Own Your Worth: Our greatest confidence comes from knowing that we are loved no matter what. When you believe your worth and your value are inherent and not something you have to earn, you become unshakeable and you can release the fear of failure. We often measure our worth by whether or not we are accepted. When our fear of failure is tied to fear of rejection, we have to address the root.
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 Emily Louis.
Emily Louis is a Confidence and Worthiness Coach who specializes in helping Christians confidently be themselves. Through coaching and her podcast, Abundant Grace, she helps Christians stop trying to prove themselves and instead rest in who God says they already are! To gain confidence and get the closeness with God that you desire without all the religious “shoulds”, get her latest course, Connected, here: https://emilyklouis.com/connected.
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’?
Absolutely, thank you for asking! I lived with the fear of failure for many, many years. The most influential and foundational part of the way I saw the world came from the church that I grew up in. It was an IFB (Independent Fundamental Baptist) church that emphasized believing in just the right things and doing exactly the right things for God to be happy with me and to be part of the church. Because I’m naturally an achiever and I wanted to be accepted and seen as valuable, I jumped in with both feet, working so hard to try to measure up.
We have been made with a core need for belonging! Following the rules and doing all the things I was “supposed to” was my way of trying to control how others saw me and whether or not they would accept me. I was afraid to fail or get anything wrong because I was afraid of judgment and ultimately rejection.
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?
For as much as I love what I’m doing now, it makes me laugh at how much I resisted even starting a business!
I would get this feeling every couple of years that I should do something in addition to being a stay-at-home mom and wife but I dismissed the idea because I was already certain of what I was supposed to be doing as a “good” Christian wife and mom.
I was so afraid of doing something outside of the expectations that were set for me and that I had for myself that I shed tears over even feeling this tug towards more!
And the idea just wouldn’t go away, so I finally told my husband, Bill, about it and he was so excited I couldn’t believe it! He’s always been my number-one supporter and cheerleader.
Starting my business was one of the courageous ways that I stopped measuring up to what others thought I should be doing and risked failing in their eyes and I’m so glad I did! Not one of the people that matter most to me has ever said anything about it to me. I was simply so afraid of the what-ifs of letting them down that I almost let it stop me! Such a perfect case in point of how the fear of failure can cause us to people-please.
I had to choose whether or not I would keep doing what others expected of me or follow that nudge for more and I’m so glad I did!
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 don’t give up. I’ve had a handful of different coaches for myself and my business and, especially in the beginning, most of them didn’t understand what I wanted to do and I never let that stop me. Some might describe it as stubborn, but I’ve held the audacious belief that my success is inevitable as long as I keep going. I have to say also that I’m extremely thankful for the coaches who have believed in me–more than I have at times–and let me borrow belief from them when I’m feeling like I won’t ever figure something out.
- I love to learn and am always willing to figure something out.
Whether it comes to trauma, technology, or how I operate best, I will figure it out. I get this trait from my mom. She’s never been afraid to try something or even drive a road that she isn’t 100% sure where it leads you. This serves me well and lets me be curious about new things and essentially push buttons until I find the one that works.
- I give myself a margin. Resting from being productive, saying no, and giving ourselves the margin to just be and enjoy reminds us that we are more than our work and more than our accomplishments. Take a deep breath there, right!? It might be cliche, but it’s impossible to do our best when we’re trying to do all the things! When I thought that my value was in how much I was helping out or contributing or when I forget and believe that my worth is in my accomplishments or how much I get done, it is awfully hard to rest. When I was in my early twenties, I remember getting a phone call from someone in an authority role over me asking if I could take care of a project. I was feeling exhausted but picked up my planner to see if I could fit the favor in and saw two hours free that week and said yes. I hadn’t permitted myself to disappoint people yet or to have margin; I thought that because I technically could, I should. And to no one’s surprise, in that season I was burning myself out and feeling stuck in my situation.
