The 3-Headed Monster of Fear (and How to Slay It)

"What happens if I fail?” is the wrong question.

How about: "What happens if I succeed?”

From an early age, we are taught to avoid failure. In school, we learn that ten Bs are always better than nine Fs and one A. We learn to minimize risk.

Most people carry this strategy over to the real world. They live a life of Bs. And most of them are okay with an average life.

I’m not one of them. And you shouldn’t be either.

Because in the real world, unlike school, it only takes one A to make a massive impact. Just one hit. And usually, no one remembers the Fs.

If you want to do something remarkable, you are practically guaranteed to fail at some point (otherwise someone else would have done it already).

The worst thing in life is not failing. It’s settling for the status quo. [click to tweet]

In fact, I have a secret to tell you...

Failure is not actually what you fear. It’s the things attached to failure: fear of the unknown, fear of judgment, and fear of choosing wrong. These are the three faces of fear. Once you understand this 3-headed monster, you can start to slay it.

Head 1: Fear of The Unknown

Most of the time, our fear of failure is actually fear of the unknown.

It's easier for your brain to quantify what you will lose. If you left your job to start a company tomorrow, you know exactly what you would be giving up (salary, benefits, coworkers, etc.). It’s much harder to predict what you could gain.

Here’s the catch: You can fail at what you don’t want, so you might as well take a chance at doing what you love. It is actually riskier to stay in a job you hate. If you fail then, you weren’t even enjoying yourself along the way.

Fear is a sign. When you feel it, pay attention. The things you fear are often the things that would help you grow the fastest.

Head 2: Fear of Judgment

In school, we weren’t scared of the failing grade. We were scared of our teacher. And our parents. More specifically, we were scared of their disapproval.

Later in life, we became our own harshest critics. Whenever we make a decision now, we ask ourselves (usually subconsciously) what others will think. Mostly, this is a defensive tactic to avoid being hurt by people later.

But it is also a tactic to avoid hurting ourselves. The fear of the unknown is nothing compared to the fear of the known.

If you really pursued this thing with all that you had and found that it was not enough, that could be devastating. Or it could be enlightening. Depends on what you value.

Personally, I would rather live uncomfortably in my knowledge than blissfully in my ignorance. Will you take the blue pill or the red pill?

Head 3: Fear of Choosing Wrong

For our early ancestors, failure often meant death. If we decided to move our small village from this lake to one we heard was bigger, we better be damn sure that there is actually a bigger lake. Thus, our brains evolved to play it safe.

Today, most of us face the opposite problem: an abundance of choice.

The more paths you have available, the more you must ultimately reject. What if a different path led to someplace better? We fear the opportunity cost of what we might be losing.

Instead of focusing on choosing the right path, try and see your decisions simply as a series of experiments. Failure is data. Collect enough of it, and you will be able to make better decisions with more information.

If you need to find your bearings, get my True North Toolkit. Then make your move. The only thing worse than choosing the wrong path is choosing no path.

Admit It...You Need Fear

If you never failed, how could you ever measure your success?

You couldn't. Just like happiness and sadness, these things are two sides of the same coin. They are synergistic and they need each other to exist.

I have some bad news for you. Even after you slay the fear monster, it never goes away. Its heads always grow back.

The people who stay alive? They use their fear. They feel it, let it fuel them, and keep moving forward.

Remember: It only takes one big hit to make a dent in the world.

What would you do if you knew you couldn’t fail?

(Photo credit: swampa via cc)

Greg Faxon

Greg Faxon, 2829 Connecticut Avenue NW (Apt 513), Washington, DC 20008, United States