Resourcefulness: This is my superpower. I’m confident that I can solve any problem with (usually) a quick Google search. I can quickly identify the source of an issue, understand the fundamentals of a topic, and use the relevant information to solve it. It could take more or less time, but I always find a solution. My faith in this ability is so strong that I don’t keep much knowledge on my mind (I use a second brain like Notion or I google it) to make room for creativity; I just know where to find the relevant information.
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 Marc Arbonés.
Marc is an economist, systems thinker, crypto investor (since 2017), and peak performance consultant for entrepreneurs. He is the Editor and Founder of Altcoins Mastery, where he simplifies the fascinating world of cryptocurrency and web 3.0 to make it accessible to everyone. When he is not involved in cryptocurrency, he enjoys listening to and dancing to 50s-60s rock’n’roll music.
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 was born in a little town near Tarragona, Spain, where I spent my childhood and teens. Then I moved to Tarragona, the capital, to continue my Bachelor’s degree in Economics, which I finished in 2010 at the age of 22. Like many millennials, I was strongly affected by the 2008 Global Financial Crisis (youth unemployment in Spain reached 60%) and decided to move to the United Kingdom (London) in pursuit of better opportunities, to learn the language, and to test my limits.
It turned out to be one of the most remarkable experiences I’ve ever had. I moved to London with only £2,000 in my bank account and no knowledge of the language. During my first year, I shared a hostel room with eight other people and worked numerous jobs ranging from catering to acting to street sales to make ends meet. I picked up the language on the streets of London.
When I was ready, I began applying for start-up positions as a salesman and event manager, eventually starting my own Behavioural and Experimental Economics consultancy (the largest Behavioural economics network at the time, with 25 Professors from different universities and backgrounds).
The Behavioural Economics Lab was my first company and my first taste of “failure” in entrepreneurship, leaving me devastated, purposeless, lonely, and depressed. This experience ignited my curiosity about topics such as how to take risks, deal with failure, and deal with uncertainty in life.
It took me over a year to recover and accept a position in a new area, the trading industry, where I became familiar with cryptocurrencies and began investing in them. Traders deal with risk and complexity on a regular basis; they are true experts in making decisions under uncertainty. This experience piqued my interest in a topic that has become a foundation of my life, Complexity Science.
After a few years in the trading industry, a devastating “Black Swan” (an event with low probability and big impact) occurred: my mother suffered a severe stroke, forcing me to quit my job and return to Spain. During these difficult early years, I delved deeper into all areas of performance (Spiritual, Mental, Emotional, and Physical) and developed a peak performance framework that is now used by many entrepreneurs in an accelerator program.
Following that, I decided to go back to entrepreneurship and launched Altcoins Mastery, which combines my three passions: cryptocurrency, investing/trading, and peak performance.
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?
More than a story about my career, it’s about my early years in London (which included various odd jobs), how I learnt to expose myself to “happy accidents,” and how I built a fail-safe (safety net) that saved me from going bankrupt. I’m always claiming that London is my true school.
During my first two years in London, I worked in the hospitality business because I thought it would be the only way to make a living until my English improved. I started in the kitchen, rising up at 4 a.m. every day to make sandwiches against the clock. At the end of my shift, I was exhausted and had almost no energy left. I realized I needed to change my circumstances in order to have more time to follow my own interests. So, I get up and go to work.
At the time, I was certain that I wanted to pursue a completely new field of study in Economics, Behavioural Economics. I gathered pen and paper, compiled a list of field professors, and sent them each a handwritten email. The most of them did not respond, but one did, and he became my partner (along with others) in my first venture. Following that experience, I joined all of London’s behavioral economics hubs and recruited around 25 Professors from various disciplines. We ended up creating the world’s largest behavioral economics network (at the time). This is how my first venture started.
However, I didn’t have much time to pursue it, and I needed something more flexible. One day, I saw people on the street selling stuff, passing out leaflets, and doing other things. I approached them and asked how much they were paid and how they got the job. They claimed to be earning between £10 and £20 per hour or more (in case of commissions). The majority of them were artists and actors/actresses who required flexible jobs because they were on-demand, with agencies calling them whenever they needed them.