As I’ve learned to give myself margin, to create space for fun and rest, I have more energy, better ideas, and feel ALIVE! I’m more successful when I’m taking the time to be still and listen to Holy Spirit than when I’m frantically trying to do all the things and lacking focus.
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?
Failure is scary because we are afraid of rejection. Like I mentioned when I was talking about my story, we are all created with a need to belong and be accepted.
We can end up doing our best to avoid failure or perception of failure because we want to do everything in our power to control how we are seen. We try to control people’s perception of us.
The middle of this Tim Keller quote highlights this fear of rejection well:
“To be loved but not known is comforting but superficial. To be known and not loved is our greatest fear. But to be fully known and truly loved is, well, a lot like being loved by God. It is what we need more than anything.”
We are afraid to fail because we fear it might mean that something is inherently wrong with us or that we don’t fit in. We want desperately to be loved and accepted as ourselves. Each of us has experienced some kind of rejection; whether as kids on the playground, from a family member who wasn’t there for us when we needed it, or by being passed over for a promotion. This is a feeling we try our hardest to avoid through achievement and perfectionism–aka not failing.
What are the downsides of being afraid of failure? How can it limit people?
The most significant downsides of the fear of failure can be categorized into two buckets:
Overworking and paralysis.
When we are afraid of failure we tend to control whether or not we fail. This can result in us working harder, going faster, and doing more to try to outwork any potential failure. Trying to outwork failure may often be successful at avoiding failure but it doesn’t give us the solution to be able to stop being afraid to fail. You can’t outwork your inner critic.
We have to get down to the root of our fear and face it if we want to stop trying to prove that we have it all together and can be successful.
When the fear of failure isn’t keeping us working hard, it’s causing us to second guess ourselves, stay in our comfort zone, and feel like we are insignificant. It can feel safer to play small and stay predictable. The inaction directly correlates to missed opportunities and continued low self-esteem.
The fear of failure limits our ability to make steady day-by-day progress toward our goals, it limits our celebration and acknowledgment of the wins along the way, and it limits our authenticity.
In contrast, can you help articulate a few ways how becoming free from the fear of failure can help improve our lives?
I love this question! Becoming free from the fear of failure can positively impact our lives in several ways:
1. We get to be more creative and curious: We can be more curious to explore and try things, that may or may not work out. When we release the need to get things “just so” and aren’t afraid to make mistakes, we become more open to exploration, new ideas, and fresh approaches. This allows us to see solutions and ideas we would have previously blocked. This fresh curiosity continues to take the pressure off of our shoulders to do something “right” or figure it out and let’s explore and just be ourselves. Embracing failure as a natural part of the creative process, helps us to tap into our creativity and bring forward fresh perspectives, leading to breakthroughs and innovation in various areas of life.
2. Increased confidence and self-worth: Overcoming the fear of failure boosts our confidence and enhances self-worth. When we don’t have to measure our worthiness or our value by our accomplishments or perfection, it takes a massive weight off of our shoulders.
3. Perseverance: Getting free from the fear of failure builds resilience and strengthens our ability to persevere in the face of setbacks. When failure is no longer perceived as a debilitating force, we become better equipped to handle challenges and bounce back from failures. Failing at something can simply be a learning opportunity. This attitude helps us navigate difficult situations, maintain a positive mindset, and keep moving forward despite obstacles.
4. Increased joy and peace: Overcoming the fear of failure allows us to stop running “what-if” scenarios through our minds and that gives us the gift of enjoying each moment and phase more deeply. It also allows us to pursue our dreams and passions more wholeheartedly so we don’t have to be stuck doing things we don’t enjoy. Even when things don’t go as planned, the absence of fear allows us to appreciate the journey, see mistakes as an opportunity to grow, and live out our purpose.
