The first step is to recognize that you fear something, anything, including failure. Then think about ‘why’ you fear it by scanning your brain for the experiences that led you to feel this way. Thereafter, ask yourself, ‘do I want to do something about it?’ If the answer is yes, think about what you will do to overcome it. Then do it! Thereafter, self-reflect on your action and associated emotion, and do it again. Overcoming something you fear begins with you. It is a mental and emotional discipline, and it has to come from within.
The Fear of Failure is one of the most common restraints that holds people back from pursuing great ideas. Imagine if we could become totally free from the fear of failure. Imagine what we could then manifest and create. In this interview series, we are talking to leaders who can share stories and insights from their experience about “Becoming Free From the Fear of Failure.” As a part of this series, I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Bina Patel.
Bina Patel, Ph.D. is an Ombuds, Arbiter, and an Organizational Health Strategist. She is the founder of Transformational Paradigms, providing conflict resolution and ombuds services to organizations in all sectors. Dr. Patel provides leadership and career coaching to leaders at all levels. Her area of expertise includes establishing ombuds & alternative dispute resolution programs, as well as providing conflict resolution consultative services. She is an author, public speaker, professor, trainer, and consultant. She has published several case studies related to workplace diversity, multiculturalism, and racism in the workplace, as well as female suicide terrorism. Dr. Patel’s book Female Suicide Terrorism: Understanding the Radicalization Process focuses on human behavior.
Thank you so much for joining us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’?
It’s been a journey and the journey continues….
In our culture, when individuals are born, we have astrologers who create astrology charts for us that provide insights into our predicted life path. My predicted life path included two marriages and no college education. In fact, the astrologer explicitly stated that I would not finish college. Well, here I am today. I would like to say he was partially right since I am a happily divorced Lady, but incorrect about my education. I fell in love with studying and school when I started my graduate program. I have always been inquisitive by nature. Once I began enjoying academia, I realized as an adult that I was probably a Montessori child. Back in the day, my parents had no idea what this was until my sister had her kids and introduced the concept to them. Structured schooling is an environment that does not make space for Socratic thinking. Hence, I discovered the power of creativity and free thinking in my early twenties and have not looked back. In saying all this, my fear of failure was probably diminished when my mom read my horoscope to me as a pre-teen. As she read each sentence, she told me NOT to not believe in any of it because astrologers were not God, and I would succeed. There was a small part of me that did fear failing in school. I am not your typical Indian kid who was good at math and science. I loved literature, still do! I learned to work hard early on in life, probably in elementary school. I was taught by my parents early on that hard work and hard work with sincerity always paid off. So, I realized that if I worked hard and kept learning, nothing could stop me. And with that mindset, I would ask my teachers to provide me extra help with any content that I did not understand. Once I learned that things would not come easy for me, everything became easier and hard work became a conscious norm.
Can you share with us the most interesting story from your career?
Where do I start? I have so many to share. In my line of work there are days I believe I have heard everything under the sun, but this specific case took me by surprise. In the work setting, a place of professionalism, I had an individual who told me that he had sexual desires about a colleague. He was married, something I knew about as I had seen him and his wife around town, and with introductions, I had come to know his spouse. Anyway, he continued to explain the agony he was experiencing whenever he saw this female, and wished his wife was like her. So, I inquired if he was seeing this person outside of the workplace, and he said no, in fact, the female did not know he was having such desires and fantasies about her. I asked him how much of these fantasies were disruptive to his production, bringing it back to the workplace, and he said all the time. After several reminders of my role and function, I recommended that he seek outside therapy as this is something I could not help with. Let’s just say that I felt like running as fast as the wind could blow me. This was a true Southwest, “wanna get away moment”. And now I can safely say, as an ombuds, I have pretty much heard everything under the sun!
Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take aways’ you learned from that?
A major take away I learned was the trust this individual bestowed upon me. I firmly believe that it takes courage for anyone to speak up and share their concerns, especially something that was so personal. I felt honored this individual trusted me enough to share something so private. This was the satisfaction that I received over and over again from many visitors/clients who came to see me. This is why I love what I do. The feeling is hard to describe. And I don’t take trust lightly. I personally have a hard time trusting just about anyone. It takes time and building a relationship to do so, and with that, I ensure whenever someone comes to speak to me, that I always cultivate a space built on psychological safety.
You are a successful leader. Which three character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success? Can you please share a story or example for each?
Integrity, Resiliency, and Hard Work
I was raised by a family who lives and breathes all three-character traits. I believe leaders are born. And along their journey, they recognize they are leaders. Education and coaching help to solidify what type of a leader you will be. But that innate leadership is something we are born with because it is part of our personality and identity. The journey of self-discovery goes a long way and is never-ending. Integrity is at the center of my family values. It is the center of my personal values. Integrity is being honest with yourself, and others, and when no one is looking, always doing what is right. It is a true sense of honesty that is always built around self-accountability. When you are honest with yourself, it will be projected via your actions. And it shows up in your work. As an organizational ombudsman, my individual practice is built with these three traits. I am honest in my work. I am true to the ethical and moral elements of ombuds, and more importantly, I work with directness. My honesty is my strength. What you see is what you get.
