Courage: Be willing to show yourself, be vulnerable in a way that scares you on a regular basis. The more you expose yourself, the more confident you will become. If you don’t own your story, it will own you. Practice telling your story.

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 Timothy Gulick.

Timothy is a Nationally Certified Family Recovery Coach and a Certified Peer Recovery Specialist. As a person in long-term recovery, Timothy utilizes his own personal experiences to assist families and loved ones in their healing journey. At Mountainside, Timothy fosters a safe and healing environment through his calming demeanor and implements a strong focus on communication within the family. He acknowledges how our behaviors can impact the one who is trying to recover from their substance use disorder. Timothy is also a member of the LGBTQ+ community and understands the way shame from addiction can impact not just the one who is struggling, but the whole family.

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 often tell people that I went to Harvard for “shame and addiction”. That’s my humorous approach to sharing that I’ve been in recovery for 10 years after decades of substance use disorder. I grew up in a small town in New Jersey, and from a young age was singled out as different. I was small and petite and often mistaken for a girl. This impacted my ability to gain confidence and self-esteem. I immersed myself in the arts and when I was a teenager, I was a model/actor which landed me on the back of the original Nintendo box. My father left when I was 13 and I quickly turned to drugs and alcohol to relieve my boredom and insecurities. Eventually, I became a full-fledged crystal meth addict in San Francisco. I was a club kid and a gogo dancer, and that solidified my crystal meth addiction. Later, I began selling my body and drugs to maintain my habit. This went on for decades. I was HIV positive, unemployed and in and out of the hospital several times a year. My parents were certain I was going to die at one point and looking back, I can understand why. I got sober in 2013 and have not looked back. I love the topic of fear of failure because I see it as the same as fear of success. I am not alone in feeling that it was very difficult for me to choose a direction because I wanted to experience everything life had to offer. I could never make a decision about where I wanted to go with my life. I wanted to do everything. And I truly believed that I would be good at anything I chose to do. So fear of failure and fear of success were the same for me and kept me stuck in the same place. It was safer to do nothing. It all changed for me in a very profound and sudden way, shortly after I got sober.

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 the most interesting story. I continue to be surprised at my success and curious about my journey. I love watching it unfold and I find it all to be very interesting. Perhaps one of the most surprising things that happened was an experience I had while working at a sober house. A young man was displaying, very aggressive and violent behavior in a treatment setting. All the other clients had vacated the premises because they were scared of his anger. I had to confront this person. I knocked on his door and asked him to meet me outside on the deck, because I wasn’t sure if it would be safe to keep him in the house. When he came downstairs, he started screaming at me and it was terrifying. When the moment felt right, I grabbed him and hugged him. All his anger melted away, and he began to cry uncontrollably. It was in this moment that I understood that anger really is a secondary emotion. People are hurting and they want to be seen and loved for who they are. Some of my most transformative moments have been acts of courage on my part that have helped break down some barriers that young men have in regard to their ability to express emotion. Mentoring young men who would have bullied me in high school has also had the unintended benefit of healing my own shame in the process. Truly a win/win scenario and an incredibly restorative experience both spiritually and emotionally.

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?

Vulnerability. It allowed me to finally be authentic about who I am and helped me feel truly confident. This is the opposite of how I was raised. Everyone tells you to act confident and be strong. You don’t have to act confident if you are confident. That is a distinction I believe is worth pointing out. Being confident in yourself should come from a deep sense of worthiness, and that you can only obtain by being vulnerable. Find some safe people who you can share your whole story with, over and over until it loses power over you. I often say, if you don’t own your story, it will own you. Challenge your own narrative, sometimes we believe people who don’t want us to succeed, and we have to clear the channels for a new story to be written.

When I first started going to recovery meetings, I would share about my sexuality in almost every meeting. “Hi, my name is Tim and I’m a gay alcoholic” or something ridiculous like that. I did this repeatedly for years much to the annoyance of others. Occasionally someone would come up to me and say, “we get it Tim, you’re gay.” When you have an overabundance of shame around something, you need to expose it to the light until it loses its power. So yes, other people got the fact I was gay, and they didn’t have a problem with it, but apparently, I still did. If you can’t overcome your shame, it will become your identity, whether hidden or not. I rarely think of my sexuality anymore, it is just a regular part of my life, and I am free to be my whole self. Some people can still become very successful while hiding big parts of themselves, but I must wonder if they are truly able to enjoy it. I think success is much easier and more enjoyable when you can show up as your authentic self.