5. Authenticity: Overcoming the fear of failure lets us be our whole selves. We can risk the vulnerability of being true to who we are and what we believe is important when we aren’t worried about what others will think. When we allow ourselves to fail we can get free of what other people think about that failure. If we give ourselves the space to fail and try new things with grace instead of beating ourselves up, others’ opinions of our failures hold less weight. When we stop putting so much energy into how others perceive us, it gives us the freedom and confidence to be ourselves rather than the version of ourselves we think everyone else wants us to be. And as we be more authentic, we attract relationships with people who love us as we are, failures and successes alike.
Ultimately, becoming free from the fear of failure empowers us to live more authentically, take bold steps toward our goals, and embrace the inevitable ups and downs of life. It enables us to achieve things that we previously thought were impossible and lead a more fulfilling and meaningful life.
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?
One of my biggest fears was rejection by God and by my church community. I gave everything I had to following the rules, believing the things I was taught, and trying hard to keep everyone happy–both God and people. I wanted them to see me as good, successful, and obedient.
Failing to measure up or ask questions was a surefire way to get rejected. I avoided anything that could look like a failure and worked really hard at it. I followed the rules for women, for dating (or not), for my marriage, for what I wore, for what music I listened to, for where I did and did not go, for where I lived, for how much to serve, for how I parented, for how to vote, and for what to believe.
It was exhausting but it seemed to work. Until it didn’t.
Things started to crumble when a leader was exposed for being abusive.
I like to refer to this as the gift of a faith crisis. If he wasn’t everything he said he was, what else wasn’t true? I could start asking questions.
Once I finally saw how controlling the environment was and how conditional the version of love they knew was, I had to permit myself to let them down. I chose the thing I spent 26 years of my life avoiding.
I left and was subsequently rejected by the faith community I had tirelessly tried to please. I failed to measure up.
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?
To my surprise, God wasn’t afraid of my questions! Though people were intimidated by my questions, God never was. I began to actually experience God’s love and acceptance because he wasn’t shaken. My fear of failing him had controlled my entire life up to that point but it was unfounded!
My family and God and then new mentors and friends offered me a safe place to process, heal, and realize I could be myself and be loved for who I am. I don’t remember who said it but, “what is broken in community, must be healed in community”. The rebound is still a process to continue to be authentic and learn to trust people again but I’m so thankful for where this healing has led me.
Here’s one of the most important lessons to take away from this story:
The first part where I was avoiding failure (or perceived failure) was the actual failure. Trying to control what other people thought of me and living in the narrow interpretation of what I thought my life was supposed to be was a failure.
What they see as my failure was my breaking free from the rules and comparison and worrying about what people thought. My failure to measure up brought me freedom.
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.
1 . Stop Comparing Yourself: Comparing yourself to others or trying to measure up to someone else feeds our fear of failure. We need to know what our values and goals are so that we can stop looking at someone else’s journey and thinking we should be in a different place.
One of my first coaching clients was told growing up, “Why can’t you just be more like your sister.” She felt like something was inherently wrong with her and that she was always failing. When she got free of the expectation for her to measure up and be like someone else, she gained the confidence to take up the space that she was made to fill. The fear of failure or of getting it wrong no longer makes her play small or strive for perfection.
2 . See Failure as a Learning Opportunity: Every time that we fail we get to choose what meaning we assign to that experience.
Here are a handful of our tendencies:
- Believe there is something wrong with us.
- Think we won’t ever figure it out
- Wonder if we aren’t cut out for the job.
A more productive option is to look at our failure as a learning opportunity. It’s important that we are aware of the meaning we assign to our failures so that we can shift our perspective and see the valuable lesson we can learn from. We get feedback on our efforts every time we try something new. When we learn to process the emotions faster and just take the failures and successes as data, we’ll go further faster and more sustainably.
When I started taking the number of sales and analytics in my business simply as data rather than a reflection of who I am as a person, it changed everything. I stopped letting the results or lack thereof speak to my worthiness or my long-term success. Letting ourselves learn from our mistakes without assigning meaning gives us the emotional capacity to fail and learn faster rather than getting stuck.