I also needed a safety net in case the project failed. I recall how the artists handled it; they had flexible side gigs to keep them afloat in case they didn’t get the role in a film. This is how I did it: I built a strong safety net of flexible mini-jobs to shield myself from the worst-case scenario. With this in place, I knew I could survive at any time, and my fears began to fade.
The first lesson is to Improve your chances of getting lucky. You can improve your chances of getting lucky by constantly trying new things, exposing yourself to new environments, and not being afraid to ask for help.
The second key lesson is to Get Curious and forge your own path. There is more than one way to reach a destination; society and institutions teach that there is only one path to success, one way of life, and fully demonize all paths that differ from the standard. Refuse to accept it and forge your own path.
The third lesson is to Build a Safety Net. I didn’t have much money at the time, so the mini-job network was my safety net. Aside from the mini-jobs network, I’ve discovered that an ideal emergency fund is one that can cover 18–24 months of monthly expenses.
My time in London (particularly my first two years) drastically reshaped my identity; it taught me to be resourceful, “street smart” and antifragile (a concept by trader Nassim Taleb that goes beyond resilience, in simple words, you become stronger when exposed to adversity). Most importantly, it gave me the courage (I was terrified) to design my own lifestyle and pursue my dreams.
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?
If I were to pick three key characteristics, they would be:
- Resourcefulness: This is my superpower. I’m confident that I can solve any problem with (usually) a quick Google search. I can quickly identify the source of an issue, understand the fundamentals of a topic, and use the relevant information to solve it. It could take more or less time, but I always find a solution. My faith in this ability is so strong that I don’t keep much knowledge on my mind (I use a second brain like Notion or I google it) to make room for creativity; I just know where to find the relevant information.
- Systems Thinking: Systems thinking is the ability to identify elements, see the relationships between them, and understand how they influence one another within a whole. A business is an example of a system with five components: value creation, marketing, sales, value delivery, and finance. Changing one component of the system has an impact on the other parts and the entire system. Most disciplines treat things as if they were static machines (1+1 Equals 2), while most things are organic and dynamic (1+1 can be 3 or -3).
- Antifragility: Nassim Nicholas Taleb, a trader, coined the term antifragility to describe things that profit from disorder rather than simply returning to their initial state (resiliency). An Antifragile character means that you get stronger and thrive when exposed to adversity. My most valuable lessons, insights, and periods of healing come from adversity.
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?
“The truth is, the Matrix was a documentary.” Keanu Reeves
There are two main reasons why people are afraid of failure. The first is biological, the second is social.
Biological: Evolutionary psychologists and biologists have done much research on these phenomena. Our genes are not well-suited to a technological environment created by humans. Our genes have only one function: survival. Anything that threatens our survival (even if it is a temporary or imagined threat) must be avoided at all costs. This made sense in prehistoric times, but we’re not hunting mammoths anymore.
Social: Society is well-aware of our biology and uses it to its advantage. Society provides us with a “script” that includes a set of values, principles, and definitions (like love, success, wealth, health, entrepreneurship, etc.) that tell us what to think, what to do, and how to behave. We are, by definition, social beings. We are not built to live alone. In ancient times, expulsion from a group was a synonym for death. To avoid this, human beings conform to the rules of society, the rules of a tribe, the rules of an institution, or the rules of their families.
Society has a definition for failure: “Those who do not comply with the script, do not follow the traditional rules are, by definition, failures and should be looked down upon until they decide to conform.” In other words, failure means deviating from the traditional path. If you deviate from the traditional path, society will use your environment (institutions, family, friends, etc.) to put pressure on you and enforce the script until you break.
Rebelling against the traditional path demands self-awareness, courage, and mental strength. It’s challenging to always go against the grain. Most people do not have this level of mindset.
What are the downsides of being afraid of failure? How can it limit people?
Anything worthwhile in life requires some level of risk, pain, and transformation to become the best version of ourselves. Everyone is afraid of failure, but this should not deter you from pursuing your dreams.
If you let failure paralyze you, you will not take any risks, you will limit your potential, and you will miss out on the opportunity to discover your true self. You will deprive yourself of the possibility of living a happier, more meaningful, and purposeful life.
