OVERCOMING FEAR OF FAILURE
A key ingredient to your personal and professional advancement
Risk taking ultimately leads to greater
success and resilience in the face of adversity.
By F. Scott Addis, CPCU, CRA, ACRA, CRA, TRA, ASA
Theodore “Teddy” Roosevelt has been celebrated for delivering a number of eloquent, insightful speeches both during and after his presidency from 1901 to 1909. Among his many remarkable public addresses, “Citizenship in a Republic” stands out as the most memorable and is commonly refer-red to as “The Man in the Arena.” Presented in Paris to a crowd of more than 2,000 on April 23, 1910, one year after he left the White House, this speech is best understood with an appreciation of Roosevelt’s background.
Born in Manhattan, New York, in 1858, Teddy suffered from poor health and endured severe night-time asthma attacks during his early years. As a child, he perched from a window in New York City to watch Abraham Lincoln’s funeral procession. At age 26, his first wife and mother passed away on the same night. Depressed, he moved to North Dakota, where he developed his sense of adventure.
He later joined the U.S. Calvary Rough Riders and successfully led a seemingly impossible charge up San Juan Hill during the Spanish-American War. At age 42, he ascended to the presidency after William McKinley was assassinated, becoming the youngest person in history to serve as President of the United States.
Throughout his presidency, the leaders of his own political party opposed him. Following a boxing injury in the White House, he became blind in one eye. During his campaign for a third term in 1912, Teddy was shot in an assassination attempt and lived the rest of his life with the bullet lodged in his chest.
After losing this election, he led an expedition to the Amazon basin where he nearly died from a tropical disease. Despite these obstacles, Teddy Roosevelt demonstrated rugged individuality, exhibited a vibrant personality, and led an adventurous lifestyle.
Now to his famous speech, “The Man in the Arena”:
“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who actually is in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasm, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”
The message of “The Man in the Arena” has resonated with individuals across generations and industries, as it speaks to the universal human desire for achievement and the fear of failure that can hold us back. In the context of the insurance industry, the speech emphasizes the importance of taking calculated risks and being willing to face challenges head on.
Risk management is the very foundation upon which your success is built. As you navigate the complex landscape of risks and uncertainties, are you met with fear of failure? In such moments, it can be tempting to play it safe and avoid taking risks altogether. However, as Teddy Roosevelt so eloquently stated, it is only by stepping into the arena and embracing the possibility of failure that you achieve greatness.
Risk taking ultimately leads to greater success and resilience in the face of adversity.
Fear of failure
So, what is fear of failure? Psychology Today defines it as “the emotional, cognitive, and behavioral reaction to the negative consequences you anticipate for failing to achieve a goal.” It involves imagined threats. While the fear is real, the threat is not—they are merely a creation of the mind or simply a product of your imagination.
When you experience fear of failure, your anxiety and stress encompass the perception that your plan, project, solution, or goal may crash and burn. The symptoms include muscle tension, sweating, a faster heart rate, faster and shallower breathing, headaches, and panic attacks.
Your fear of failure may also take a direct hit on your self-confidence and self-worth. When you experience fear of failure, you are unconsciously handicapping and sabotaging yourself.
In the book The Other “F” Word, authors John Danner and Mark Coopersmith teach us that “failure is a personal, painful, and emotional experience, which is why it can be so hard to address. Its memory lingers and deepens our fear of failure going forward. In fact, both the memory and fear of failure distort our ability to realistically confront and manage it rationally.”
A variety of causes of fear of failure include upbringing (not living up to expectations during childhood), genetics (family members with anxiety and stress), and trauma (fear of a repeat incident). The impacts of fear of failure can take a physical and psychological toll. Let’s look at a few:
- Self-confidence. Fear of failure impedes a feeling of confidence as one comes to believe that his or her actions have little or no impact over outcomes. It is evidenced by low self-esteem and negative self-talk. People with low self-confidence stay in their comfort zone and avoid risks wherever possible.
