Invest in your machine. When I say your machine, I mean your mind and your body. A solid foundation is the root of your success. The more your mind and body perceive they are getting their needs met and beyond, the less likely it is that you will encounter fear. Interesting, right? Think about it this way; if you aren’t attending to your mind or body’s basic needs it becomes insecure and unsettled. If you want to set yourself up to not have fear run the show, you need to take care of yourself which will build your resilience, performance, and ability. When you don’t attend to your basic needs and other important needs, you are basically wiring yourself to live in a fear-based, fight or flight state. You will only set yourself back.
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 Mia Zambarano.
Mia Zambarano is a licensed and practicing mental health therapist as well as lifestyle and performance consultant. Mia specializes in work with high performing athletes, business professionals, and others who are looking to improve their overall wellness and functioning. Mia is licensed in both Massachusetts and Florida, while her primary practice is now based in South Florida. Mia is a former Division 1 athlete, new mom, published author, and business owner.
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’?
Thank you! I’m thrilled to be joining you. I was born and raised in New Jersey with my big Greek and Italian families. Since high school, I was very clear on the type of work I wanted to do. I received my undergraduate degree at Sacred Heart University in Connecticut where I was a psychology major and division 1 soccer player. I then earned my master’s degree at Boston University’s School of Social Work and began practicing as a therapist in the area following graduation. After 7 years of living and building my career in the Boston area, I moved down to south Florida just three years ago with my husband and Rottweiler, Tyson. Since then, I continued adding to my experience and knowledge base, became a mommy, and started my private practice business. While I work with a broad clientele base, I have a passion for working with high performing athletes and teams in helping them manage their mental health while optimizing their 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?
This one’s tough; some of the most interesting and intense stories from my career I cannot share due to the nature of my work and confidentiality. What I can speak to was a theme that presented itself in my work. Because I started to establish myself as therapist at such a young age, I felt I needed to overcompensate by proving my ability, actively demonstrating my knowledge, and presenting myself in a certain way. Well, I finally got some honest feedback and it completely caught me off-guard. “You seem too perfect”. Of course, on the inside my jaw dropped and I wanted to laugh at the (of course inaccurate) statement. Now, it would have been one thing if I heard this from one person but it wasn’t only one person or only one time. It was extremely eye-opening. While I certainly take pride in my intelligence, how I present myself, and don’t feel anyone should muffle themselves for others’ comfort, there is something to be said for being effectively vulnerable and relatable. It’s real. It made me realize that perfect isn’t approachable, isn’t fun, and certainly isn’t relatable. I feel that experience truly helped me as a practitioner find great balance in being well informed, presenting confidently, being authentic, and relatable to build therapeutic relationships that yield the best possible outcomes for my clients. It honestly helped in other areas of life as well.
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 feel the three character traits I would attribute most to my success are dedication, creativity, and resilience. Dedication was huge from the beginning. When I was 4 years old, I saw The Power Ranger’s Live and one of the opening acts was a Karate Dojo. After seeing this, I immediately wanted to sign up. The problem was, you had to be 5 years old and I wanted to get started. After some deliberation and convincing, they agreed to have me come in for a trial class. The agreement was that if I was able to manage the class and “keep up” I could continue, but if it was too advanced then I would return at the appropriate age. Fast forward, I continued and ended up becoming the youngest black belt to come out of that Dojo. I went into that experience with the mentality that to be successful, I needed to be dedicated to the process. This might have sounded slightly different in the mind of a 4-year-old, but you get the idea. This taught me hard work, respect, and a myriad of other things. I narrow it down to dedication because if I had not been dedicated to what I wanted, I would not have had the same outcome. It truly impacted me in so many ways. I carried this theme of dedication throughout my life which led me to graduating Summa Cum Laude from Sacred Heart University and getting into the prestigious Boston University School of Social Work master’s program, my soccer career and training which led to some incredible tournament experiences and competing as a Division 1 college athlete, and in my career where I have followed my desire to positively impact others in both traditional and creative ways.
