Incrementalism is the one way that many people overcome their fears. In my case, climbing some other mountains and ruins in the prior years acclimated me to heights and allowed me to at least try the Inca Trail and other ruins at a later time.

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 Dr. David D. Schein.

Dr. David D. Schein, MBA, JD, Ph.D. is a Professor, Endowed Chair of Management and Marketing and Director of Graduate Programs at the Cameron School of Business at the University of St. Thomas. His new book is: Bad Deal for America. He is also the author of The Decline of America: 100 Years of Leadership Failures (2018).

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’?

I grew up in a large family, the oldest of 7 children. Neither of my parents had a college degree. However, they emphasized a can-do attitude from my earliest memory. They expected us to excel in school and go to college. I never really thought about failing at anything. I did have some rough years in my early grades, but later excelled in school.

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?

Attending an Ivy League college in Philadelphia on a full scholarship, I found that I was more interested in business than the pre-med track where I began. I later switched to economics. During my freshman year, I began doing a one-hour weekly entertainment show on the college FM radio station. Later, I was asked to move the show, “The Arts Menagerie,” to WHYY, the Philadelphia Public Radio Station. With my visibility, I was soon asked to help artists, folks singers and rock bands with their business management. I founded TAM Productions and ran the agency until I left Philly to attend the MBA program at UVA.

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?

  1. Simple hard work — see my school commitment above. I have earned BA, MBA, JD and Ph.D. degrees.
  2. Persistence — nothing comes easy if it is worthwhile. Starting a business from scratch like the radio show and TAM Productions was demanding. Later, I started a law firm and a consulting firm and both are still operating years later.
  3. Value those around you — I have been blessed to work with many wonderful people in my life. Starting with my parents, I also had some great teachers over the years. In my various business ventures and university positions, I have worked with many fine and supportive colleagues.

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 will defer to the psychologists on this one. My two big fears in life are heights and enclosed spaces. I was born with them and cannot remember any specific incident that triggered either one.

What are the downsides of being afraid of failure? How can it limit people?

In my case, I would have missed a lot if I could not at least temporarily overcome my fear of both heights and enclosed spaces. In my travels, I have now been in a small plane frequently, a helicopter and a hot air balloon. I have hiked the area around Machu Picchu and various ruins in other mountainous areas.

In contrast, can you help articulate a few ways how becoming free from the free of failure can help improve our lives?

No matter what fear you have, if you cannot overcome it, you can miss a great deal. It could be a business deal or it could be like my case, certain travel adventures.

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?

I remember when I was younger not being able to do things that required going up heights or being in very enclosed spaces. I missed certain things that could have been a lot of fun.

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?

I have a lifetime fear of heights and being caught in an enclosed space. In 2018, I went to Machu Picchu to see the ruins. I encountered both lifetime fears. As part of the tour, I hiked Day 5 of the Inca Trail. This was an arduous half-day hike up a steep trail. That part was a challenge, but I did not “fear” it. In fact, a group from a California college was hiking the Trail at the same time and my group stayed even with them all the way to the top of the trail. There was a fascinating ruin at the top of the Trail, the Inca Ruins of Wiñay Wayna. Our guide provided lunch there. The view down a steep gorge from an altitude of 2,700 meters is impressive. Being on the ground, I did not have a fear of heights. There was deep sense of accomplishment to have reached that level in a reasonable amount of time.

There was then a hike of about two hours across fairly flat terrain. I was feeling pretty good about the whole thing. Then, the guide said only one thing left in the way — “50 Steps.” Well, after the hike to that point, how bad could it be? I found out when I arrived at the bottom of the 50 Steps. It is a vertical wall about two stories high. There is no alternative path. The stones in the wall leave a small amount of space out from the stone above it. There are no hand holds or other safety options. I decided that I was surely not going to retrace the last 5-plus hours of hiking. I then went horizontal and crab-walked up the wall without looking up or down and without stopping. It only took about 10 agonizing minutes. Felt a lot longer. The Temple of the Sun was at the top, affording me my first view of Machu Picchu.