I’m always saying that our bodies are attempting to communicate with us through emotions. If we do not listen and act on what they are trying to tell us, they will bring health and psychological issues until we do. If you know deep down that this is not your path (your body tells you), you should keep taking risks until you find it, regardless of what society, teachers, parents, or others tell you.
Start with self-awareness, create your definitions (reframe what failure is and means) and walk your own path.
In contrast, can you help articulate a few ways how becoming free from the free of failure can help improve our lives?
After recognizing that you are afraid of failure, you must gradually expose yourself by taking small steps. It is essential to instill that habit as early in life as possible.
For example, on the streets of London, I worked in sales, event management, lead generation, and even conducted field experiments for the behavioral economics lab (my first venture). Most of my work was approaching people on the street and persuading them to give me their personal information or buy my stuff. I was pretty shy at the time, so you can imagine how terrified I was. I had to sell stuff or persuade strangers in a language that wasn’t my first one.
To get over this, I started my shifts by approaching three people at random, not with the intention of selling anything, but simply to let go and get over my fear of failure. What I discovered was that after my third interaction, everything started to flow and my fear disappeared. Fast forward, I became an event manager.
Because of that experience, I overcame my shyness and, a few years later, built the largest behavioral economics network. It all started with a little courage, no judgment, and a few small steps.
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 Behavioral Economics Lab was my first company and my first “failure” in entrepreneurship, leaving me devastated, purposeless, lonely, and depressed. To cope, I began to experiment with LSD, which lasted for a few months before I decided to stop because I was continuously stressed out and couldn’t sleep. These months were among the darkest in my life. I was feeling like a total failure.
One of the mistakes I made was attaching my self-esteem and self-worth to something external (the company). When the company failed, my self-esteem and self-worth were crushed. I tried to find another solution by bringing on a new partner, but this also failed. I sought to resurrect an already-dead project in order to boost my self-esteem. I knew I needed to stop looking outside and start searching within.
I’ve begun to go deeper into myself, devouring books on topics such as personal and personality development, stoicism, entrepreneurship, business, psychology, and others. The goal was to develop my self-awareness and learn how other people dealt with failure. I also spoke with successful entrepreneurs who were starting their third, fourth, or fifth business after their first attempts failed.
I came to the conclusion that no one succeeds on their first try. What I was experiencing was absolutely normal. There is no such thing as failure; only feedback. With each fresh attempt, you learn what not to do the next time, increasing your chances of success on the next try. Trial and error is actually trial with small error (if you learn from your mistakes).
There’s a saying in Silicon Valley that goes, “No one takes you seriously here unless you fail at least seven times.”
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 recover from the incident, I began to reframe failure, learned about risk-taking, and developed my definitions of failure, success, wealth, love, and so on, giving failure a new meaning. Here are some of my mindset shifts:
- Understand the difference between certainty and uncertainty: In a certain world, all the odds and probabilities are known while in an uncertain world they are not. Long-tails, as they are referred to in complex science, rule in uncertain environments. To avoid getting too technical, consider Wilfredo Pareto’s (80/20) Principle, which states that 80% of land in Italy is owned by 20% of the people. In other words, many natural events follow this rule of distribution (power law). It means that in an uncertain world, you only need to win once to succeed because unique events predominate, but you’ll probably have to try multiple times before you find your breakthrough.
- Reframe failure as feedback and risk as research. Consider yourself an inventor who is continually inspecting and adapting until he or she strikes gold. With each attempt, you gain more information that brings you closer to your goal. In other words, in a trial-and-error process, each new piece of information reduces your error and increases your chances of success. Whatever it is that you’re doing, it’s not an end in itself — it’s one step on the journey. This is how science works.
- Think like a trader: You experience a negative outcome as a disappointment but not a tragedy because you are a percentage player and you don’t expect perfect reciprocity or ‘’justice’’ all the time. No strategy in the world renders 100% of the results, there are always losing trades, losing projects, and wasting days, what is important is that in the long run, your P/L is positive. In a long-tail/uncertain world, you just need to have a few big wins to compensate for your losses (Trading strategies only win 40–60% of the time). The important is to minimize your losses (avoid getting ruined) and keep playing the game until you succeed
Everyone should grab a pen and paper and come up with their definitions of the following questions:
- What is failure, and what does it mean to you?
