Practice surrender We need a new word for something that didn’t fail, it just simply didn’t work out, or hasn’t worked out just yet, because the word “failure” implies a dead end. But when you believe that everything is just a step toward finding out what works, there’s no end. All roads lead to your success. I believe there’s a component to moving through fear that’s inherently spiritual, no matter what your beliefs are. I believe every person is here on an intentional, specific journey that requires us to learn certain lessons and collect certain experiences along the way. When we believe there’s someone or something out there that can see and understand the bigger picture better than we can, it becomes easier to surrender to the possibility of failing, because even if we do fail, it’s never the end of the road. There’s always a next step for us.
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 Kelly Mosser.
Kelly Mosser is a strategist for purpose-driven entrepreneurs as well as the host of the top 1% podcast, The Aligned Success Show. A former startup strategist and meditation teacher, Kelly helps micro and small business owners master the alchemy between spirit, science, and strategy to achieve their goals in business and beyond. She lives in New York City with her husband and rescue dog.
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’?
My backstory really starts at the very beginning. My dad was tragically murdered when I was a baby, and that trauma shaped a lot of my early childhood. I actually lived the first 20 years of my life with undiagnosed PTSD, though I had no idea there was anything unusual about how my brain functioned. I thought everyone was as constantly anxious as I was! I graduated from Georgetown and moved to New York, where I started working in the corporate world and later the startup world. Working in high stress environments in my early 20s, my anxiety was worse than ever, and I felt completely out of alignment with my purpose. When I was finally diagnosed with PTSD, I embarked on a journey of healing from trauma and learning how to make peace with my mind through meditation and therapy. During that period of intense healing I realized how much our work contributes to our quality of life, and how crucial it is to be in touch with a deeper part of ourselves to cultivate optimal health and happiness. I decided to take a risk and leave my successful startup career to start a business of my own. Talk about scary! Today I blend the best of strategy, nervous system regulation, and mindset work to support entrepreneurs who are growing businesses that drive positive change in the world.
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’m someone who has a lot of different interests and skills that didn’t always seem to go together, so I moved around quite a bit in my early 20s. I started my career as a retail buyer, then moved into operations for a design firm, and finally into operations and strategy for a wellness startup before starting my own business. I was riddled with fear every time I left one of those jobs, because of everything I’d been told about the optics of quitting a job “too soon.” I’ve learned there’s no such thing as “too soon.” If a situation, professional or otherwise, is such a poor fit for you that it’s taking a toll on your physical and mental health, as my first two jobs were, it doesn’t matter what the optics of leaving are. As soon as it feels safe to, get out of there, even if it’s scary to leave. You’re only delaying finding something more fulfilling and supportive by staying too long.
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?
Success to me is not just about how much money my business makes. It’s about how much alignment, fulfillment, and peace I get to experience and how many lives I can impact. By far the most instrumental character trait that’s helped me create a life and business I love is resilience. There’s no amount of failure that can deter me from cultivating my own joy and happiness. To wake up and feel peaceful in your heart every morning — I’ll happily fail every day if I know there’s the potential for greater joy on the other side of it! When I was at my toughest point with anxiety and PTSD, I just knew there was a peaceful life on the other side of what I was going through. I never stopped believing that I was destined for — and deserving of — true inner peace.
The next instrumental ingredient to my success is integrity. Kindness, honesty, and doing the right thing are the north stars that make decision making easy for me. I never have to think too hard about which path to take because all I have to do is ask myself: what would facilitate the most good for the person in front of me, especially when that person is me? I feel very grateful to be alive and healthy, and to be alive means to get to impact the lives of other people every single day, even if that’s just with a friendly “hello” to a stranger at the grocery store. I think the peace I feel in my life comes largely from knowing that even if all else fails, at least I’m a kind person, and that’s enough for me. A lot of incredible connections I’ve made as a leader have started with simple gestures of kindness.
And finally, curiosity. I am endlessly curious and always want to learn, which gives me license to be experimental. If something doesn’t work out the way I hoped it would, I try to look at it as an experiment. When we walk into a new situation and treat it as a science experiment, we unshackle ourselves from the fear of failure. Scientists don’t hold attachment to the outcome of their experiments. They consider even “failed” experiments valuable, because figuring out what doesn’t work is as important as figuring out what does. I love that there’s such widespread acceptance of failure in the scientific community. If we knew how everything would work out, what would be the point of exploring them?
