Do it! — There are few things worse than inaction. At the end of the day, you just have to do it. If I wanted more revenue, I had to make more calls and have more conversations with potential clients. Every no, just means you’re getting closer to a yes. We tend not to do something because of the fear. I had someone say, “I’m not afraid, I just don’t know what I am doing.” I responded, “Exactly, you are afraid of doing something wrong but you won’t ever know if you don’t do it first!”
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 Daniel Sleep, CPA.
Daniel Sleep is a Certified Public Accountant (AZ), Charted Retirement Planning Counselor (CRPC), Certified Tax Coach (CTC) and a Registered Investment Adviser (Series 65). He’s worked for large accounting firms like Deloitte & Touche to the small family businesses. Through it all, Daniel enjoys finding solutions for businesses. He founded the Biz Owner Guide, to provide guidance on business development, tax, compliance, accounting, finance and more for business owners.
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’?
Yes, I am 35 years old, married with two small children and I provide accounting and tax services to small business owners. I’ve worked at large corporations and small businesses but didn’t enjoy being an employee. I eventually started my own business as a 3rd party accountant and I have only looked back once!
Can you share with us the most interesting story from your career? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take aways’ you learned from that?
I’ve worked in environments where mistakes were not allowed. I was constantly paranoid about making mistakes. It prevented me from finishing work and second guessing my work. Ironically, I made more mistakes that way. It was like a self-fulfilling prophecy. I remember a particular project I was in charge of. I thought I had covered every single thing. Somehow a crucial mistake was made. I couldn’t believe it. It was like a nightmare. I remember looking up at the sky almost crying and asking myself why did this happen?
I was fired a month later. I realized that my job was killing me. I never wanted to feel that way again. A (non-medical) job shouldn’t ever be taken that seriously. Life’s too short! After that experience, I was determined to never have a boss like that again and to do what I really wanted to do. It has also been a lesson for me to not make people that work for me feel that way.
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?
I have found that you can be confident even when you are afraid. In business, there’s a lot of unknown. You need to have confidence in your own abilities or capabilities to find solutions to the unknown challenges that lay ahead.
People can feel if you are confident. It’s a leadership quality. Confidence does not mean you know everything or have control over everything. It just means you believe you are capable of taking on the challenges that are in front of you.
The first person you have to sell to is yourself.
It’s so easy to give up when things don’t work out immediately in our favor. Your determination to make things work, to put in the hard work will outweigh the people that try once and give up. This is an element of fear that we sometimes don’t recognize. When something doesn’t work out, we fear how much it will really take out of us to make it work. We want it to be easy. We fear the hard path to success.
As a business owner, you can’t really control all the outputs (outcomes) of your business. You can, however, control what you do. When I first started, I would always focus on outcomes. As I focused on what I was doing to improve the outcomes, business improved.
Focus on what you do or what you put in rather than on what you get. You’ll find that the outputs will align closer to what you want. I am not saying forget outputs. You still need to aim at a desired outcome but create the inputs or actions that you think will get you there and then evaluate at the end of the month or period.
You may find you need to modify your inputs to get better results.
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?
For me, failure meant the possibility of change. Changing from what you’ve planned would happen. In my last job where I was afraid to make mistakes was due to the culture. The management was hell bent on perfection. They wanted no deviation from their plans. My thought process was if I fail, I won’t get promoted or worse I’ll get fired. If I get fired, how will I provide?
It took me being held in an emergency room against my will to realize that all this stress and anxiety for a job was ridiculous! I was placing too much of my own value in the job and title status I had. At the end of your life, would all of this be worth it? I can’t really speak for others but I suspect that a lot of people share my experience when I say we care too much about what people think of us.
Or more accurately, what we think they think of us.
What are the downsides of being afraid of failure? How can it limit people?
The downside is it prevents true growth. Some of the greatest achievements in human history were developed through mistakes (failures). Failure is also the process to finding success. For me personally, not letting failure be experienced had a toll on my mental health.
I was constantly paranoid at work that I would be asked to do something I didn’t know how to do and fail. How do you learn without making a mistake and correcting it? This fear of failure also made things worse. Had I not been afraid of failure, I would have started my own business a lot sooner.
However, I was afraid of rejection, how to find clients, how to charge what I think I was worth. All forms of my fear of failure. Fear of failure makes us less adaptable. As a society we need to be more adaptable, not less.
In contrast, can you help articulate a few ways how becoming free from the free of failure can help improve our lives?
I will say freer instead of free because I still think my fear of failure comes back in different ways and at different levels for me. When I finally started my own business, I was still scared. I got comfortable with that fear. In many ways you have to do that. You can’t wait to be brave to take the chance. It will never come.
Instead it’s really the anticipation before the action that is the worse part! I also would tell myself. What’s the worst that could happen? It does not work out and I have to go back to working for someone. At least I tried!
The results have helped me mentally and financially. I realized a lot of my anxiety came from having a boss. That might sound weird but it’s true. My dad works the opposite way. He likes having someone else above. It feels safe to him. I feel safer being in charge but it doesn’t make it less scary when things don’t go my way.
I had been able to relocate to a nicer place, providing a life that wasn’t really possible before. I think other people can experience that same feeling. Fear of failure is a cage. Sure there’s food and shelter within the cage but if you open it, you may find that you’ll do a lot better out in the wild and there’s space to grow!