Resiliency — I have learned in life that every experience adds more muscle to your backbone. When I first entered the workforce, working in corporate America, I met a few deceitful and toxic people. I did not realize people could be so cruel and malicious, but as I did back then, and do today, I have never compromised my values for the environment I work in. By remaining true to who I am, has helped me become stronger, remain professional, and put my feelings aside for the sake of the mission. I often tell my visitors and clients, ‘you don’t have to like your colleague or boss, but you should be professional and mature enough to put your personal feelings aside for the sake of the mission”. And I am a firm believer that with resilience and honest, sincere hard work, my work will speak for itself. With resiliency, I welcome feedback from people I respect and are sincere in their feedback. I never view feedback as critical or intimidating, rather, I have always seen it as an opportunity to grow. I cannot relate to anyone who says they are intimidated by others. My mindset is such that I am a learner by heart. I am always seeking to grow, be better and do better for myself and the people I serve. My dose of daily resiliency begins with self-reflection. Self-reflection is something my mother has taught me from a very young age, as well as empathy. In my journey, my experiences have made me emotionally resilient and mentally strong. I am confident in who I am and as a result, doing my best to make better decisions.
Hard work — never stop working hard! All my character traits are intertwined and along the way, they strengthen each other with every experience. Hard work is fun and that comes with an attitude of learning and curiosity. My personal desire for knowledge and thirst for learning is probably misunderstood. Like my sisters and parents, especially my father, reading about politics, philosophies, business, and other genres should be at the forefront. My hard work ethic shows up in my day-to-day starting with my workouts. And it shows up in everything else including my attitude and most importantly my work. I love working hard. It’s infuriatingly addictive. ☺
Ok, thank you for all that. Now let’s shift to the main focus of this interview. We would like to explore and flesh out the concept of becoming free from failure. Let’s zoom in a bit. From your experience, why exactly are people so afraid of failure? Why is failure so frightening to us?
I have learned over the years that people are afraid of losing control. Fear is an emotion. Control is an action. Fear is a hidden emotion shielded by assumptions and a fixed mindset. Fear, if it is not embraced will add more fuel to an insecure personality and limit self-growth. I believe people are not afraid of failing, but rather fear the consequences of losing control and are guided by what others think of them.
What are the downsides of being afraid of failure? How can it limit people?
The downside of being afraid of failure is self-limitation. Any individual who may fear failure may get in their own way. For example, when individuals do not know how to think above their feelings, they react on the spot and make emotionally led decisions that lack good judgment. Our own fears are opportunities for self-growth, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually. Recognizing that you may be an emotional individual is the first step in understanding how you may limit yourself and make decisions accordingly. I know this about me. I learned to take the emotion out of a problem when I received professional training in grad school. My divorce was the biggest test. Taking the emotion out of it was hard, but my Chair taught me well. And today, when I work with visitors and clients, I am able to be myself, be emphatical, and yet see the situation without emotions for what it is through non-verbal behaviors, patterns, and trends with what an individual is saying. And for me personally, when I help an individual, I also learn a little more about myself. The best way to recognize your own self-limitations as they may impact that fear of failure is to self-reflect every single day!
In contrast, can you help articulate a few ways how becoming free from the free of failure can help improve our lives?
It’s truly liberating ☺ It is a euphoric feeling. Hard to describe, and you will know when you feel it! To begin, recognize your fears in real-time, as they are happening. When your body feels a sensation related to anxiety and fear, where do you feel it? Identify it and ask yourself why you are feeling this way. Now ask yourself, do I want to do something about it? If yes, then do it. If not, then think about this: do I want to continue living in this emotional distress? It all begins with you. And avoid any thoughts of self-victimization and self-pity as this will cloud your judgment. You will remain trapped emotionally and cognitively. Rather, be honest with yourself when self-reflecting. And once you have embraced a mistake or failure, pick yourself back up and move forward. The key is to move forward by growing from your mistakes. Find comfort that many successful people fail and have failed and continue to succeed. This journey begins with you.
Journaling is a good way to start documenting your journey. There is something about writing out your thoughts. I also say, if you are not into writing, then create videos and do a vlog, and share your thoughts out loud to the camera. Make a commitment to yourself that you will face what you fear by coming up with your own plan and sticking to it. If you keep a promise to yourself, make sure to remain true to it. Creating commitments must come with self-respect, self-love, and boundaries. If you enforce your own boundaries, you will always come from a place of self-respect and self-love. Here is an example. An individual I once knew had issues with committed relationships due to her past experiences. She feared being in a committed relationship. I asked her to think about ‘what’ about a relationship she feared and why? And it should be more than just avoiding getting hurt. I had to make her think deeper because beneath that surface of getting hurt was the fear of being vulnerable. Vulnerability is a real fear for so many people who like to be in control and need control. This was the hidden element beneath the pain. With every experience, as a leader, we learn to be resilient, especially when hard work and integrity are part of our personalities.