Commitment. I stopped failing 10 years ago. In the sense that I have not given up. I believe that if I am committed to something, I can’t fail. When I started working at Mountainside, I was commuting 4 hours a day and was still the first person in the office on a regular basis. I did this for a whole year before I moved back to New York City. My commute is 20 minutes now. Commitment just means I am willing to do whatever it takes to make sure I show up on time and am ready to be present, engaged, and enthusiastic.

Humility. Give up the idea of being the perfect leader or the perfect employee, student or whatever. Understand that you will consistently make mistakes and they are just learning opportunities. I was in a meeting at a former job that my boss had been working very hard to create for weeks. During her presentation I was making jokes and having fun. Afterwards she pulled me into her office and said, “Timothy! You are a manager; you can’t act like that you are supposed to be a role model.” It was a huge moment for me because in the past, it would have filled me with shame. Instead, I was able to thank her and learn from the experience. It was just information designed to help me be a better leader.

Ok, thank you for all that. Now let’s shift to the main focusof 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 believe that fear of failure and fear of success are in essence, the same thing. I was afraid to do anything, because if I failed, it would prove that I wasn’t worthy. If I succeeded, I would be stuck doing something I hated. It was safer to do nothing. I think a lot of people are afraid of failure because they want so desperately to be accepted. If I fail at something, I won’t belong, and nobody will love me. I believe it goes right to the core of our survival instinct. The idea of failure threatens our ability to be alive let alone thriving. That fear can be paralyzing for people.

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

At the risk of repeating myself, I would say the fear of failure limits us by keeping us from making any decisions. If we suffer from perfectionism, the idea of looking stupid is appalling to us. If we suffer from low self-esteem, the fear is, we could end up feeling even worse than we already do. Shame is the driving force behind both of those personality types, and it will always keep us small.

In contrast, can you help articulate a few ways how becoming free from the free of failure can help improve our lives?

10 years ago, I was facing federal prison for selling drugs, I was a high school dropout, and I had been unemployed for 13 years. I had no education, no career, no finances, no friends, I had absolutely nothing and I was 41 years old. I began my journey into sobriety, and about three months in while sitting on my mother’s living room couch, the thought came into my head. “I am a success “. I have never had that thought before and there was no evidence to support it, but I chose to believe it. This is the most important point I could possibly make in this interview. Something bigger than me planted that belief deep in my brain. I believe at our very core; we are all born with the belief that we are successful. We may have varying experiences along the way that lead us to believe otherwise. As long as you are alive and breathing, you are a success. If you define your success by crushing goals or achieving things, you will constantly be chasing success. When you believe that you are worthy of it, just because you are alive, that’s when the shift happened for me. Failure no longer was a fear because I stopped believing in failure. I believe I’m a success no matter what. All that means to me is that I don’t ever give up. I don’t set goals that define success for me, I simply have a direction. I don’t limit myself by goals or achievements, I want to blow the roof off my limitations. There is no ceiling, and there is no time frame. As we speak, Jeff Bezos is building a clock that will last 10,000 years just to prove the point that we are capable of so much more when what we do daily. As long as the work I’m doing serves people other than myself the sky is the limit. An infinite mindset leads you to a belief that anything is possible. Opportunity is not a finite resource; growth is as expansive as the universe itself.

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?

It depends how you define failure. I constantly make mistakes these days. I probably made 10 mistakes today alone. I think failure was how I thought of myself for most of my life. I was a poor student. I was undiagnosed with ADHD and dyslexia from a young age. There were really no support systems in place to help me. I looked and acted smart so people couldn’t understand what was going on in my head. They just thought I was lazy. I never got the assistance that I needed to excel in any area. I would say dropping out of high school would probably be my biggest failure. I don’t think of that as my failure alone, but the system failed me. They had a big meeting with school administrators, and they all went around the table, asking me what was wrong with me. Expecting a 16-year-old closeted boy to possess the courage to explain to a group of adults that he doesn’t feel safe anywhere he goes is a huge failure that continues in school systems everywhere. If you don’t feel safe, you will never be able to learn, retain information or succeed. When you are contemplating whether being alive is even worth it, you certainly are not going to express an interest in any subject.

