How to overcome your fear of failure in 6 steps

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published 22 June 2022

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

Confidence is an important contributor to success and being able to maintain your confidence is a useful ability in any role. It's also important to remember that success is rarely a guarantee and that failure is always possible. Understanding this and ensuring that fear of failure doesn't undermine your confidence is therefore an important contributor to long-term personal development. In this article, we explain what fear of failure can mean, what causes it and some useful actions you can take to address it.

What is fear of failure?

To learn how to overcome the fear of failure, it's important to understand what it is. It can be somewhat difficult to define, because failure can mean different things to different people. You probably have your own values, priorities and criteria for success that differ significantly to those of others. Consequently, the failure that you might be afraid of could be very different to someone else's. Although failure may mean different things to different people, the fear of failure often has the same result, namely that it can stop you from pursuing your goals or taking the steps to progress.

For example, you may work in a role that isn't ideal for you. You might also wish to start your own business, but fear of failure could undermine your confidence and therefore prevent you from taking the first steps. There are a number of different ways that people can experience a fear of failure, but it can result in:

  • reluctance to try new things or start new projects that may challenge you

  • low self-esteem or self-confidence and the use of negative language

  • self-sabotage, which can take the form of procrastination, excessive anxiety or the failure to follow through with your goals

  • excessive perfectionism, which can cause further stress, time wasting and even further procrastination

Related: How to build confidence at work

What causes a fear of failure?

The fear of failure can have links to a lot of different issues and can be closely related to low self-esteem, anxiety or other personal issues. It can also be a result of misfortune in the past or an unsupportive social environment. For many people, fear of failure can arise after they experience a failure that causes them embarrassment. For example, if you gave an important presentation in front of your class in school and it went wrong, you may have felt rather embarrassed and nervous.

This is why it can be quite easy to rationalise the fear. It's based on a real event that occurred in the past and in this case might even be a fear of repeated failure. Of course, in many cases it might just be a feeling of apprehension that isn't based on a previous experience. Some people naturally overthink and might therefore be more prone to experiencing this fear.

Related: Reasons for failure in life

How to overcome a fear of failure

Below are a number of steps you can use to overcome a fear of failure. It's also important to note that, while some of these tips may work for some people, they may not suit others. You might find that just one or two of these steps are sufficient to help you overcome that fear or you may benefit from employing all of them. As with anything, it's important to remember that overcoming any fear can take a lot of work, willpower and patience. Here are some tips you can use to start overcoming your fear of failure:

1. Think positively

This is a suggestion that you've probably heard many times already and it can be an important tool that can help you to overcome your fear, especially if you're regularly using negative language to describe yourself. Staying positive most of the time can help to boost your confidence levels and can also help to offset some of the anxiety you may be feeling.

Rather than focusing about all the things in your personal or professional life that have gone wrong, take the time to think about what went wrong and then work out what you learnt from the experience. By choosing to focus on your failures as learning experiences, it may help you to overcome your fear of failure as these events are not really failures at all. It's also important to remember that a positive attitude can make you more likely to notice and exploit opportunities, therefore decreasing the probability of failure in addition to the fear of it.

Related: How to stop overthinking and increase productivity at work

2. Set clearly defined goals

Another way to overcome your fear of failure is to set more reasonable goals. Divide your ambitions between goals that are easy to achieve and goals that are more aspirational. By splitting these goals, you can begin to overcome your fear of failure by working on the goals that you're more likely to be able to achieve. Once you complete these goals, you can start to move on to the more aspirational ones. Better yet, your practical goals can help you to achieve your more aspirational goals.

Related: What is the difference between goals and objectives?

3. Keep things in perspective

Thinking about the worst possible outcomes can help balance your fears. Although it might seem counter-intuitive, it can be a beneficial way to help you identify when you're limiting yourself through fear. For example, if you're applying for a role, first consider the positives, such as what would happen if you got the job. Next, think about what might happen if you don't get the job. Usually, the worst possible outcome may not be as bad as you expect it to be. And because the worst outcome is so unlikely, you're likely to feel better when it doesn't transpire.

Thinking about the worst-case scenarios, whether you get the job or not, can help you to plan to avoid these scenarios. In worst-case scenarios, think about how you can deal with them in a constructive and positive way. Try to be realistic when you visualise these scenarios in your head and try not to over-exaggerate. Being unbiased, practical and putting things in perspective can help you to overcome your fear and avoid it in future.

4. Evaluate yourself honestly

Honest self-evaluation is an important part of overcoming a fear of failure. If applying for a role scares you, evaluating your skills and strengths can help to remind you that you're capable of achieving your goals. Take the time to write a list of all of your qualities, skills and qualifications. Then, use the job description of your ideal role to see how your skills match up to what companies are looking for.

Most of the time, you may notice that you actually do have a lot of skills that you require to succeed in the position. This technique of self-evaluation can also help you to work out the areas where it may be necessary to gain more experience. If you find any skills that you're lacking, take the time to improve them. Taking positive steps like this to develop yourself can also increase you confidence.

Related: How to write a self-evaluation: tips, benefits and example

5. Have a contingency plan

No matter how hard you try, failures are going to occur occasionally. Even the most successful people in life have failed during their career. If you're struggling with applying for jobs or achieving new career goals due to your fear of failure, a way to overcome this is to create a contingency plan or a 'plan B', that you can employ if your primary goals appear unattainable.

Not only can this help to mitigate the impact of a failure, but it can also help you to overcome your fear of failure, knowing that you have a plan to fall back on. For example, if you want to apply to your dream job, consider applying to some other jobs that may be less desirable to you but perhaps more attainable. Then, if you don't get your dream job, you still have more positions available to you. In some cases, you may find that these alternatives are actually much more pleasant than you initially expected.

6. Consider getting professional help

Although the above suggestions can help many people to overcome their fear of failure, it may not help some people, especially if your fear of failure is a result of a past experience or underlying issue. While these steps may offer you some support, some people may need more professional help to overcome their fear of failure.

If your fear of failure is a result of a mental health condition or a traumatic experience, it's typically a good idea to speak to a professional therapist, counsellor or medical professional. Alternatively, if you're looking for work-specific advice, consider going to your local job centre or finding a mentor. If you're in full-time education, you may find dedicated counsellors that you can speak with or you can confide in a trusted friend or family member.

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