Feel the fear of failure – do it anyway!

I can’t remember how many times, in the last 25 years, I stood in front of a group of powerful and successful senior executives, in a either change management or transformational leadership training program, wisely sprouting these words: “feel the fear and do it anyway.” Even more contritely:  “the learning zone is outside the comfort zone” and what about this one “there is no failure, only feedback”!  What did this ever teach us or enable us to really manage to feel the fear? Especially when fear of failure, and fear of success  are two of the strongest obstacles to people engaging in the risks involved in innovation.

What was I doing! How could I have been so cruel and naive to not understand the differences between people’s cognitive understanding of their fear and their natural resistance to having a visceral and emotional experience of it!

Having survived an abusive childhood, several broken hearts and more than seven different and successful career changes, I thought that I had mastered my fear of failure. As a “change-aholic” and “learn-aholic”, I felt that I had “earned the right” to role model fearless leadership. I am embarrassed to admit that even wrote blogs about it and joined courageous leadership Linked In groups to share my learning’s and experiences about it!

Fear of failure and fear of success 

It was only when I relocated to the Middle East almost four years ago, that I actually started to really understand what it means to feel the fear, and how my fears of failure and success, up until now, had pervaded every aspect of my life. If my fears of failure and success are my greatest nemeses, how does it manifest, in its infinite variations and consequences, in other people’s lives, especially when they are expected to change innovate?

Whether it is procrastination, perfectionism or competitiveness, a real deep and unconscious fear is at the core. How we accept, embrace and flow with it, determines the ultimate role it plays in dealing with our failures as well our ability to change, innovate and succeed.

It wasn’t until I evolved and matured that I was able to develop a deep conscious awareness and understanding of these sometimes paralyzing and overwhelming fears. I learnt how to self regulate by acknowledging and embracing them and making them “my friends”. Without them, I would not have cultivated the energy and drive to succeed in life the way that I have.

I decided that it was time to take responsibility for my fear of failure, to create a different and a set of results as well as affect a range of more useful and positive consequences.

Living in VUCA times

Living in the constant state of volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity that is a way of life here in the Middle East, I finally realized much to my horror, that the world really can be an “unsafe place”!

That some people actually work really hard to make others feel totally flooded and paralyzed by their fears, which create a constant state of anxiety, because, sadly it gives them a sense of power and control. This is the harsh reality the secret pacifist in me has to live with, and it really, really, deeply hurts.

Barriers to innovation

When I started researching and developing my start-up, www.imaginenation.com.au I was asked a range of successful and innovative entrepreneurs, “how did it feel when you failed, and what did you do to manage it?” Unsurprisingly, the responses often came across as “you can’t imagine how horrible it was!” Somehow, the more resilient and resourceful managed to create some useful unique recovery strategies for effectively dealing with their fear of failure, or their fear of success, picked themselves up and got back to work.

Fear of success manifests differently, not only because it is deeply unconscious, it is often the result of the person seeking to avoid an un-resourceful state. In my case, success meant being overwhelmed and exhausted, and having been critically ill in the past from these un-resourceful states, until I realized this, my fear of failure, constantly and unknowingly, compelled me to constantly self sabotage my chances of success.

I quickly realized that no-one wants to either “feel the fear” that exists outside of their “comfort zones”, or create intentional opportunities for “feedback” because, to go there, feels really, really horrible and why go there if you don’t really really have to?

The biggest barrier to innovation is people’s reluctance to associate with, connect to, and feel the  fears. Because you cannot innovate without experimentationmaking mistakes and failing, at least once, people naturally resist and move away from anything that can potentially result in a range of horrible thoughts, feelings and visceral reactions.

Fear of failure and fear of success

One of my most challenging dilemmas in developing my three corporate learning streams  has been to seek out and clarify how to “work with” and resource people in organizations to deal with peoples fears of failure and success, in radically different, positive and useful ways.

The solution I am proposing is an intentional and eclectic cocktail of the 5C’s of Consciousness, Creativity, Courage, Compassion and Collaboration.

Qualities that are seldom mentioned as leadership competences or cultural values including:

  • Being a conscious leader means; developing the presence to deeply observe what works and what doesn’t work, and be present to ourselves, to others, and to retreat and reflect, to see and work with, what is really going on, for the good of the whole.
  • Being a creative leader means; knowing how to deeply listen and disruptively inquire, to maximise diversity and stimulate out of the box thinking that creates deep generative debates that erupt in creative ideas.
  • Being a courageous leader means; knowing how to be present to, and confront your own and others un-resourceful emotional states, accepting pain, being brave and candid in the face of risk, adversity  and danger, uncertainty, or intimidation.
  • Being a compassionate leader means; knowing how to be caring and sensitive to the needs and vulnerabilities of self and others, being generous and accepting what is, and not making it “bad” or “wrong”.
  • Being a collaborative leader means; knowing how to activate people’s follower-ship of a shared cause or agenda, to be put the needs of others and the whole first, whilst still respecting one’s own.

Organizations have the opportunity to be courageous and let go of their short term scarcity mindset and risk adversity. By giving people permission & proactively enabling them to accept and deal with both their fears of failure & fears of success. Of making mistakes and being exposed as “flawed” in some way, (and then being punished for it).

When they choose to consciously contribute toward the common good, have the courage to build creative, collaborative and compassionate organizational cultures and business eco-systems. Perhaps, people will flow and flourish in our unpredictable, chaotic and complex fast paced globalized world by being fearlessly and confidently innovative!

“Feel the fear and do it anyway” is the registered trademark of Susan Jeffers, Ph.D. and is used with their permission.

At ImagineNation™ we provide innovation coaching, education and culture consulting to help businesses achieve their innovation goals. Because we have done most of the learning and actioning of new hybrid mindsets, behaviors and skill-sets already, we can help your businesses also do this by opening people up to their innovation potential.

Contact us now at janet@imaginenation.com.au to find out how we can partner with you to learn, adapt and grow your business in the digital age.