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 that it’s very difficult for young people to possess the amount of courage required to be themselves in a world not set up for them. The lack of support and role models and mentors can make or break someone at a young age. My father left when I was 13, and not until much later in life that I realize how important it is for a young man to have a male mentor in his life that believes in him. It is very hard for a young person to believe in themselves. They need somebody to believe in them. If you are a young person, or even a middle-aged person who still struggles with believing in yourself, please do yourself a favor and seek out a mentor. A guide. Someone older than you who you look up to and tell them you’re afraid and you need guidance. That takes a tremendous amount of courage, but I promise you it will yield the results that you deserve. You are worth it and you are a success and you will believe it at some point. Don’t let anyone tell you what that should look like. Find people who believe in who you are not what you’re capable of.

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.

Service: Do something for somebody else. When your success benefits others, it is much easier to follow through and it will be far more fulfilling. 11 years ago, I started volunteering for Habitat for Humanity and it snowballed into a career of service. When you’re doing it for others, the reward is in the act itself. It’s very easy to stay motivated, focused and driven when your work benefits others.

Courage: Be willing to show yourself, be vulnerable in a way that scares you on a regular basis. The more you expose yourself, the more confident you will become. If you don’t own your story, it will own you. Practice telling your story.

Compassion: Be mindful of how you speak to yourself. You must be kind to yourself first. I try to live in a constant state of self-forgiveness. Making mistakes is a daily occurrence, be willing to own it.

– Patience: Tony Robbins says, “Most people overestimate what they can do in a year and they underestimate what they can do in two or three decades.”. After 10 years of coaching, I can safely say I am a master at it. Keep walking in the same direction and enjoy the journey. Keep your own pace and do not compare yourself to others. Remember, you are already a success!

Commitment: This is the biggest one for me. When all else fails, I am committed to constant growth. Whether it’s my spirit or my career or my physical health. I am always committed to growing.

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?

To fail is to give up, to succeed is to persist. That is what I take away from this quote.

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. 🙂

Presence. The single most important thing that ever happened to me was facing prison. After I was arrested, I was given a court date six months later. I was facing 10 years in federal prison. For the first time in my life, the fear of the future was real and concrete, not abstract. There was an actual Bad thing happening, and I had no idea how to process that information. Every time I tried to think about the future, my brain would snap back into the present moment out of fear. There are much more graceful ways to learn about the importance of presence in your life, but this was a very effective crash course for me. Being forced back into the present moment made me think about how I want to spend the last six months of my life. I had always heard things like “carpe diem”,”seize the day”, “be here now”, etc. Before I was faced with this potential life changing event, I always assumed those expressions meant you had to do something over the top and exciting or extraordinary. When I was forced into the present moment, what I realized was all I needed to do was to pay attention to who was in front of me. I began loving people as if they may be the last person I ever see. It transformed my relationships with myself and the world. Being from a complicated family with a history of addiction I found it easier to put that pure energy towards people I didn’t know, although it was the same idea that eventually restored a healthy relationship with my mother. If people could let go of the fear of the future and forgive the past, there would be a massive shift in the consciousness of humanity. I believe that could potentially be the most beautiful thing that’s ever happened on this planet.

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 🙂

Unfortunately, Prince died in 2016 so other than him watching me dance from the stage one time, I will never get to meet him. I would have to say that the most important person in popular culture who has had the most profound effect on me would be Brene Brown. When I was getting sober, I stumbled upon her talk, “The Power of Vulnerability”. I watched that Ted talk every day for 30 days until it finally sunk in. It was because of her message that I finally found the courage to start practicing vulnerability in my life. I have since read all her books and seen all her talks and specials. She made the journey a lot less scary by relating it to her own experience. I am always more willing to learn from people who share their own struggles in a way that I find entertaining and educational. I wouldn’t be where I am today without her guidance. It would be so dope to meet her.

How can our readers further follow your work online?

My Instagram is @Timetendo4Life and I am on Facebook as Timothy Edward Gulick. You can also find me on LinkedIn. I would suggest that you follow on all platforms. Mountainside is an amazing place to work. After 25 years, Mountainside is still changing, growing, and experimenting with the latest in technology and innovative ways of treating people’s trauma and substance use disorder. It’s a lot of work, in fact it’s the hardest I have ever worked, but we are committed to being on the cutting edge in the treatment industry and our clients continue to benefit.

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.