… You need to recognize when fear of failure shows up in your inner thoughts. This is not always easy. Fear of failure often disguises itself as a rationale reason. For example, you may think: “I would take on that new project but given my heavy workload — I could not possibly do an excellent job on this.”

You cannot conquer any fear until you can identify when it shows up for you. One of my clients, “Mary” had trouble distinguishing between wanting high-quality work and fear. Mary asked allies to help her identify situations where fear was holding her back. Knowing when fear appeared for her — allowed her to develop more effective strategies for conquering 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 Sheila Murphy of Focus Forward Consulting.

For over 20 years, as a former senior legal officer for a Fortune 50 company, Sheila Murphy developed, coached, and transformed talent in corporate America, and law firms. Today, as CEO of Focus Forward Consulting and a certified coach and career consultant, she partners with lawyers and leaders to build fulfilling and thriving careers, practices and businesses. Sheila helps her clients make the power moves take their careers from uncertain and uninspired to unstoppable.

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’?

Like many people, I did not focus on what would get me to the next level early in my career. I let fear hold me back.

My AHA moment came when the Fortune 50 company I worked at as in-house counsel promoted “Matt,” a lousy lawyer who gave the clients terrible advice ahead of me. Matt, unlike me, spoke up no matter how off base he was, promoted himself and built strong relationships. I had always focused on the work (which I did very well) and never liked speaking up, but now it became a sticking point as I watched Matt get the accolades and corner office, I knew I deserved.

Since having to report on Spain in 6th grade, where my dyslexia impacted my ability to pronounce words, I avoided public speaking. Then when I was in law school, my dream was to be an “ostrich lawyer” who stuck my head in the sand and just worked. I wanted to keep my head down, churn out documents and not speak publicly. And when I graduated, I got my dream job to be a corporate lawyer who just documented deals. Or so I thought.

Unfortunately, my law firm blew that dream up. On my first day, the managing partner told me that I would be a litigator, not a corporate lawyer. My heart sank. When the law firm put me in a job where I would need to speak in court, I thought about quitting on the spot. But my mother, who had paid for my education, would have killed me if I didn’t stick it out.

So, I spent years making a pale impression of a litigator — avoiding assignments most want- like arguing in court or taking a deposition.

MY HEART SANG when I got my first role in-house, and I felt relaxed. I believed I was going to be that ostrich I dreamed of. And then the Matt promotion happened.

As an in-house lawyer, I realized that it was even more important to “get out there” than in the law firm.

To get ahead, I needed to show leadership, executive presence, and have a solid network to advance in-house. I vowed to change no matter how difficult it was for me, and let me tell you, and it was not always easy. I told myself, “Focus Forward” when it was tough, and that is what I did.

By the time Matt left the company, he reported to me. Today, in my consulting practice, I bring all of this experience (both from a law firm and in-house) to help attorneys and leaders who want to win the game but are worried they may not really understand the rules learn how to ”Make Their Power Move.”

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?

While I was trying to incorporate the lessons from the Matt promotion into my work life, the company was facing a severe issue. The company assembled a working group to make a critical decision, and I was the most junior person in the room.

During the discourse, the group discussed many different courses of action. And yet the one that I thought was obvious and most beneficial was not.

And I knew I should raise my idea, yet I felt that fear begin to rise. Here were all these brilliant men in the room, I thought — they must have considered what I thought — and they must have dismissed it for a good reason that was alluding me. My inner voices told me that if I raised my idea, they would judge me as an idiot for not realizing why they had dismissed it.

And I thought about Matt, and I gathered my courage and gave my idea. It turned out that no one else had thought of it, and with some modification, the group selected it as our course of action.

This meeting reinforced to me why I need to speak up. I owed it to my company to share my ideas. What is evident to you — may not occur to others. I also learned that you are not put into working groups without reason. Companies select you because they know you can add value. And it also taught me to encourage and listen to ideas from wherever they came with an open mind.

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?

First, my ability to spot and develop talent has been critical to my success. Finding and nurturing talent is key to creating a successful team. You are only as successful as the weakest member of your team.

I have always had a knack for spotting innovative, brilliant, and dedicated people. And by creating an inclusive and development-focused environment- by educating, engaging, and empowering each individual.

The key to creating this is to start with the premise that every team member has value and talents, and it is your role to inspire them to greatness. For a manager, this means treating each person as an individual and appreciating their goals, strengths, and opportunities. You can tailor a development plan that will propel them forward by doing this. Of course, this also requires opportunity, feedback, and support from you. As a manager, this is the right thing to do and, more importantly, has a massive payoff in terms of efficiencies, engagement, and innovation.

Having this type of team makes you look good and is excellent for the organization.