- What is success, and what does it mean to you?
- What is love, and what does it mean to you?
- What is wealth, and what does it mean to you?
- What is health, and what does it mean to you?
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.
My experience with fear of failure relates to the uncertain, messy, and chaotic world of entrepreneurship. This is one of the most difficult fears to overcome for someone who likes “controlling” everything. I can’t say I’ve completely mastered it, but things started to shift when I reframed what failure is and means to me. More specifically, when I adopted a trading mindset and started taking massive action.
Here are my 5 steps:
- STEP 1: Reframe Failure as feedback and risk as research. Consider yourself an inventor who is continually inspecting and adapting until he or she strikes gold. With each attempt, you gain more information that brings you closer to your goal. In other words, in a trial and error process, each new piece of information reduces your error and increases your chances of success. Whatever it is that you’re doing, it’s not an end in itself — it’s one step on the journey. This is how science works. Ask yourself this: What invention (art, business, science, etc.) did the creators get on their first try? Not a single one.
- STEP 2: Minimize your risk (avoid getting ruined). To avoid the psychological swings that come with trying new things, start slowly, lower your risk, and gradually increase your risk. Minimize your losses and keep playing the game until you win.
- STEP 3: Create Systems. Emotions follow mechanics. To minimize fear, create systems (SOPs) and processes (checklists) and follow them to the T. Give yourself a timeframe and then analyze your results. Do not sabotage yourself mid-course. Most projects take time to materialize.
- STEP 4: Aim for Good Enough (80%). To go from 0% to 80% (competent performance) requires a completely different approach than that needed to get from 80% to 99% (Expert-level performance). Many people do not even begin or try something since they are aware that it will not be perfect. They never finish on time because they are too concerned with perfecting it. This is a trap. To attain “perfection,” ship your product when it is good enough (80%), then iterate. Break your project into smaller, more manageable steps.
- STEP 5: Take Massive Action (Ship). Nothing happens without action. The solution to fear, stress, and the majority of our self-inflicted issues is action. You should try to spend 20% of your time thinking and 80% of your time acting. Schedule thinking and action 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?
I disagree; I think is the other way around. It is possible to fail in one way (not doing the work guarantees failure) and succeed in many ways (doing the work does not guarantee success). We naturally know more about what is wrong, bad, harmful, and what would not work than we do about what is right, good, beneficial, and what would work.
Let me explain.
In epistemology (philosophy of science) and theology, there is a concept known as “Via Negativa.” Via Negativa is the process of obtaining knowledge by subtraction rather than addition. In science, one negative observation can refute a positive thesis, but millions can rarely corroborate it. This is the falsification principle advocated by Sir Karl Popper. Disconfirmation (negative knowledge) is more rigorous than confirmation (positive knowledge).
We know what is wrong with more clarity than what is right. “How not to” books and guides are more robust than “how to.” Because we can succeed in many ways, we can never be certain about the truth; the only way to succeed is via elimination, via subtraction, via iteration. The Via Negativa way.
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’m already a part of one of the biggest life-changing movements in history. The Cryptocurrency and Web 3.0 revolution. But deep down, I want to show my generation (millennials) that there is more than one path to success.
The 2008 Great Financial Crisis defined our generation. For the first time in history, we realized that we would never have the same lifestyle as our parents. This is true for the traditional path, but it doesn’t have to be that way; there is hope and huge opportunities for us if we conquer our fear of failure, get curious, start taking more risks, and start exploring these alternative paths.
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 🙂
I have many heroes in my life. At this stage in my life, I would like to meet internet millionaire MJ De Marco. His books, Millionaire Fastlane and, in particular, Unscripted, have changed my outlook on life. I’ve been questioning my path since the beginning, wondering if it was the right choice and if I had what it takes to succeed in this pursuit. MJ De Marco assured me that I was on the right track and that I should use the fastlane instead of the slowlane.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
My main project right now is Altcoins Mastery, where I simplify the fascinating world of cryptocurrency and web 3.0 to make it accessible to everyone. This is my contribution to the cryptocurrency revolution.
Apart from my website (Altcoins Mastery), you can also find me on Linkedin
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for the time you spent on this. We wish you only continued success.