- Social self esteem. People who fear failure often dwell on their inadequacies and shortcomings rather than their God-given talents. Rejection sends their self-worth into a tailspin. Rejection sensitivity makes these folks cautious and, in many cases, unwilling to take social risks. They pay a steep price as they rarely venture beyond their immediate social network.
- Perfectionism. People who set an unrealistic bar for success often live with a nagging fear that they will not live up to these standards. Perfectionism is usually the result of attempting to achieve an internal ideal. And it can be motivated by fear, such as how others may perceive them.
- Motivation. When people continue to experience failure, they sometimes become bitter and resentful. Often, they have difficulty getting started on projects and have no vision for the future.
- Relationships. Fear of failure often triggers a feeling of worthlessness. For that reason, people with self-doubt pull back and do not enjoy the abundant joys and benefits of deep relationships. These folks are not able to hear the roar of their adoring fans.
- Innovation. Fear of failure impacts a person’s willingness to take risks, expand creativity, and innovate … thus compromising opportunities for success. If a person is serious about innovation, he or she must embrace failure and the risks associated with it.
Does fear of failure always have negative outcomes? No, it is actually an untapped and misunderstood strategic resource. When you experience stress and anxiety, these feelings serve as an alarm that it’s time to take action. Many of the most successful people in the world use fear of failure as a motivator. Rather than fearing failure, they embrace it.
In The Other “F” Word, Danner and Coopersmith define failure as “a mistake or unwelcome outcome that matters.” They teach us the following important lessons about failure.
- Failure is today’s lesson for tomorrow.
- Failure contains secrets that tell us what skills we need to develop.
- Accepting failure without learning from and leveraging is a recipe for mediocrity.
- Failure enables us to reevaluate our strategies for success.
- Managed correctly, failure is a vital resource for resiliency.
- Many great successes are derived from failure.
Thomas Edison once said, “I have not failed. I’ve successfully found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”
Risk management is the very foundation upon which your success is
built. As you navigate the complex landscape of risks
and uncertainties, are you met with fear of failure?
Overcoming fear of failure
Let’s take a look at seven strategies to deal with fear of failure. You may find one or more works for you.
- Positive thoughts. Positivity will improve your self-confidence and reduce anxiety and stress. Focus on success not failure. Visualize the positive outcomes of your actions.
- Create a fear list. Pinpoint what you fear. As you visit each one, you will see that most are simply imagined threats that do not present danger or harm. Analyze “what if” scenarios and potential outcomes. Own your fear.
- Don’t dwell on what others think. Caring too much about what others think creates unnecessary anxiety. Value the opinion of the person who matters the most—yours!
- Support system. Reach out to those who care most about you. Their encouragement, guidance, counsel, and constructive feedback will be of the utmost value.
- Redefine failure. Failure creates the opportunity to learn and grow. Every human being fails. Get rid of the baggage associated with the term. Realize that your ultimate success is a product of failures.
- Master the art of resilience. Resilient people have positive attitudes toward failure and coping mechanisms. They have a supportive network and make their emotional well-being a priority.
- Goal orientation. When your desire to achieve overshadows your fear of failure, you will move ahead with purpose and passion. Never lose sight of your big picture goals!
Overcoming fear of failure … a key ingredient to your personal and professional advancement.
Scott Addis is CEO of Beyond Insurance and an industry leader. His agency was recognized by Rough Notes magazine as a Marketing Agency of the Month, he was a Philadelphia finalist for Inc. magazine’s “Entrepreneur of the Year” award, and was selected as one of the “25 Most Innovative Agents in America.”
Beyond Insurance is a consulting firm that offers leadership training, cultural transformation, and talent and tactical development for enlightened professionals who are looking to take their organization to the next level. Since 2007, the proven and repeatable processes of Beyond Insurance have transformed agencies as measured by enhanced organic growth, productivity, profitability, and value in the marketplace.
To learn more about Beyond Insurance, contact Scott at firstname.lastname@example.org.