3 . Celebrate your wins: Celebrate progress and the small wins along the way. What we celebrate, we repeat so we need to look at the milestones and what is working not just our long-term goal and or what isn’t working.
A ski instructor gave me a really valuable life lesson: We go where we look. If we look off of the trail, our skis are going to follow. If we look at the tree that feels like it’s coming at us fast, we’re going to hit the tree and get tangled up in it. (Yes that has happened to me a few times) But if we learn to look through the trees and focus less on the obstacles and what won’t work, we will find our path out.
4 . Take risks: It is helpful to be able to control the level of failure that we experience as we are flexing this muscle and overcome our fear of failure. Start by taking some calculated risks; start small and gradually challenge yourself to do things that scare you. Facing your fears helps you build your resilience and develops a higher tolerance for failure. Each time you push yourself, you’ll remind yourself that failure isn’t as catastrophic as you imagined and this knowledge will help you overcome the fear that you’ve associated with failure.
When I determined to address my fear of rejection-the root underneath our fear of failure- I resolved to send at least one “scary ask” a day. This could be a sales invitation, a proposal, a pitch, or anything that made me feel butterflies inside. The first few I sent took me hours but the asks have gotten much easier and I can send them in minutes because I’ve grown my tolerance for not hearing back, people saying no, or me not getting it just right.
5 . Own Your Worth: Our greatest confidence comes from knowing that we are loved no matter what. When you believe your worth and your value are inherent and not something you have to earn, you become unshakeable and you can release the fear of failure. We often measure our worth by whether or not we are accepted. When our fear of failure is tied to fear of rejection, we have to address the root.
My business coach, Gretchen Heinen, has been such a valuable friend and mentor to me. When I didn’t believe in myself and was tempted to quit, she poured fuel on the existing coals of my business by seeing the worth and value in me that I had failed to see. For a time, I needed to be able to borrow her belief in me before I believed it for myself. Find someone to borrow belief from with whom you are safe to fail; someone who believes you are more than your successes and failures.
Learning to believe in yourself and your ability to figure things out is one of the most important steps you can take to overcome the fear of failure and become unshakeable.
Overcoming the fear of failure is a process that takes time and practice. Extend grace to yourself as you heal and learn. I used to be crippled by fear so if I can overcome it, you can too! Growth is possible!
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?
It is easier to miss the mark than it is to get a bullseye. And I would agree with him if perfection was the goal. But if growth, the journey, and the relationships along the way are the goal instead, I disagree with him. I think we’ll be disappointed if we try so hard to find the only way to make something work; instead, failure gets to feed our curiosity as we try and explore. Failure is part of our success because it’s in not getting it right that we learn to experience grace–from others and ourselves–and it’s how we get to the success we want in the first place. Success requires figuring out what works for YOU and that is going to be different from person to person even if the desired outcome is the same.
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. 🙂
I would spark a movement of people who were so grounded in God’s love and love for themselves. Love heals, true love motivates us to care for one another, and love makes us When we each learn to accept ourselves right where we’re at, we are able to do that for others. Unconditional love and acceptance let a person be fully themselves and SHINE. Wouldn’t this world be such a kinder place if we all worked on our ish and stopped judging others for their political or religious opinions? The way forward is through radical love!
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 🙂
Beth Moore. Grace flows from everything that she writes and I’d love to experience the grace that flows through her in person.
I’m thankful for the pieces of her journey with church, politics, and denominations that she has shared especially over the last few years. When leaders like her to make changes publicly and with intentionality and graciousness, it reminds me that I, too, can do the same.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
I would love to invite them to listen to my podcast Abundant Grace and make sure to check out my website, https://emilyklouis.com/authoritymagazine which has free resources on confidence, relationship with God, and being their true selves.
Other links before.
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for the time you spent on this. We wish you only continued success.
Thank you so much for this thoughtful conversation and the opportunity!