An important factor in being free of failure is always having a growth mindset, where self-reflection, curiosity, and an ever-learning attitude are at the forefront. When life’s setbacks are seen as opportunities for success, failure will never be perceived as such. Rather, failure will be a door to grow and move on.
We would love to hear your story about your experience dealing with failure.
I come from a culture that sees success and failure through the following channels: Hard work in school pays off with a solid career that brings in loads of money. As an accomplished and educated individual, you will most likely find a very good match for marriage. The Indian culture to this day is very much about success which is mostly defined by tangibles. And yet, our culture also ensures that every individual knows the power of karma from the day they are born. Karma is tied to our actions and values, which are taught at home. And as you get older, how you choose to act on your values in all situations, personally and professionally, is really up to you. It’s not just about tangibles but really the person you become with the tangibles. This includes remaining humble, kind, and honest with a successful career. It’s very important to be sincere in all that we do, including how we treat people.
Would you be able to share a story about that with us?
Sure! As I mentioned earlier, my divorce taught me a lot about people and personalities. When I found out that my ex-husband was unfaithful, I looked inward to see ‘why’ this had happened to me. I am not the type of individual who would cheat anyone, and I loved him unconditionally. Why was this happening to me? I was hung up on this question for a very long time. But what I did learn was never to see my marriage as a failure. There were women who specifically made it a point to tell me that I should not give marital advice as my marriage had failed. And what I would tell them was to learn from my blind spots. When you love someone with no conditions, you may overlook the blind spots. My marriage didn’t fail. He failed me. I am not bitter by any means. I had to learn to forgive to move on. I recognized that it was not up to me to forgive his actions, the universe would take care of it all. I had to learn to move on, which was very hard, and to this day, I am grateful for what has happened. I have found my success and strength from it all. And I am wiser.
How did you rebound and recover after that? What did you learn from this whole episode?
The long journey of dating began. It took me four years to start dating and trusting people in general. My experience taught me to question how to trust people. I began to see people through their actions. If the words did not align with their actions, and there were plenty of inconsistencies, I did not want that person in my life! And I did not want to get hurt. More importantly, when I dug a little deeper inside myself, I recognized I was afraid of being vulnerable. Slowly, I began to come out of my shell, and by helping others in my daily work, I began to heal. Healing is a journey; I am still healing. We never stop healing. Healing is part of self-growth. It’s beautiful and vexing at the same time. Being cautiously vulnerable is a major step forward that I have found myself taking and it is liberating!
What advice would you give to others based on that story?
I share my experiences openly. I firmly believe that we are meant to learn from each other. Learning is beautiful and everyone who comes into our lives comes in for a reason. My best advice is never to feel sorry for oneself and self-victimize. I am grateful for the experience and while it was painful, it has made me who I am today. And yes, I still believe in love. In fact, in my downtime, I watch Pride and Prejudice and Hallmark movies. It makes me happy.
Fantastic. Here is the main question of our interview. In your opinion, what are 5 steps that everyone can take to become free from the fear of failure”? Please share a story or an example for each.
The first step is to recognize that you fear something, anything, including failure. Then think about ‘why’ you fear it by scanning your brain for the experiences that led you to feel this way. Thereafter, ask yourself, ‘do I want to do something about it?’ If the answer is yes, think about what you will do to overcome it. Then do it! Thereafter, self-reflect on your action and associated emotion, and do it again. Overcoming something you fear begins with you. It is a mental and emotional discipline, and it has to come from within. There are professionals who can help you like ombuds, therapists, psychologists, and others. But the realization to want to start doing something about it has to come from within you. And I always tell myself, what’s the worst thing that can happen if I fail? Find comfort in it and do something about it because every single human being experiences failure in some way or another. Pick yourself up and keep moving. Yes, there is pain and hurt, but with that, you will become stronger.
The famous Greek philosopher Aristotle once said, “It is possible to fail in many ways…while to succeed is possible only in one way.” Based on your experience, have you found this quote to be true? What do you think Aristotle really meant?
I appreciate Aristotle and his philosophies. Failure and success are subjectively defined and perceived. And as we grow wiser with every experience, success comes in many ways including learning from those very same failures. ☺
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the greatest amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
In our society today, the structure has been created to define what is just and unjust. Such structure is threaded into social norms and religious beliefs. We have laws that are created to uphold wrong and unjust. So why is there such a debate on something as honorable as doing right by women’s rights and racism? Hate in our society has caused a major division. And from hate, we are seeing how people in power are impeding basic human rights globally. Where is justice when the rules only apply to just a few? I wish I could start a movement on accountability for inequity and hate.
We are blessed that some very prominent leaders read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US, with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them 🙂
This is hard, I want to see a handful of people! I will say Barack and Michelle Obama. Their journey is incredible. I want to hear about their personal journeys especially working in an environment that was filled with unjust and hate. How did they remain resilient? They are human after all and share emotions like you and I.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
You can find me on social media:
IG & Twitter: @binapatelphd
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for the time you spent on this. We wish you only continued success.