Give yourself permission to make mistakes. The saying “failing forward” means that every failure is an opportunity to learn and improve for next time. Remember that every expert was once a beginner. You will never know what you can accomplish until you try.

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 Whitney D. Walter.

Whitney is the founder of Harness Your Power, a company dedicated to helping professionals reach their career goals and achieve their full potential. Whitney is a Professional Development expert, a Microsoft-certified PowerPoint Specialist, and holds an MBA from Florida State University. Whitney has spent years mentoring others in Corporate America and continues to aid in the success of professionals across the country by offering professional guidance through in-person and virtual trainings, various publications, and via her website

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’?

Thanks so much for having me! Well, I was born and raised in Florida. So, as you can probably guess, I love the beach and theme parks. And that’s pretty much the extent of my outdoorsiness — if that’s a real word. (Laughs)

I’ve always been a proud bookworm. I was a nerdy kid growing up and I’m only slightly cooler now. When I was a teenager, I got my first job at Target and quickly ended up training other employees 2 or 3 times my age. I’ve enjoyed mentoring others ever since.

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?

That’s such a great question. I’d say one of the most interesting that has ever happened in my career has to be the year I decided to really start advocating for myself in my corporate job and the career progression that eventually followed. At the time, I was feeling underappreciated and overlooked despite the fact that I was a top performer.

So, I made the decision to start telling anyone who would listen that I was ready to get promoted and, in many cases, I asked why I hadn’t been promoted yet. It was a pretty scary position to put myself in because the idea of making my intentions known and not getting the outcome I wanted was terrifying.

It led to some pretty uncomfortable conversations at first and the fear of failing was absolutely in the back of my mind every day. And I’ll admit, I did “fail” a few times as I was still passed over for a promotion at the beginning of this journey. Ultimately, though I was able to start making a name for myself. People began to rely on me for important projects and presentations because they knew how serious I was.

In the end, I could count the number of times I failed or I could say that I did end up getting the promotion I asked for and was even promoted again before that year was over. I’d like to think it was due to the work I had been putting in and the partnerships I fostered over that period of time.

So, there are a few takeaways for your readers here. Don’t the fear of failure stop you from deciding to pursue a goal. Don’t let the fear stop you from sharing that goal with anyone who will listen. Most importantly, though, don’t let the first “failure” be the end of your pursuit. Instead, perhaps you can think of it as a part of the process.

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?

That’s such a great question. The first thing that comes to mind is my ability to be an agile learner. As many of your readers probably know, being a leader is an ever-evolving journey. And it’s not enough to be intelligent. You have to be able to look at a situation and quickly understand if your current knowledge is enough or if you need to develop a new level of understanding or a new approach altogether.

And that kind of leads me to the next trait which is self-awareness. I’m always evaluating myself and my work. That might sound a little obsessive. (Laughs) I do believe this is really important, though.

For example, when you take a moment to ask yourself “Am I handling this situation in a way that is the best representation of my business or my personal brand?” or “Am I considering the big picture or am I viewing this scenario from a limited perspective or bias?” you’ll be surprised what you discover.

The last one I’ll say is just persistence. Once I set my mind to something, you can bet your bottom dollar it will get done! The most basic example is that I rarely take “no” for an answer. Instead, I like to think of that as “not right now” which allows me to consider what I can do to be better prepared for next time.

Ok, thank you for all that. Now let’s shift to the main focus of this interview. We would like to explore and flesh out the concept of becoming free from failure. Let’s zoom in a bit. From your experience, why exactly are people so afraid of failure? Why is failure so frightening to us?

I think people are afraid to fail because we’ve been conditioned to view failure as something embarrassing. We often act like failure is something to avoid at all costs and you shouldn’t dare to talk about it either. The problem is that this leads to people only sharing their successes which, in turn, sort of implies that they’ve never failed.

I also think there is something to be said about the fact that choosing to do something that you could fail may feel like you’re giving up some of your power — which is very scary — in comparison to actively making the decision not to try at all.

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

Are you familiar with the saying “If you don’t ask, the answer will always be ‘no’”? Being afraid to fail is essentially guaranteeing the most undesirable result — just like in that saying.

I’ll give you a quick example. I’m a terrible athlete. I have absolutely no athletic abilities whatsoever. (Laughs) So if — by some miraculous event — I was the lucky fan that was chosen to attempt a free throw at an NBA game, I would probably be terrified. In my head, I’d be envisioning throwing the ball and it doesn’t even graze the net.

The downside of being afraid to fail is that if I opt out of this opportunity then the end result is that I didn’t make the shot. Conversely, if I choose to take advantage of the opportunity, the end result could be the same or the end result could be that I actually made the shot. Highly unlikely but still a possibility! (Laughs)

This is the case in many situations. By avoiding failure, you’re oftentimes limiting yourself to the least desirable outcomes.

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

The overarching theme here is how overcoming this fear impacts your mindset. I think some people might be surprised by how attempting something can have positive results even if you do fail.

When you give yourself permission to make mistakes, you’re also telling yourself it’s OK to not be perfect. This really dials back the pressure! I’m not saying to slack off or purposely not give your all.

