In Failure, Fear, Resilience

Does this situation sound familiar? You want to really go for that promotion but you don’t think you’re quite ready so you don’t raise your hand. You’ve been thinking about pursuing an entrepreneurial venture but are afraid of losing the steady paycheck so you don’t take the next step toward your dream. Your company offers you a challenging global assignment, but you’re not sure how you’ll navigate that so you say “No”. You want to really go after a big client but are afraid to ask for the business.

Our fears stop us from stepping outside our comfort zone. All growth toward our own highest potential lies outside of our comfort zone. What to do? Face your fears. I got to know fear pretty well as I faced the prospect of giving up a 20-year career and steady paycheck to start my own business at the height of the recession. I can honestly say that a year and half into my business, I still have my fears (including moments of utter panic). Here are some leadership practices I pursue so that I can still have my fears but they no longer have me!

Here are the five leadership practices you can try:

1) Recognize your fears as just that.  Many times we hide our fears and shroud them with rationalizations such as “I’m just not ready for that”, “I would prefer to have greater stability”, “I have other priorities right now”, “I cannot really afford to do this right now”. All of the above may be true. This is an invitation to look underneath all of these rational explanations and just check in with yourself to see if fear is underlying these explanations. If so, just acknowledge it. Don’t beat yourself up about it. Fear is completely normal. Fear is programmed into our brains as a survival mechanism. Congratulations, you’re now a card-carrying member of the human race! Think of it like this: If you are prone to heartburn, does this stop you from eating your favorite piece of pizza? Not. That’s all fear is. Just something we’re all prone to.

2) Befriend your Fears. Most of us are ashamed of our fears so we tend to avoid thinking about them. Here’s a different idea. Get to know them. Come up with nick-names for them. Our fears have a lot of wisdom to share with us that can help us get self-aware so we can be more empowered in our choices. Bring curiosity to them. Invite them over for dinner.  Have them stay for dessert. If you are journaling which I highly recommend for all my executive coaching clients, then write about your fears. Here’s what that dinner dialogue with your Fear might look like:

You: “I’m afraid to ask for that next promotion.”

Fears: “Ok, cool insight! Nice job (insert your name here).”

You: “Why am I afraid Fear?”

Fear: “Well, you don’t want to fail and then everyone will think you’re an idiot.”

You: “Yes, you’re right about that. I definitely don’t want to look like an idiot. Cool insight Fear!”

Fear: “Thanks, can I get another helping of dessert?”

You: “Sure. Help yourself. But as you’re digging into that chocolate cake, I’d like to dig deeper.  Why would I think I would fail?”

Fear: “Well remember that time in 4th grade when you were excited and raised your hand in Mrs. Jones class? She asked you to come to the board and solve that math problem and you couldn’t do it. The whole class laughed and you thought you were an idiot to raise your hand.”

You: “Yes, well I had forgotten about that.”

Fear: “Or so you thought.”

Our fears are irrational and sometimes come from beliefs and stories we’ve formed about ourselves and others from our childhood. Our first job is to accept them and get familiar with them. Okay, now we know. We’re afraid of being laughed at and called an idiot. Cool insight!

3) Journal your successes  Once we know and befriend the sources of our fears we can accept them and start the process of reframing them. Here’s what that reframe exercise in your journal might look like. List down all the times when you have pushed yourself outside of your comfort zone and succeeded. Describe that story in detail. What did you do? What caused you to take the risk? What were the outcomes? How did you feel? At this point if I come up short, I always fall back on the time I learned how to ride my bike. That was a success. Sure I got some scraped knees but it was worth it.

4) Journal your failures This may seem counter-intuitive at this point, but trust me on this one. Our failures make great stories for us to know and understand and get comfortable with failure. Write down about times when you pushed yourself outside of your comfort zone and failed. What happened? What emotions did you feel? What did you learn? What were the gifts of that experience? The point here is to get comfortable with both your successes and your failures and to know that each bring gifts that are unique that make you who you are. Steve Jobs in his Stanford Commencement speech talks about the gifts of failing and being ousted from Apple as its founder at the age of 30. He credits it for one of his most creative time periods when he went on to launch Pixar. Here’s what he said “I didn’t see it then, but it turned out that getting fired from Apple was the best thing that could have ever happened to me. The heaviness of being successful was replaced by the lightness of being a beginner again, less sure about everything. It freed me to enter one of the most creative periods of my life.”

5)  Take a First Step into Learning Zone. Ultimately where the rubber meets the road is for us to take the first step in putting ourselves outside of our comfort zone. Just outside of our comfort zone is a “Learning Zone”. I am not suggesting that you get all the way into “Panic Zone”. Test the waters. Be curious. Investigate the opportunity you would otherwise not even consider. Then take the next small step. Ask others for help. Seek out mentors who will give you a different perspective. Get your friends, followers and fans together to support you. Ultimately it is your choice whether you take the opportunity that is in front of you but make sure you celebrate the act of stepping out of your comfort zone. It will make it easier the next time.

I wish you great luck. You may always have your fears but they don’t always have to have you. It’s regular practice that takes us from fears to fierce. Let me know if these exercises resonated with you and what the outcomes were for you.  Sign-up for a 1-on-1 session with me if there is an opportunity you want to seize but your fears are holding you back.

If this resonated with you please comment, subscribe, and share with others.

Additional Resources

What I learned from Failure: Leadership Lessons in How to Fail WellWhat if we gave ourselves Permission to Fail?

Leadership practices that help us be resilient from failure: How Self Compassion Can Make You A Better Leader

Mindfulness for greater courage: Breathe. Meditate. Lead – Ten Ways Mindfulness Practice can make us Better Leaders

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