The next character trait would probably be my creativity. It has always kept me excited and inspired towards the things I do or want to do. You can be good at your craft, but if you don’t find ways to keep it new and fall back in love with it, it becomes difficult to sustain your performance and prevent burnout. Clinical work as a mental health therapist tends to be somewhat traditional with individual meetings, family meetings, couples’ sessions, and maybe some group work. It’s no secret that the nature and intensity of the work tends to yield high burnout and turnover rates. While I love the traditional aspect of my profession, I have always loved finding ways to reach a broader audience and make the information applicable and relatable to as many people as possible. Writing, workshops, speaking events, social events, blogging, social media presence, and guesting on podcasts are just a couple of ways I have managed to use creativity to keep myself inspired, motivated, and aligned with my work.
The last trait would be resilience. I see resilience as the ability to overcome. There have been plenty of opportunities for me to doubt myself, the process, or get discouraged. I believe having a strong sense of perseverance paired with the other two character traits I mentioned has been instrumental. As an athlete, a mental health professional, an author, and business owner, I think that not accepting failure as an ending point has been essential. That strong belief in yourself, and the relationship with yourself, helps you overcome even the things you feel like you can’t in the moment. I have put a lot of work into this and it seems to be the gift that keeps on giving. A major experience of building resiliency that sticks out was when I tore my ACL, MCL, and meniscus my senior year of high school right before graduation and right after I had committed to my college soccer program. I was devastated and terrified I would never play the same. This was around the time where you would hear about some people recovering well from this injury, and others not so much. I decided this was going to be an opportunity to not only overcome the injury, but to become stronger. I was running before I had my surgery to help build my muscle to make recovery easier, then proceeded to get cleared to play in 5 and a half months post-operation after being told it would take 9–12 months with the type of procedure I chose. I used this experience to set the stage for everything; mentality could either be my best friend or my worst enemy. I not only learned this for myself and apply it in every aspect of life, but continue to teach this to my clients in whatever capacity they need it. After all, it’s not the absence of obstacles, it’s the ability to overcome them when they present (because they will).
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?
We all have fear. It is a core emotion with a very important function; the function of course being to protect us from harm or danger. Now, let’s pair this with the concept of failure. Failure is something we would acknowledge as being the opposite of success. It doesn’t quite sound desirable or fun. The perception of the experience can certainly be aligned with harm or danger. Naturally, the mind would want to protect us from this; cue fear of failure. The brain struggles at times to differentiate perceived versus real threat to our existence. For some people and in some situations, fear of failure is completely justified. In other situations, it is a massive detriment but we will get to that in a minute.
When I think about failure, I also think about the core emotions of shame and guilt which we all also tend to have. Failure can trigger these emotions which again, are not necessarily desirable; they’re not supposed to be. Guilt tells us we “did” something “wrong” while shame acknowledges this as part of our personality or being. An easy way to remember this is guilt sounds like, “I did something wrong”, whereas shame sounds like, “there’s something wrong with me”. Naturally, we are going to want to try to avoid things that lead to fear, guilt, or shame. Venturing outside our comfort zone and not being “successful” in those things can certainly provoke these emotions. The fear of failure makes complete sense in terms of human nature and wanting to experience desirable and pleasurable outcomes while avoiding unpleasant ones.
What are the downsides of being afraid of failure? How can it limit people?
As I briefly mentioned before, the fear of failure can turn out to be a massive detriment. By trying to avoid something potentially undesirable, you also tend to avoid possibility. Anything you perceive as a failure will reinforce this negative narrative of “I can’t” or “I knew this wouldn’t work”. I believe by trying to avoid failure, we often times create failure in a sense. So many of us fail to tap into our full potential for this very reason. The tendency towards self-preservation in the short term can yield long term regret and stagnation. Fear when unjustified can be wildly limiting. Our built-in protective feature (fear) can often times trick us or work against us. Fear of failure can discourage us and treat something as “bad” or even impossible that is very much possible, convince us that failure is imminent while it very well may not be, or catastrophize outcomes far beyond what the actual outcome may be. I have found and believe that the majority of the time, the benefits far outweigh the risks. We need to be willing to stick with the process to get past the fear and experience the benefits. Failure can also be an extremely valuable learning tool within itself. Without it, growth and progress can be difficult, which is another limiting factor. When used effectively, it is a great tool to augment our approach, strategy, mentality, problem solving, and action steps. I strongly believe I would not be where I am in my life or in my career had I not experienced some of the failures I have.