For those who identify as perfectionists, like me, you will find that overcoming this fear can really give you a sense of peace and clarity. Over the years, there have been so many things I thought about attempting and ultimately decided against because I was scared I wouldn’t be perfect which — in my mind — was equivalent to failure.

When you’re not worried about failing, you become more willing to try new things, meet new people, and put yourself out there. And when you’re putting yourself out there I think you’re more likely to make genuine connections with people.

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?

Of course! I always like to share career-related examples because I think a lot of your readers can probably relate. Years ago, I applied for a position that I had had my eye on for a while. Now, I’ll be completely honest and admit that I was totally underqualified for the role which made it really scary to even consider applying. But after talking to a few colleagues, friends, and family members I was convinced that I had to give it a shot.

So, I prepped by talking to other leaders who worked in the department and I practiced how I would pitch myself as the best candidate for the role despite my lack of experience. I really did everything I could to set myself up for success.

When the day came, I gave my best during the interview and even got some candid feedback from the interviewer about how I was -surprisingly — one of the top contenders. After another round of stressful interviews, I found out I wasn’t going to be receiving an offer and I was very disappointed. I was even a little bit embarrassed because so many of my colleagues knew I had put a lot of effort into applying.

But the story has a happy ending! It wasn’t too long before the same exact position opened up again. As it turned out, the person who had originally taken the role was being asked to take on another team. This time around, the job was pretty much handed to me on a silver platter. They had been so impressed by my interview a year prior that they had kept an eye on me. Of course, I didn’t know that at the time. However, they had seen the value I could potentially bring to the table and kept me in mind that whole time.

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?

You know, at the time I just accepted the rejection as gracefully as I could and decided that it wasn’t meant for me. I used the feedback I received during the interview process to focus on my professional development and building my resume.

Ultimately though, what your readers can take away from this is two-fold. First, you never know who’s watching. And that’s true no matter where you are or what the situation is. You could be standing in line at the grocery store next to the person with the power to give you the job of your dreams or become the number one angel investor in your new business venture. Stranger things have happened!

The second thing I would say is that you should approach every failure as an opportunity to learn something new. In this situation, I used my failed attempt at getting this position as an opportunity to ask an unbiased third party what I could do to make myself a better candidate in the future. I would highly recommend this to anyone who is turned down for a job because you never know what they might say and it could be a piece of invaluable insight.

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.

  1. If there is a particular goal or project causing the fear, take the necessary steps so that you to feel prepared. For example, do your research. Study the applicable subject matter. And don’t be afraid to ask for help.
  2. Break down major goals into manageable chunks. You can create a timeline with goals that help to measure success along the way. This makes the big picture goal feel more attainable. Believe it or not, celebrating small wins also helps to build confidence. Years ago, I decided I wanted to go back to school to get my MBA while I was also working full-time. It was a big, scary goal because I couldn’t even fathom the level of embarrassment I would feel if I flunked out of grad school because I was too preoccupied with work. Instead of thinking about the amount of effort it would take to graduate, I focused on taking the GRE exam, collecting letter of referral, and submitting my application first. Once I got in, I focused on one semester at a time to avoid feeling overwhelmed.
  3. Talk to others so you can learn from their experiences, avoid common failures, and gain insight into potential expectations. There’s nothing wrong with learning from the mistakes of others. Actually, I like to think of that as a cheat code. (Laughs) A great example here is another habit I picked up while interviewing for various jobs. Ask the recruiter or hiring manager directly, “What skills do the most qualified candidates possess?”. Not only will this tell you if you’re in line with what they’re looking for but it also shows them that you’re thoughtful in your line of questioning.
  4. Give yourself permission to make mistakes. The saying “failing forward” means that every failure is an opportunity to learn and improve for next time. Remember that every expert was once a beginner. You will never know what you can accomplish until you try.
  5. Here’s my favorite one. Just do it scared! I have accomplished major life goals while completely scared of failing the entire time; public speaking events in front of hundreds, buying a house as a single woman in my 20s, and job hunting for six-figure jobs while making only $70k/yr are just a few examples.

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 actually disagree with this quote. Well, I can agree that there are an infinite number of ways to fail! But with every failure, there are still many possible outcomes. Maybe you’ve learned what not to do next time. Maybe you’ve made a new connection of some sort during the process. If you’re lucky, maybe you’ll learn something new about yourself. All of these things could be considered successes depending on how you choose to look at them.

Honestly, I’m not sure what he meant. I know that he goes on to say something to the effect of “failing is easy and succeeding is hard” which I can’t say I completely agree with either. I think I’ll leave this one to be debated by the linguists and historians. (Laughs)

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. 🙂

Well, that’s a million-dollar question, isn’t it? I’d love to start a movement about emotional intelligence and empathy. I believe we would all be better off if we were just a little more self-aware and empathetic toward one another.

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 🙂

You know, I’d love to have a conversation with Malcolm Gladwell. He’s my favorite author and I really appreciate his talent for distilling incredibly complicated ideas down to their simplest components. That is truly a talent and, as a person who has spent so much of my career teaching others, I really admire it.

How can our readers further follow your work online?

You can find me @whitneydwalter on all social platforms.

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

This has been great. Thanks so much for having me!


  • 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.