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?
People are afraid of failure because our brains associate failure with death, and our brain’s primary goal is to keep us alive! Our brains don’t like what they don’t know, so really any situation that holds the possibility of “failure” is going to send off alarms in our brains and stimulate fear. Your brain would prefer you to stay exactly where you are right now, because it knows you can survive where you’ve already been. Feeling fearful when trying something new isn’t just normal, it’s a survival mechanism that could keep you alive if, for example, the “new thing” you wanted to try was riding on the wing of 747 at 30,000 feet! As a survivor of PTSD, I know what it’s like to be completely overcome by fear and anxiety from the time you wake up to the time you go to sleep. Learning about how my nervous system navigates fear was so eye opening and empowering. Our brains are quite plastic and can be rewired with conscious intention and effort. Your brain can literally form new neural pathways to make anything, like the possibility of failure, less threatening and therefore less scary!
What are the downsides of being afraid of failure? How can it limit people?
There’s nothing inherently wrong about being afraid to fail. Most people who try something new are afraid to some degree. It becomes harmful or unhealthy when the fear is so powerful that it prevents us from even exploring possibilities or trying something we really want to do. There are so many valuable experiences on the other side of just trying. Yes, you will “fail” sometimes, and that experience is still incredibly valuable.
In contrast, can you help articulate a few ways how becoming free from the free of failure can help improve our lives?
I actually don’t believe we need to strive to become free of the fear of failure, we just need to become comfortable with discomfort. Feeling fear is usually uncomfortable, which tends to make us run away from it. If we can learn to sit with our emotions and learn to prioritize expansion and growth over comfort, we’ll open ourselves to countless new experiences that will enrich our lives in ways we can’t even fathom. If you’re too scared, for example, to start a business doing what you truly love, you’ll never get to experience the joy of living your highest purpose and helping people with your work. But if you start a new journey understanding that fear will always be present to some degree, it just doesn’t have to run the show, then you’ll start to normalize discomfort, making it more and more comfortable over time to be present with your fear.
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’ve failed so many times as a business owner, I’d never be able to count them! Early on in my business, I tried so many different marketing messages, offers, and niches. Many of them didn’t work out. Sometimes I’d work for weeks putting together a course and nobody would buy it. It was incredibly frustrating and I often wondered if I was supposed to be doing this at all. Because my sense of self worth was deeply tied up in my ability to create “worldly success,” the start of my business journey really tested my sense of self worth.
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 learned something really important about the way I approach new things, like starting a business. All my life, I walked into situations expecting them to work right away, because they usually did. I was a good student, so I walked into the exam expecting to do well. I was a good athlete, so I expected to make the team. I realized I held this belief that if something didn’t work out right away, it was a reflection on my value and my worth. When I started my business, I had to adjust my mindset to be much more experimental. I tell all of my clients and students: you have to treat your business like a science experiment, not a soap opera. In other words, it’s important to learn to be hopeful and anchor into self belief while staying emotionally unattached from the outcome, to largely release expectations and be willing to fully experience whatever unfolds. The same goes for anything in life, whether you’re learning how to play golf or going on a first date. Not everything works right away, and sometimes it never works at all. But you can’t allow “failure” to mean anything about your value or your potential to be successful in the future. It just means that something didn’t work, or it wasn’t the right fit, or it needs to be refined and tried again. Don’t make it mean more than it does. Practice walking into every situation as a scientist who thinks: maybe this will work, maybe it won’t, but either way, I’m grateful to get to experience it. There’s value in this experience no matter what the outcome is. This way of thinking changed my life.
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.
- Release the need to succeed on the first try. We’ve all heard “if at first you don’t succeed, try again,” which to me sounds a bit like “you really should succeed on the first try, but if you mess it up, I guess you can have a second go at it!” I’d love for us to find power in the idea that you should plan to try something at least 5 times before you start seeing any success at all. I’m so inspired watching The Captain, the streaming series about Derek Jeter’s career. As a Yankee fan, all I saw growing up was Jeter’s success. But the show takes us inside what was a really difficult journey for him. He struggled in the minor leagues and thought about quitting many times before finally getting the chance to play in the majors. He didn’t hit his stride for a long time, and if he’d given up when he wanted to, we wouldn’t have gotten to watch and learn from one of the best players of all time.
