Assess the situation. Is it really black or white, succeed or fail, win or lose? If it’s not a life or death medical event or other brand of crisis, it’s time to evaluate the true stakes. If you scale the situation, you may scale the risk of failure, and also your fear of it.
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 Kristina Paider.
Kristina Paider is a developmental editor and writing coach who helps authors and speakers break through fear and uncertainty every single day. A former rescue swimmer, she inexplicably developed panic attacks in the water. In 2013, she jumped into 27 waterfalls as a way to move the needle, face her worst antagonist, and get back in the water.
In her personal pursuits and professional work with 600+ writers in 34 countries, she has identified the patterns and mindset that keep people stuck in fear and inaction vs. taking small steps and big leaps toward their goal, and the things they do that make the difference. Her new book and masterclass, The Hollywood Approach, help people expand these lessons and apply them to all goals, big and small.
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’?
Pleasure to be here! I’m a screenwriter, author, and writing coach. I’m originally from Wisconsin, where my parents’ solution to everything was, “go play outside!” Even in sub-zero temperatures. I think that’s where my creativity and love of tropical temperatures comes from. ☺
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?
It’s hard to pick one. But in 2021, as I was preparing to launch my book, which is always hectic, I received a message asking me to audition for a JLo movie filming near my home. In my gazillion tasks each day, I had forgotten that the audition included singing. Yikes! I’m not a singer, and I was on limited time, so I just did it. And I was offered the part! Unfortunately, I couldn’t accept, because of timing. But it was a red-flashing-light reminder that literally anything can happen at any moment.
You are a successful leader. Which three character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success?
Hmm… I would say: curiosity, drive and the ability to rabbit-hole at the right time.
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 think failure exudes a component of finality that is not actually there. No one wants the show to be over before it’s over. Generally, people love a comeback. So the idea that if you fail, you can never try or do or find success at “the thing” is not appealing. I also think that in some circumstances, failure is a false construct. If failure were a brand, it’d be in desperate need of a make-over.
What are the downsides of being afraid of failure? How can it limit people?
Fear of failure, and fear in general is constricting, binding, even imprisoning. It can limit our thinking, actions and decisions and put unnecessary limitations on our potential.
In contrast, can you help articulate a few ways how becoming free from the free of failure can help improve our lives?
Working through fear to take that one step toward the other side of it is liberating and expanding. I witness my students time and again, inspiring each other, but most of all, inspiring themselves, when they break through to the other side of fear. What’s not inspiring about that?
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?
Several years ago, I jumped into 27 waterfalls to confront debilitating panic attacks in the water. I’m not usually that un-subtle. Prior to that, I’d been a rescue swimmer, scuba diver and cliff jumper. I felt that I would be a failure if I didn’t do everything possible, and I mean e v e r y t h i n g — possible, to at least try to punch panic in the throat, get back in the water, and be available, if ever needed again, for a water safety effort. It took several years, a lot of mis-steps, and a lot of conditioning after the waterfall jumping to make progress. I had to re-define success and what it means to be “on my path” again and again.
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 was relentless, if not obstinate. I knew that being comfortable in the water again would be a totally different life than being uncomfortable in the water. So I had to do it.
I doubled down on myself again and again, until I could do it. I used “Eye of the Tiger” like some people use Hail Marys. Some days, I listened to the song 11 times before I’d get in the water.
Other days, I’d stand on the beach and say, “well, today I got to the beach, and that’s enough.” It was a lot of framing and re-framing, and learning to identify and have gratitude for the small steps, and learning to appreciate that.
My advice to others is to know your outcome, and be willing to double down on yourself again and again. Be patient — something that 100% does not come natural to me.
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.
Unless we are talking about a life or death situation, or a crisis situation where the stakes of success or failure are the absolute highest, truly black and white, failure is, in many cases, a false construct. The only person who can truly define failure for you — is you. What what some people call “failure” are lessons or information or progress to others. People often say fail fast, but what if you learn fast?
It’s not to sugarcoat everything in disco sprinkles, but it is to really think about the perspective you want to take in each situation. Given that context, here are my five steps that one can take to become free from the fear of failure:
1 . Assess the situation. Is it really black or white, succeed or fail, win or lose? If it’s not a life or death medical event or other brand of crisis, it’s time to evaluate the true stakes. If you scale the situation, you may scale the risk of failure, and also your fear of it.
