Get Over It: Fear of Failure

Our team of experts provide tips for conquering your biggest personal startup challenges.

Colleen DeBaise By Colleen DeBaise

Entrepreneurship is risky business. You often have to step outside your comfort zone and embrace the unknown to take a shot at your dream idea. What if you don’t succeed?

We asked women as part of our 1,000 Stories research project about their biggest personal challenges in starting up — and “fear of failure” frequently came up. “I’m not known to be fearful, but secretly, deep down inside I am,” Corin Wright, owner of Style Haven boutique in Montclair, N.J., told us. Crystal Thaoly Bui, a former public school teacher in Honolulu working on MAi Ohana Hawaii, an educational center, also admitted that she sometimes gets scared. “I either am afraid of my own success or I fear failure,” she said. “There are days where I shirk away from my non-profit because I realize how much risk is involved.”

For this special “Get Over It” series, we’ve assembled an impressive group of entrepreneurs and small-business experts to share their best advice for how to conquer the startup jitters. Here’s how they answered the following question.

When you’re taking those first steps as an entrepreneur, what’s the best way to handle an almost paralyzing fear of failure?

Adriana GardellaI’ve found that the greatest antidote to the fear of failure is enthusiasm for the venture you’re beginning — that applies whether you’re launching a new career or a new company. If you’re passionate about what you’re doing, you may fear failure. But you’ll do it anyway.

Adriana Gardella, New York Times, @adrianagardella

Jennifer WalshAs an entrepreneur we will always have those moments of fear, but that is ok. I knew that if I didn’t move forward with a concept someone else might do it in the future. I have found within most entrepreneurs, we would rather go for it, than regret not trying at all.

Jennifer Walsh, Pride & Glory, @behindthebrand

Rod KurtzI’ve met, interviewed, and worked with thousands of entrepreneurs over the years, and I don’t know a single one that hasn’t stumbled or outright fallen flat at least once on their road to success. (Just ask Richard Branson about Virgin Cola.) They’re called battle scars for a reason. The ones that make it pick themselves back up, move past whatever knocked them down — and learn to anticipate the next big hurdle. The only thing worse than failure is being paralyzed by the specter of it, especially since our worst fears usually wind up unfounded. When I was a kid, my grandmother always encouraged me to go to “Try School.” And wouldn’t you know, she was married to one of the greatest entrepreneurs I’ve ever known. So my advice is pretty simple: Give it a shot. Break some eggs. Right now. What’s the worst that could happen?

Rod Kurtz, @rodkurtz

Ali BrownSafe IS the new risk. It’s all relative. If the “pain” of holding back your venture while you wait for everything to be perfect and get everyone’s approval isn’t greater than the “pain” of getting out there and just doing it, then you’re not an entrepreneur… yet. It feels precarious at first, but the more you step out, the more your “comfort zone” expands, and somewhere along the way you’ll realize you’ve been rewired into a new entrepreneurial being, delighted with making your own decisions.

Ali Brown, AliBrown.com, @alibrown

claudia chanRealize that fear is a good sign for many reasons. If we are not afraid, our pursuits are probably too safe to be innovative. Take it as a sign to “GO” because the greatest achievements are on the other side of fear. Experiencing fear also means exercising our courage muscles so weather through them, knowing they will shape you into the courageous and compassionate leader you are meant to be. And make this Jack Lemmon quote your screen saver: “Failure seldom stops you. What stops you is the fear of failure.”

Claudia Chan, ClaudiaChan.com, @claudiachan

James Waldinger If you suffer from paralyzing fear, starting a business isn’t for you. And you’re not alone — it’s not for most people. You have to be crazy to start a business…the odds are against you, and there are many easier paths to a good career. This route is only for those who are so passionate they can’t imagine doing anything else, and if they don’t do it they’ll regret it forever. If that’s how you feel but you’re also a little scared, then take the sage advice offered here on getting past your fear and going for it!

James Waldinger, Artivest, @artivest

ann mehlI believe it is paralyzing assumptions that are often holding us back. To undo these, I recommend testing them with safe, yet risky actions. Run an experiment related to launching your idea or growing your business and see if those assumptions are, in fact, true. These mini-tests help our brains let the assumptions/fear go and in turn, we become comfortable with a new behavior and with moving forward.

Ann Mehl, AnnMehl.com, @annmehl

felena hansonAt Hera Hub we don’t call it failure, but rather a learning moment or a pivot.  In fact, I make my team share at least one “learning moment” every week, so we can learn from each other.  Whatever you call it… change, shift, failure, pivot… it’s going to happen in business.  You better learn to embrace, and learn from it, or you will never succeed as an entrepreneur.

Felena Hanson, Hera Hub, @felenahanson

Angela Jia KimFear can actually be a smart ally, trying to get you to delve deeper. I always tell my friends and employees to listen to it. What is it trying to tell you? For example, we have a franchisee who wants to open a spa in one of NYC’s trendiest neighborhoods. Fear creeps in when we do the math. Let’s say rent is $25,000 a month, which means the spa must do 5 times rent just to break even and 8-10 times rent to be making real money. Add into the mix the buildout, 4-6 months security deposit, employees… yes, fear is good. It gets you to stop to think. In this case, how do you get to $200K per month to be making some profit? You have the opportunity to be creative and come up with something stunningly different to stand out and make it work.

Angela Jia Kim, Savor the Success, @savorthesuccess

Joanna LordAlways ask yourself “What is more true?” until you get to the heart of it. Start with a sentence that represents your worst fear like “If I fail I will lose everything and never bounce back,” and then ask yourself “What is more true?” Do that enough times until you back it out to a sentence that you can say with confidence. It’s far more likely you will get to a sentence like this “If I fail it will be a hard experience but I’ll push through and be so much better for it.” That becomes the truth. It’s up to us as women entrepreneurs to strip fear of its power. Get to the sentence that represents the challenge and risk of the situation and then go after it, full speed ahead.

Joanna Lord, Porch, @joannalord

jen grooverMy life mantra that I created to catapult myself out of my own fear is “Have more fear of regret than failure.” I repeated that mantra all day, every day, for years to overcome my old belief system and to create a new one. Identifying the root of your fear can also be powerful in helping you eradicate them.  Mine came from my father, who always said “Failure is not an option.” That can discourage a child from trying new things for fear of failure.  I now teach my children “Failure is only part of the process on the journey to success!”

Jen Groover, JenGroover.com, @jengroover

Posted: July 28, 2014

Colleen DeBaiseGet Over It: Fear of Failure
  • Sandra Ann Harris

    When it comes to leading my business @ecolunchboxes, I like to think of fear as something I need to move into and through. The danger is swerving off course to avoid it!