes is that they are afraid of what others will think of them. People who fear failure often have a lot of social anxiety. They fear being judged by others and rejected by their peers. They want to feel accepted by their friends and families, and they don't want to be looked down upon for not completing a task or goal that they've set for themselves.


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Why are people so afraid of other people's reactions?

Many people fear others' reactions because they have low self-esteem. This prevents them from being open to criticism. They also often worry about what would happen if they were made fun of for their ideas or appearance. They fear ridicule for not following social standards set by society.

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Impostor Syndrome

A lot of entrepreneurs suffer from Impostor Syndrome. This is essentially a form of anxiety that results from having unrealistic expectations of yourself. They hold themselves back, afraid to be found out as a fake.

The fear of failing has driven them to not even admit their own mistakes.
They believe that other people will find out about them and judge them in some way if they fail, so they never even discuss their shortcomings or mishaps with anyone else.

This can be very detrimental. This fear of being found out prevents many people from moving on from their mistakes.

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Do you have a success-shame cycle going on?

It's a natural tendency for humans to quickly change from feeling good about themselves to being shamed for those feelings.

And while this is an uncomfortable state, it's one that many people experience in their lives at specific points in time. Whether through their careers or personal relationships, we all go through processes where we feel ashamed about our successes and then return to them with renewed passion.

What does this have to do with fear of failure?
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In fear of failure, a person's emotions are usually two-sided: success and shame.
Suddenly, they feel much better about themselves. They accomplish something they've never done before or something that they've been wanting to do for a long time. And for a while, they feel excited, happy, and confident in their accomplishments.

But then something happens.
They begin to realize that they blew it or made a mistake. They feel like they're an idiot for having accomplished something they thought they'd never do. They start to criticize themselves and judge how they've failed or will fail in the future.

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Fear of Failure is like living a quiet lifestyle.

You're still alive, but you are not living to your fullest potential.

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How often do you criticize yourself over things you can't control?

The fear of failure is driven by feelings of incompetence. Most people who are afraid of failing believe that they lack the skills and abilities to move forward with their goals. Because they are so occupied with feeling incompetent, they cannot even enjoy success.

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How does fear of failure manifest itself in daily life?

The fear of failure can affect people in unfortunate ways.

For example, they might:

  • Make wrong career decisions.
  • Worry too much about what people think.
  • Give up when things become difficult.
  • Make excuses for their failures.
  • Reject people who try to help them.
  • Make excuses for what they say or do.
  • Put themselves down.
  • Put too much pressure on themselves.
  • Try to do everything alone.
  • Expect too much of themselves.
  • Put off doing important things that would improve their lives or businesses because they don't think they can succeed or are afraid of failing and being criticized for not doing a good job.
  • Believe that their work is worthless.
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Entrepreneurs, how to overcome the fear of failure?

There are many ways to overcome the fear of failure that would allow you to go past your fears and pursue your dreams and goals.

You could...

  • Learn to use trial and error as a tool to discover what works for you.
  • Set goals that you can achieve.
  • Learn to admit your failures.
  • Learn to accept compliments and constructive criticism, and let it roll off your back.
  • Develop a friendly attitude towards all people.
  • Keep a record of your goals and progress.
  • Accept the fact that failure is inevitable and start to see it as feedback.
  • Learn to forgive yourself.
  • Realize that you are not in a competition with anyone else.
  • List all of your weaknesses and work to overcome them.
  • Spend time with successful entrepreneurs or mentors.
  • Talk about your fears openly with your friends and family.
  • Take part in activities that help you feel more confident about your innate abilities and self-worth.
  • Write down all of your fears and then burn them. Psychologically, this will eliminate some of the power you give to those fears.
  • Ignore other people's criticism. They may be busy trying to tear you down or get jealous of your success.
  • Ignore the media and its adverse effects on your psyche.
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How can you learn to accept failures as a part of life?

No matter how big or small it may seem what you are doing... failure will always be a part of it. Failure is feedback, and as you learn from it, you can constantly improve your chances of succeeding.

If you would never fail, it would mean that you would be some supercomputer of sorts that can predict every situation and act accordingly. Well, you and I know that is not possible. Having a tendency to fail is normal, and it serves as your feedback that you are not quite perfect. And the more failures there are, the quicker you will learn from them.

Even an airplane flying from Europe to the United States needs to course correct to avoid severe turbulence. The pilot will make a series of minor adjustments to level off and then continue on course.

The same is true with human beings. We all have some inherent natures that don't allow us to be 100% consistent with our actions and emotions.

The magic of life lies in continuously learning and adapting. We are all a work in progress... like forever.

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Fear of Failure is like being in the same job forever.

You might feel safe, but you are also stuck in a rut.

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If you are a person who is afraid of making mistakes, try to take some time to analyze what it is that you are actually scared of. Is it your success or the judgment of others? By taking a close look at the fear, you may gain insight into overcoming these fears.

I hope you will rethink your stance on embracing failure. Let go of those fears that are holding you back from what could be a really fulfilling life.

Please, let me know in the comment box below: what is holding you back?

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Harry Heijligers

About the author

Harry Heijligers has more than 25 years of experience as a Project Manager and more than 17 years of experience as an NLP Trainer. He has a Dutch blog about NLP here:
If you'd like to know about the Smart Leadership Hut, please check this: Smart Leadership Hut.

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