In contrast, can you help articulate a few ways how becoming free from the free of failure can help improve our lives?
Taking fear out of the driver’s seat can, and most likely will, change your life completely. Our thoughts elicit emotions and those emotions inform actions and reactions. The more you fuel a mentality that is geared towards willingness, positivity, and finding a way to create your own success, you are then actively working towards creating that reality. When you overcome the “catastrophe” of failure and narratives that go along with it, it loses its power over you; this is where the magic happens. When you remove the fear of failure as a limiting factor, it gives you the opportunity to step outside your comfort zone, try new things, take chances, learn, and grow. In my opinion, it builds character and resilience even when we do experience an aspect of failure. Now, I’m not talking about giving yourself permission to be reckless here. What I’m talking about is taking informed chances and giving yourself permission to unapologetically follow your passions, pursue work and ideas that fuel you, have the potential to impact others or the world for the better, and the ability to share useful knowledge. It may not always go as planned, and that’s okay. The second we accept this, the fear of failure loses its intensity. By allowing yourself to be driven by passion, excitement, and love, the possibilities are endless. We lose out on this when fear is running the show.
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?
Just one?! I have had my fair share of “failures” as an athlete, author, and as a business professional. One that certainly sticks out was the first time I was invited to be published as part of a book. Different women and their stories were compiled to create an inspiring novel. Each woman got her own chapter to share her story. I was so excited when I learned that the publisher wanted to include me. I took the time, made the investment, and put so much effort into writing my story and sharing it. When it came time for the book to be released, I panicked. I second guessed myself. I thought about the judgement or backlash I might get from some of the things I shared. I started trying to account for everyone’s thoughts and perceptions. It became so intense that I never even ordered a copy of the book for myself. I didn’t share with my family or friends that it was available or that I had been published as part of this really cool project. This story sticks out the most because my perception of the situation created my own failure. I feel like this happens to so many of us without even realizing how significant our role is in how detrimental the “failure” becomes.
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 got back on the horse. There was so much to be learned from the process in terms of growing, putting myself out there, and trusting myself as a writer and in general. This was early in my career when I still felt I had to prove myself and was haunted by self-doubt. It didn’t take long to reflect on the process and how I handled it. I saw my role in the matter. I reminded myself that I was still in fact published and my work was desired while also acknowledging the kernel of truth that I could work on my thoughtfulness, execution, and intention in my writing and other work while building trust in myself. It helped me write and work more mindfully and intentionally while challenging that narrative of self-doubt. I shifted my focus in writing, published my first children’s book, and started working on my blog as well as getting other articles published to show myself that what I had to say was extremely valuable. I am continuing to build on my work as an author as we speak!
My advice to others based on this experience is that the failure is not as catastrophic as it seems in the moment. I could have easily chalked that situation up to a disaster and never wrote or published again while continuing to fuel a general narrative around self-doubt. The more readily you can face the nature of the failure, the better. Failure often times moves us closer to the desired outcome if we allow ourselves to learn from it and come from a curious headspace rather than a judgmental one. Why did that happen sounds and feels a lot different than criticizing yourself for what may have happened.
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.
I absolutely love this question and this being the focus of the article. It’s something so many of us can relate to on so many levels.
The first step I would identify is knowing that you can be an expert without knowing everything. Whether it’s being a parent, business owner, or anything in between, there is so much to be said for trusting yourself, acknowledging your strengths, and taking those first steps. You don’t need to know everything to get started; no one does! This could deter or stall so many of us from pursuing our dreams or the things we desire both personally or professionally. This came up for me a number of times in my career from starting a blog, to publishing, to starting a private practice; I had no idea how to do any of it! When you follow the narrative that you’re not capable because you don’t know the how, you procrastinate and then create that reality. Start somewhere, build a network, outsource when you can, and go for it! One of my favorite quotes will always be, “You don’t have to see the whole staircase, just take the first step” by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Trust in your mission and your vision.