I remember when one of my team members was going to be taking on more managerial responsibility, and we were going through my approach for each of the individuals he would be supervising. He was shocked that I had an individualized approach to each person and cared about each one as a person. I explained to him that was what great managers do.

Second, I built my success by adding value everywhere possible. To do this, I had to overcome the fear I discussed earlier. I am a strategic thinker who connects dots and sees problems in ways that differ from others. All of this adds value- but only if I am comfortable sharing my thoughts.

To be a leader in an organization, you have to see and lobby for ways to improve its vision, efficiency, or effectiveness. The higher you go or want to go on the corporate ladder, the more critical it becomes. Its ellipses the importance of your technical skills.

As a young leader, one of the C-Suites executives asked for volunteers for an initiative, and no one was raising their hand. I conquered my fears and volunteered. Being on this strategic project and having leaders see my thought process and how I thought about issues — -I suddenly was in high demand and on the shortlist for critical projects and opportunities. It changed my career trajectory.

The final key to my success is strategic relationship building inside and outside my company. Whether leveraging a connection to speed a project through the Information Technology review process or finding out what other companies are doing on various initiatives, success comes through building and nurturing strong relationships. You cannot achieve your or your organization’s goals and hopes without others’ assistance. And people are of more extraordinary service to those they have a trusted relationship with. These relationships open up doors and give you thought leadership which you can use to further your firm.

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?

Fear is an instinct that we owe our survival to, but fear is often irrational and makes some people avoid leaving their comfort zone and developing as much as possible. Our minds also tend to overemphasize the negative if something does not go as planned and underemphasize the benefits if they are successful.

Also, I work with successful high achievers who usually have rarely failed and overachieved their entire lives. For these people, failure is not something they have had to address in the past- so it is scary because it is unknown, and they have not developed the mechanisms to handle it. In addition, many people tie their self-worth to their success. When these people think about failure, their inner voices view it as a tremendous blow to their self-value.

What are the downsides of being afraid of failure? How can it limit people?

Fear of failure limits your opportunities and career growth. Fear of failure limits people because you will become stagnant if you don’t stretch your skills and tackle new challenges. If you are not taking on new experiences and learning new skills, you not only are you not moving forward — you may be going backward- if others are taking advantage of these opportunities. .” And embracing learning and a growth mindset are characteristics that organizations require in their leaders. And the more that you take on these experiences, the more trying something new becomes part of your nature. We need to re-frame the word FAIL because it is nothing more than a “First Attempt In Learning .” In contrast, can you help articulate a few ways how becoming free from the free of failure can help improve our lives?

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 was in charge of a large initiative that include a significant financial obligation. The way the finances were structured there could be significant additional payment if certain variables came into play. While I was monitoring the situation and providing updates — about the fact that we were getting closer and closer to the variables happening. I did not highlight that the chances were increasing that we would be on the hook for a substantial payment. Needless to say, the variable came to be, and the company’s financial obligation increased dramatically, people were not pleased with me or my performance.

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 started by owning my mistakes and taking steps to mitigate the negative impact. I also explained to people how I learned from the situation and how I would handle things differently. I learned from this situation that you have to make sure that you are “communicating” and really communicating. And by that, I mean making sure that your stakeholders receive messages and understand them and the impact. I also learned that leaders take responsibility for the big picture items.

My advice to others is that while this was not my favorite professional time, leading this initiative taught me valuable leadership lessons through the projects’ successes and my failures. And if it were not for leading initiatives like this, I would not have become the leader I became.

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.

The first step is to understand that fear of failure negatively impacts your career. Most people who listen to their inner fears and avoid trying something new believe that their fear protects their careers. And this is not true.

You need to change your mindset from a fear mindset to a growth mindset. That is appreciating the benefits of letting go of your fears. of their perfectionism.

My client, “Jane,” keeps a list next to her computer of the benefits of letting go of her fear and embracing new situations. That list includes growing as a leader, improving her skills, increasing efficiencies, and enhancing her professional profile and network. She has tackled new projects, received accolades, and improved her performance reviews by doing this and celebrating taking small steps to step into the fear. This reminds her daily to lean into what she was avoiding.

You need to understand that fear is not helping you and is harming you. In fact, Jane’s manager told her she was not promotable because she was not taking on larger projects. When Jane dug in, she realized she had been avoiding these projects out of fear of failure, and she knew this fear was not helping her- it was holding her back. Now that she has worked on this fear, she is on the promotion list.

Second, you need to recognize when fear of failure shows up in your inner thoughts. This is not always easy. Fear of failure often disguises itself as a rationale reason. For example, you may think: “I would take on that new project but given my heavy workload — I could not possibly do an excellent job on this.”