2 . Reframe. Fear is an ugly little monster on the lower scale of emotions (more on that later). Fear is not the boss of you. You are the boss of you and of your fear.
When I was conditioning myself to move beyond the panic and into the water again, there were some days that I couldn’t go in the ocean. I’d walk to the beach at sunrise, stand there, listen to my Rocky theme music and could not will myself in, no matter how many times I listened to Eye of the Tiger.
There weren’t many days like that, but there were a few, and I remember them. I learned to reframe what it means to move forward. I learned to accept that some days, I would just stand on the beach, and other days I would go in the water. I learned to acknowledge myself for being on the path, and I learned to find the good in that. And don’t get me wrong, I am a recovering type A+++, so if I can do it, you can, too.
Then the next day, I’d usually go in the water. I realized all the little steps and big steps are a part of the process. Shoulding on ourselves for doing smaller rather than bigger steps won’t help. Reframing what it means to be in forward motion will help.
3. Recalibrate. Add some color to the palette of your mission so that it’s not so black and white. Identify the smaller victories to be won: training, preparing, trying, executing a plan for the first, second or third time, exposure, building your muscles or confidence on a project. When you redefine success, you redefine failure. In some situations, the true failure is not trying.
Identify every miniscule thing that moves you forward even a fraction of a percent. A favorite song. Time of day. Ally. Mantra. Color. Whatever. Identify all of those and use them to your advantage.
4. Practice small acts of courage. When we view a task or mission as a mammoth event or undertaking, the sheer scope can be scary in and of itself.
When I went to 27 Damajaguas (27 Waterfalls) on the North Coast of the Dominican Republic, I had three false starts before I actually got on the bus and went to the park.
Early on, I thought, if I don’t jump, I won’t move the needle on my panic attacks, and I’ll endanger my niece and nephew, I won’t be able to hang out with them without supervision in the water, I may end up having panic attacks when I take a shower, my life will suck, and it won’t really be a life at all.
That kind of thinking paralyzed me. I wasn’t able to go on the excursion, and I wasn’t able to leave the island or move on with my life in any way. I was committed, but terrified. Until… I had the idea that just showing up at the park and doing the first waterfall would be a step forward.
Once I did that first jump, I knew I could do more, and I did. Identifying a small act of courage instead of looking at the mac daddy monster goal, helps us take that first step. The next thing you know, we’re walking… or in my case… jumping.
5. Focus on love… because, science. Good overpowers evil in the same way that love triumphs over fear. But with love and fear, science proves it.
Sir David R. Hawkins, MD, PhD, or “Sir Doctor Doctor,” was a doctor of applied kinesiology as well as a psychiatrist, and did extensive work on the power of emotion.
As I discuss in my book, The Hollywood Approach: Script Your Life Like a Hit Movie and Live Your Wildest Dream, Hawkins developed a scale which measures different emotions based on millions of calibrations of applied kinesiology tests. For example, love, joy, and peace calibrate at levels from 500 to 1,000. Courage calibrates at 200. On the other end of the scale, fear, grief, guilt, and shame calibrate from 100 to 20.
This scale is a logarithmic progression, not simply a multiplicative one. So love, at 500, is not just five times more powerful than fear, at 100 — it is exponentially more powerful. Love can eradicate fear. By focusing on the good (positive memories, stories and experiences that lead to positive emotions) we can overpower fear (all the negative emotions and narratives such as fear and uncertainty).
If you get stuck any time or place on your journey, go for good thoughts and actions. Love will always override fear and anger. The two cannot coexist.
I discovered this by accident at the seventh waterfall — the big one. I freaked out, feeling that this would be where I’d have cardiac arrest, and I walked away. I would’ve buckled to my knees, but I was so clear on my outcome — my love for my niece and nephew and for the water — that in that instant, I pivoted and made the jump. Love won. And I won — because that was the jump that changed it all.
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 depends on the context of course, but except for extreme circumstances where life or death or a medical or other crisis is in play, I actually think the opposite is true: It’s possible to succeed in many ways, and many phases. I think there’s one way to fail, and that is by not trying.
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. 🙂
It would be a movement of love + gratitude, which are scientifically proven to wipe out fear, anger and self-doubt.
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 🙂
Shonda Rhimes. I’d love to talk shop on writing, storytelling, and Chicago.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
I am Kristina Paider on all the socials!
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for the time you spent on this. We wish you only continued success.
My pleasure. Thank you!