- Examine and shift your relationship between success and self worth. A lot of folks (like 22 year old me) don’t realize how much their self worth is tied to their ability to create “success.” They don’t realize they hold a subconscious belief that if they fail at something, it means they’re not valuable, or that they don’t deserve to be happy, or that they don’t deserve to be loved. True peace comes from the ability to recognize that your value is intrinsic and can’t be influenced by any amount of failure or success. It’s a constant from the moment you’re born until the moment you die. There’s nothing you can do to make yourself more valuable, and there’s no amount of failure that could ever actually strip away your value. You’re valuable because you exist. Period. Knowing this, we can recognize that there’s never really that much to lose, so why not just try? If it doesn’t “work,” we can simply adjust and try the next thing.
- Embrace a mindset of experimentation Once you realize that no amount of failure could ever touch your inherent worth as a human being, life gets to become a lot more fun and experimental! As an example, I work with a lot of entrepreneurs who struggle with the fear of being seen, which makes it difficult to show up as the face and personality of their business. Many of them are holding subconscious beliefs and fears that to show up and be rejected would threaten their sense of self worth. If someone rejects me, it would mean that I’m not good, not smart, not capable of success or not worthy of receiving good things. When we release the need to be successful at everything and instead embrace a spirit of experimentation, where it’s okay if things work out and it’s also okay if they don’t, it helps us integrate the truth that our value isn’t contingent on our worldly success. The ultimate freedom and inner peace comes from the ability to live in a state of “unconditional okayness” no matter what the outcome is.
- Learn to extract value from failure Thomas Edison is my favorite example of this. He famously said “I didn’t fail 1,000 times. The lightbulb was invented with 1,000 steps.” Instant success is not the only valuable experience to have in this lifetime. It’s so important to remember that the people we become, the lessons we learn, the experiences we get to have on the road to success can be even more valuable than if we had created success right away. When we learn to treat all of our experiences as equally valuable, even if some are more pleasant or more frustrating than others, we’ll unshackle ourselves from the fear of failure.
- Practice surrender We need a new word for something that didn’t fail, it just simply didn’t work out, or hasn’t worked out just yet, because the word “failure” implies a dead end. But when you believe that everything is just a step toward finding out what works, there’s no end. All roads lead to your success. I believe there’s a component to moving through fear that’s inherently spiritual, no matter what your beliefs are. I believe every person is here on an intentional, specific journey that requires us to learn certain lessons and collect certain experiences along the way. When we believe there’s someone or something out there that can see and understand the bigger picture better than we can, it becomes easier to surrender to the possibility of failing, because even if we do fail, it’s never the end of the road. There’s always a next step for us.
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 think there are infinite ways to succeed and infinite ways to fail, which is what makes this life so exciting! Not every path to success will work for every person, because we each have unique strengths and natural gifts, and finding the path that lets us leverage those will always work better than the path that feels like pushing a bolder up a hill. Your best chance at success is to say “no thank you” to the paths that don’t feel aligned with your strengths and values and to actively seek the ones that do.
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. 🙂
If I could inspire just one person to embrace a life that’s full of failure for the sake of collecting rich and diverse experiences, to start to believe that even “not immediately successful” endeavors are still incredibly valuable, to start to explore the work of disentangling their self worth from their worldly success, and to start treating their life as a giant science experiment rather than a soap opera, I’d be thrilled!
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 🙂
Rachel Rogers. Not only is she a brilliant CEO that I look up to a ton, but her success story is so inspiring and she seems like a genuinely lovely person to have lunch with! I’m currently reading her book We Should All Be Millionaires and it’s my new number one recommendation.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
I love connecting with new friends on Instagram @kelly.mosser, so please do send me a message to say hi! I’d also love to invite you to check out my podcast, The Aligned Success Show, where I get to share amazing conversations with other leaders and offer practical guidance to creating success on your terms.
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for the time you spent on this. We wish you only continued success.