After hiking to the shuttle bus station at the entrance to Machu Picchu, I went to my hotel for the night. I returned the next morning and toured the fascinating “Lost City of the Incas.” After touring the city, I exited the back gate to the entrance of Wayna Picchu, a mountain behind the ruins. It is 2667 meters above sea level. The challenge for me included more steep trails, although there were some handholds. The top part of the trail is one way up, through the top, and back down the other side. My problem was that there was a small tunnel through the rock at the top of the mountain. To get down, I had to squeeze into the tunnel with limited light and traverse the approximately 30 feet to the down side. Faced again with no alternative, I surrendered my backpack to my guide and squeezed through the tunnel. The reward for the hike up Wayna Picchu is an irreplaceable view below of Machu Picchu. The outline of the sacred condor, the layout of the city, is only visible from that view or by air.

I still fear both heights and closed spaces, but I know if I absolutely have to encounter one or the other, I can do it.

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.

This is a tough one.

  1. In my case, there was both the incremental aspects of climbing other ruins and mountains so I had a certain sense of confidence that I could make the climb.
  2. Sometimes, it is some form of ignorance. I did not know about the “50 Steps” or the other steep climbs I would encounter at Machu Picchu. If I did, I might have not taken it on. I surely had no clue that there would be a narrow tunnel that I would have to negotiate to get back down the other mountain.
  3. Regarding ignorance, when I started the radio program and the related business in my early life, I did not ever consider the potential for failure. There was the possibility of not paying my rent or being embarrassed. Since I did not think about those factors in advance, I did not have to overcome something fairly rational that others might have used to talk themselves into not doing it.
  4. I have a strong commitment to finishing the job. I was a very thin kid. I played freshman high school football for a small high school in Massachusetts. I was way too thin to be on the team. I did not know that going in and was rough and discouraging in practice with the larger players. I warmed the bench most of the season, but I stuck it out for the whole season. When Spring training came along, my buddy who was 100 pounds heavier than me, asked me if I would come out for the training. I told him that I had figured this out and safer for me to pass on that one.
  5. Incrementalism is the one way that many people overcome their fears. In my case, climbing some other mountains and ruins in the prior years acclimated me to heights and allowed me to at least try the Inca Trail and other ruins at a later time.

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?

Yes. I note that many successful entrepreneurs start and fail at many businesses and then one day, they hit on one that is successful and people call them an “overnight success.” As they say: “You fail at 100% of the things you do not try.”

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. 🙂

My current books focus on the American political system. I would like to see the American people take back both their political system and the government agencies at all levels. We must reform the political system and public sector to be less costly and far more responsive to the needs of America.

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 🙂

Volodymyr Zelensky

How can our readers further follow your work online? (You can pick the ones to include)

Author Website/Blog

Author Profile Page on Amazon

Goodreads Profile

Facebook Profile

Twitter Account

LinkedIn Account

David Schein | LinkedIn

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for the time you spent on this. We wish you only continued success.


  • Savio P. Clemente

    TEDx Speaker, Media Journalist, Board Certified Wellness Coach, Best-Selling Author & Cancer Survivor

    Savio P. Clemente, TEDx speaker and Stage 3 cancer survivor, infuses transformative insights into every article. His journey battling cancer fuels a mission to empower survivors and industry leaders towards living a truly healthy, wealthy, and wise lifestyle. As a Board-Certified Wellness Coach (NBC-HWC, ACC), Savio guides readers to embrace self-discovery and rewrite narratives by loving their inner stranger, as outlined in his acclaimed TEDx talk: "7 Minutes to Wellness: How to Love Your Inner Stranger." Through his best-selling book and impactful work as a media journalist — covering inspirational stories of resilience and exploring wellness trends — Savio has collaborated with notable celebrities and TV personalities, bringing his insights to diverse audiences and touching countless lives. His philosophy, "to know thyself is to heal thyself," resonates in every piece.