You cannot conquer any fear until you can identify when it shows up for you. One of my clients, “Mary” had trouble distinguishing between wanting high-quality work and fear. Mary asked allies to help her identify situations where fear was holding her back. Knowing when fear appeared for her — allowed her to develop more effective strategies for conquering it.

Third, it is often all we can focus on when fear happens. We become ruminators who have difficulty letting go of negative thoughts. You need to develop a process for breaking up these thoughts. Some ways that people successful do this is by:

· Leveraging mindfulness technique

· Concentrating intensely on something else, whether it is the ridges of your fingers or staring at a project.

· Writing down the negative thoughts and either crossing them out or ripping them up

· Visualization-imagine you are somewhere else and doing something out there. Another client pictures herself looking at the waves at the beach to stop her from staying on the hamster wheel. She then can assess the situation more effectively.

Fourth, you want to change the narrative. To start with, if you are thinking, “There is no way I succeed on this with this budget, and I will be fired,” you can reframe it to say:

“My fear is saying that I can’t succeed without more budget, which is not true. Fear also says my manager will fire me, and clearly, that will not happen. My management chose me because of my talents, and I will succeed, and even if I don’t, I am so valued I will maintain my position.”

Next, think about what fear costs you and the benefits of letting it go in these circumstances. When doing this, it is best to look at the big picture of the project and not focus on just your aspect of the assignment.

You also want to put yourself in control when you reframe. For example:

“My fear is telling me not to take on this assignment because I have not done it before, and the leader of that organization is a real stickler for thoughtful work. But I know that by taking this assignment, I will grow my skills and have the opportunity to develop a new sponsor., as well as new skills.”

Some clients write down the benefits of each specific situation to help them reframe and let go of their fears.

Finally, when you see the fear of failure rearing its ugly head, think about how you want others to view you as a leader. Do you want to be seen as someone who cannot tackle new experiences or challenges or an innovative leader who engages teams and brings about significant positive change? Picture that inner leader and then decide to act like that leader consciously.

When I feel fear creeping up, I picture myself as Miranda Priestly from The Devil Wears Prada, who is fearless. This visioning puts me in the right mindset to take on any challenge and quash any fears.

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?

While I hope that people quote me as long as Aristotle, I’m afraid I have to disagree with him here. I believe that there are many ways to succeed. That is the beauty of success. You can create it on your terms using your strengths. People can achieve their objectives by building engaged teams or keeping their pulse on innovation and thought leadership outside of their industries. Different approaches can all lead to excellent results.

In addition to that, you can obtain a successful result by building a terrific culture, and you can achieve that same result in a way that creates a toxic environment. In reaching objectives, leaders who create inclusive spaces to innovate and perform will reap the benefits of that in the future by creating an engaged and empowered team. In addition to that, you can obtain a successful result by building a terrific culture, and you can achieve that same result in a way that creates a toxic environment.

Those who micromanage and limit creative thinking may also achieve “success” but at a high cost. So when thinking about success and failure, the ramifications of how you plan for and approach a challenge.

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 want to ensure that all women and girls have access to education and opportunities to leverage what they learn to control their futures. Research has demonstrated that investing in women and girls has the most significant impact on communities. I want every woman and girl to have the chance to be what she wants to be and not be limited by access to education or opportunities. For this reason, I am a massive supporter of CARE International.

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 would love to have a lunch with all the women on the Supreme Court. I would love to learn about their leadership journey in the law.

How can our readers further follow your work online?

You can follow me on LinkedIn at https://www.linkedin.com/in/sheilamurphyfocusforward/ or sign up for my mailing list at my website: www.focus-forward-consulting.com.blo

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for the time you spent on this. We wish you only continued success.


  • Savio P. Clemente

    TEDx Speaker, Media Journalist, Board Certified Wellness Coach, Best-Selling Author & Cancer Survivor

    Savio P. Clemente, TEDx speaker and Stage 3 cancer survivor, infuses transformative insights into every article. His journey battling cancer fuels a mission to empower survivors and industry leaders towards living a truly healthy, wealthy, and wise lifestyle. As a Board-Certified Wellness Coach (NBC-HWC, ACC), Savio guides readers to embrace self-discovery and rewrite narratives by loving their inner stranger, as outlined in his acclaimed TEDx talk: "7 Minutes to Wellness: How to Love Your Inner Stranger." Through his best-selling book and impactful work as a media journalist — covering inspirational stories of resilience and exploring wellness trends — Savio has collaborated with notable celebrities and TV personalities, bringing his insights to diverse audiences and touching countless lives. His philosophy, "to know thyself is to heal thyself," resonates in every piece.