The second step would be to take the time to learn more about yourself. I can’t stress how important this is. By knowing your triggers, what might deter, or what barriers might come up for you, you can effectively cope ahead and learn how to navigate those things rather than them derailing you or stopping you in your tracks. We are all human. We all have our own “stuff”. This “stuff” is often what ignites unhelpful narratives and the fear of failure. The more you are aware of it, the more you can redirect the fear and deflate the power it has over you. By doing this you change the narratives to set yourself up for success, build a strong internal relationship, and become the best version of yourself which you then get to share with others. This version of yourself is unstoppable and unbreakable. This was a huge part of my graduate program, believe it or not, in preparing to become a clinical therapist. The program really challenged me to acknowledge my fears, insecurities, and other aspects of myself that could potentially interfere with my work or success. It ultimately helped me build the relationship with myself, my confidence, and therefore my ability to support and guide others. Other aspects of getting to know yourself include understanding what motivates you, what drives you, what scares the crap out of you, what your boundaries need to be to protect yourself and maintain your wellness, and so much more. Again, the more you know, the more proactive you can be, the less power it has over you, and the more you can use it to your benefit. Feeling secure and confident will effectively deter the fear of failure.
The third step would be to understand that we were not meant to operate in isolation. Please, please understand that you do not need to do it all on your own. As humans, we are pack animals. I think our modern American culture can challenge this at times, which is part of why I honestly believe mental health rates are higher than they have been. There is so much pressure, and in my opinion less community. Many of us know the saying, “it’s lonely at the top”. While I can appreciate there may be some aspect of truth to this, some of the most successful and happy people I know have a pretty incredible team, inner circle of like-minded people, and support system. Unpopular opinion? Maybe. But I’m sticking with it.
When I was getting started in my work and trying to pursue my vision, I was very much trying to figure it out myself. I felt stuck. I had this vision that I had no idea how to pursue. The second I started talking about it, sharing it, and doing away with fear of judgement or questioning, it all became a reality. I started by talking to a friend that was also in the field who had a pretty incredible creative twist to her work, then other therapists and professionals, then before I knew it things went from seemingly impossible to necessary to put into action. The fear of failure doesn’t feel all that intimidating when you have others cheering you on, supporting you, collaborating with you, and communicating with you on shared ideals. This concept was also part of my decision in having a partner in my private practice business as well as an additional developing business (stay tuned!). It’s a lot easier to get in your own head when you isolate and put unhelpful pressure on yourself.
This fourth step is somewhat of an extension of the previous two. The fourth step is to be mindful of your environment, and control it to your benefit where you can. This is in reference to who you surround yourself with, the information you take in, your social media, your support system, and every other aspect of what you expose your mind and body to. Quality is huge here; for me this was absolutely pivotal. When I first started my blog, I had a private personal social media page and a separate public social media page. My intention for my public blog page was to share insights, tools, and thoughts from the perspective of a therapist. Naturally, I followed any similar or positive accounts out there. It was incredible how different I noticed myself feeling from being on my personal page to my public page. It was so much more enjoyable to be on a feed of positivity, inspiration, and supportive content. It got to the point where I hardly went on my private page! This also showed up with events I would host and how amazing it felt to be around like-minded people with the interest of bettering themselves. Energy is a thing. Your environment one-hundred percent impacts you. Choose wisely. If you have a positive and “safe” environment, the fear of failure becomes so minute. If you have a bunch of nay-sayers, people who doubt you, and toxic energy, your fear and insecurities will never be greater.
Last but certainly not least, invest in your machine. When I say your machine, I mean your mind and your body. A solid foundation is the root of your success. The more your mind and body perceive they are getting their needs met and beyond, the less likely it is that you will encounter fear. Interesting, right? Think about it this way; if you aren’t attending to your mind or body’s basic needs it becomes insecure and unsettled. If you want to set yourself up to not have fear run the show, you need to take care of yourself which will build your resilience, performance, and ability. When you don’t attend to your basic needs and other important needs, you are basically wiring yourself to live in a fear-based, fight or flight state. You will only set yourself back.