We would love to hear your story about your experience dealing with failure. Would you be able to share a story about that with us?
The stress of my job was taking a toll on my mind. I started to feel so overwhelmed that I wanted it to end. I would drive to work thinking if I get hit by a car and die, it would be such a relief. I went to the doctor but they would say if you need something for instant relief than the medication prescribed (which takes weeks to work) you need to go to the ER.
So, I finally went. They asked if I had suicidal thoughts. I didn’t like how that sounded out loud. I instead said, “no, but I would like this to end.” After the nurse spoke to the doctor over the phone, the nurse said a doctor would see me. A minute later another nurse said for me to follow her. As we proceeded, my wife and I realized that something was off. I tried to tell the nurse nevermind, we should go.
She grabbed my arm and walked me through the last door which happened to be their psych ward. I was then instructed to strip and give all my belongings to my wife. We tried to talk our way out of it but they stated that it was too late. Only a psychologist could clear me now and that could take hours or weeks!
My wife was almost hysterical. I realized then, if I try to fight this, I would make things worse. They almost had to escort my wife out forcibly. I was able to calm my wife down and had her leave with all my stuff.
Here I was, with nothing but a hospital apron to wear being monitored with a bunch of other patients that really had issues.
I’m not sure why I felt peace but I did. The realization that if this is rock bottom then there’s only one way to go; up! I also found clarity that if my job was pushing me to this then I needed to find something else. I needed to be the hero of my own journey, not the victim.
Luckily, a few hours later a psychologist had me released. I started forming a plan to leave my job. Months went by but I wasn’t sure how I was going to exit. It was still scary. Fortunately, my employer did it for me. It has been the only time I’ve been let go. I looked at all the failures that brought me to this point. I used to kick myself for them, now I look back in gratitude! I was so happy to be free!
How did you rebound and recover after that? What did you learn from this whole episode? What advice would you give to others based on that story?
After I was let go, I wasted no time and started getting to work on my terms! It’s amazing how your mind can work to find solutions if you let it. Less than a year later my accounting practice was providing me more financial freedom than any job I had ever had and I was doing something I enjoyed more than anything I had previously done in my accounting career.
My advice for anyone in a similar situation is to look at the worst case scenario of you taking a chance on yourself. When I did that, I realized that it really wasn’t that bad. I could always get another job and rebound in a different way. What I couldn’t do is stop depriving myself of possibilities.
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.
- Imagine Your ideal life — Dream of the life you imagine you’d be happiest in. Mine included living back in my home state and having a little more land and space. I wanted a quieter place to work and live. I also wanted to have my own business, and be my own boss. I wanted to be better off financially. You have to first find a destination or the goal before you can eliminate the fear. After all, how will you know what to change if you have not decided where you want to be? Make sure you put this all on paper or write in your phone/computer. You may modify this in the future as you grow.
- Evaluate where you are — Now evaluate where you are currently. I’m sure you will find that you are nowhere near where you want to be. That’s okay. Don’t get discouraged from this. We can’t make real change if we don’t take inventory of ourselves and create goals to get us closer to where or who we want to be.
- Why are you not there? — This part can hurt. I personally found that I was not really doing anything to get me where I wanted to go. It seemed like I was floating but it was simply because I didn’t have daily intentional habits in place that would get me where I truly wanted to be.
- Trickle down how to get there — Go from where you want to be to where you are now. Reengineer what you think are the steps to get there in annual, monthly, weekly and daily goals. I’d suggest starting small. Don’t overwhelm yourself or you’ll get discouraged and give up. You’ll be surprised at the small things you do that can compound to great accomplishments.
- Do it! — There are few things worse than inaction. At the end of the day, you just have to do it. If I wanted more revenue, I had to make more calls and have more conversations with potential clients. Every no, just means you’re getting closer to a yes. We tend not to do something because of the fear. I had someone say, “I’m not afraid, I just don’t know what I am doing.” I responded, “Exactly, you are afraid of doing something wrong but you won’t ever know if you don’t do it first!”
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 wonder if he meant that we have failures in many areas of our lives that compound over time. It could be in our daily habits, diet, exercise, learning, working or relationships. We neglect a lot of these things naturally. Success is only possible in one way could mean we must try in order to succeed. There is no other way to do it.
Or perhaps he meant we only succeed in one way by failing in lots of ways. It can make your head spin.
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. 🙂
Reflect and Improve! We get too caught up in the now. I think it would do us all good if we reflect on what we have done and where we would like to improve. As Bruce Lee put it, “Be happy but never satisfied”.
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 🙂
If you could get Arnold Schwarzenegger to read this or have lunch with me, I’d be on cloud nine! As a kid, I watched pretty much everything he has done. As I have gotten older, realizing what it must take to do what he accomplishes, the man loves his life and wastes no time. His book, Total Recall, has been one of my favorite autobiographies.
From his small beginnings in Thal, Austria to where he has journeyed and to now, the man is truly as big as the characters he has played in film! Someone recently asked him how he gets so much done in a day and responded, “I sleep faster”! Classic Arnold and he was 100% serious.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
Currently, the best way is through bizownerguide.com. This is where we discuss important topics within business and you can also reach me at [email protected].
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for the time you spent on this. We wish you only continued success.
Thank you for this opportunity to share my story!