Everyone hates to fail, but for some people, failing presents such a significant psychological threat their motivation to avoid failure exceeds their motivation to succeed. Their fear of failure causes them to unconsciously sabotage their chances of success, in a variety of ways.
Writing in PsychologyToday.com, psychologist Guy Winch says, “People who have a fear of failure are motivated to avoid failing not because they cannot manage the basic emotions of disappointment, anger, and frustration that accompany such experiences but because failing also makes them feel deep shame.”
Shame gets to the core of our egos, our identities, our self-esteem, and our feelings of emotional well-being. The damaging nature of shame makes it urgent for those who have a fear of failure to avoid the psychological threats associated with failing by finding unconscious ways to mitigate the implications of a potential failure—for example, by buying unnecessary new clothes for a job interview instead of reading up on the company—which allows them to use the excuse, “I just didn’t have time to fully prepare.”
Here’s the good news: Even successful business founders feared failure
Adam Grant, a Wharton professor, and author interviewed several well-known entrepreneurs including Larry Page, Elon Musk, Jack Dorsey and Mark Cuban in researching his book, Originals. Guess what? They all felt the same fear of failure the rest of us do, according to Grant. They just responded to it differently. Here’s how:
“In work and in life, there are two kinds of failure: actions and inactions. You can fail by starting a company that goes out of business or by not starting a company at all.”
According to Grant, “When most of us fear failure, we walk away from our boldest ideas. Instead of being original, we play it safe, selling conventional products and familiar services.”
“Great entrepreneurs have a different response to the fear of failure. Yes, they’re afraid of failing, but they’re even more afraid of failing to try.”
When people reflect on their biggest regrets, they wish they could redo the inactions, not the actions. Ultimately, what we regret is not the failure, but the failure to act, says Grant.