I could always tell the difference when I was taking care of myself and putting myself in a position to grow, as opposed to when I wasn’t. When I was in my graduate program, I was taking a full-time course load, working an internship as part of the program, and working part time. As soon as I started going to bed too late, not attending to my nutrition, and isolating myself, my anxiety would increase and I would get in my head about pretty much anything. My work would suffer because I was operating out of a fear-based, vulnerable space. Any time I was focused on furthering my knowledge, reading books that were aligned with self-improvement or knowledge in my field, playing soccer for fun, eating well, and other self-care activities, I was a whole different person. Creativity would flow, problem solving came easier, mental clarity was elevated, and things just didn’t feel as intimidating. I continue to invest in myself by implementing these strategies; reading, exercise, nutrition, utilizing mentors, pursuing different types of courses and continued education opportunities, quality time with friends and family, and doing things I just genuinely enjoy.
To sum it up, this final step is to give permission to invest in yourself; attend to the basics and grow from there. Feed yourself information that fuels and inspires you, take time for personal growth, take care of your physical temple, do things that will fill your tank back up, and witness how different you feel and present. If you feed the beast, it will only grow stronger. If you starve the beast, it will grow weak and apprehensive.
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?
At face value, I think it’s tempting to challenge this quote and say, “well of course there are many ways to be successful!” I’m tempted to believe he didn’t mean it in a literal sense, however. The way I understand this is, there are many ways in which we can sabotage, create, or experience failure. When he references the one possible way to succeed, I think he means this in terms of living in alignment with what you desire or makes YOU feel fulfilled. When I work with my clients, I express that I support them in creating success as you define it. You are the only one that can truly measure or determine your success. We all have different values and goals. Someone else can’t determine for you whether or not you’re truly successful because they won’t always have the accurate measure. The one way you can be successful is to unapologetically pursue what you desire. That is the one way we can truly create and experience success. That’s my take on it!
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 mission has and always will be to build understanding and discussion around attending to mental health the way we attend to physical health. We need to be more proactive. I think this needs to start at a younger age and that this should really be part of school curriculum at every level. We are very willing to talk about physical health, yet when it comes to our main control center, we treat it as an afterthought (pun intended). It continues to baffle me that physical fitness, music, art, and other subjects are taught throughout elementary level, as they should be, but some of the most important foundational skills of living, interacting, emotional regulation, concept of self, and being human are not… WHAT?!
I would work towards creating a school curriculum for elementary age, high school, and college level. I have already begun integrating this work on a business professional level as well as for high performing athletes. Doing that work with and for a population that is so dear to me absolutely sets me on fire.
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 🙂
So many come to mind, honestly. Someone I would love to sit down with would be Tom Brady. The man is absolutely epic in so many ways. As a hard-core lifelong Steelers fan, this would have previously been difficult to admit! Tom to me is more than a football player. He shows up as a leader in many ways. I have always respected the way he presents himself, takes care of himself, and what he has accomplished. He shows up as an athlete, author, philanthropist, father, husband, and friend. The man just keeps getting better as he keeps going; talk about overcoming fear of failure and unapologetically pursuing success. I think when you hear the way other players speak about him, this says volumes in itself. As someone in the therapeutic and holistic realm with a passion for supporting athletes, it would be an incredible experience to sit down with him. I continue to build on my mental health and performance programs for athletes while also working on building a platform to encourage and support athlete wellness through resources, information, connection, and tools. Getting to know and talk to the GOAT himself would be quite the experience. Plus, my Boston-bred husband would be quite envious.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
I am on instagram as @le_vie_psych
Facebook (Sincerely, Your Therapist)
tick tock as @sincerely.your.therapist
Check out and subscribe to our website www.levielifestyle.com for content, events, workshops, information on our services, and more.
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for the time you spent on this. We wish you only continued success.