How to Banish Fear of Failure: Learn to Live With It

failure quotes

Creative Mornings — the morning breakfast lecture series started by Tina Roth Eisenberg — has tackled a wide range of topics, ranging from the abstract (like colors) to the concrete (like money). But recently, they took on a topic that is more terrifying than almost anything else to creative entrepreneurs: Failure.

Of course, almost every successful creative person has at least one story of failing spectacularly, and, if they’re savvy, they’ve also drawn at least one salient lesson from that particularly low moment. But the problem for most people is that fear and failure are so conflated, that a fear of failure becomes an inability to even try anything new.

“I think the core problem is fear,” said Brian Flynn, of Hybrid Design and Super 7 Store, who explained that to face the fear of failure, it’s best to question the worst-case scenarios.

“I ask two questions: ‘What do I have to lose?’ And ‘what’s the worst that can happen?'”

Contextualizing and solidifying your worst fears, Brian says, allows you to move past fear and make something new, because if the worst-case isn’t that bad, you can move forward more confidently. And usually, the worst thing isn’t even really that bad at all: Fear of judgement. Which is scary, to be sure, but it isn’t nearly as bad as grinding away at a job you hate.

In New York, former Svpply CEO Ben Pieratt explained how his failures had helped him learn what he was and wasn’t good at, and how to avoid ending up in positions where he’s working a lot toward something that doesn’t really make him happy.

“You can grunt your way into a lot. And if you’re a good grunter, you can get far with that,” he explained, adding that “the opportunity cost of how much energy you put into forcing yourself to do things — if you could apply the same energy toward what you love to do, then what you love to do will get a lot better.”

Failure, Ben said, is going to happen, but how you ride it out and learn from it determines how much you stand to get out of any given situation.  He shared this diagram of how it feels to make something new.

failure chart

Much like Brian, Ben sees fear of failure as a form of self-doubt.

“If you have faith when you’re on the downside that there’s going to be an upside, if you know that [failure] is just part of the process, then you can kind of just give yourself over to it. And it’s a different feeling, and you can approach things with more confidence.”

Nashville-based art director specializing in design and illustration A. Micah Smith said his feelings after one particular failure were so bad, he genuinely wondered if it was his motivation that was to blame. But, like Ben said, he realized that it was just part of doing the work.

“I asked myself, ‘should I not be ambitious?’ And I finally just came to that conclusion that it’s awesome that I got to [do the work]. It’s not that I wanted to fail, but it was just part of becoming who I am,” he said.

“You have to enjoy that process. It’s awful while it’s happening…but at the end, failure just isn’t failure. It’s the not-trying that’s the real failure.”

Get more inspiration from Creative Mornings, and check to see if there’s a lecture in a town near you, on their website

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Hanna Brooks Olsen is a writer and editor for CreativeLive, longtime reporter, and the co-founder of Seattlish. Follow her on Twitter at @mshannabrooks or go to her website for more stuff.