So often our fear of failure feeds our self-doubt and before we know it our ‘I can’t’ has suffocated any ‘I can’. We ask ourselves ‘Who would listen to me?’, ‘Do I have the experience to do this?’, ‘What if this fails?’.

To be brilliant we have to see failure not as a dirty word but rather as an invitation to courage and an opportunity to learn how to become more. 

It was General Colin Powell that said, ‘There are no secrets to success. It is the result of preparation, hard work, and learning from failure’.

Oprah Winfrey said, “Failing is another stepping stone to greatness.”

We have to be willing to fail – because this is bravery, this is courage, this is determination, this is a willingness to try and change things. The future is asking us to challenge the status quo, to disrupt thinking, to be courageous and brave, to drive change, to face our fears.

The Fear of Failure

The reality is most of us are conditioned to fear failure and this is fuelled by what we learn at school, work and in the media.

We’re taught that failure is wrong, and that taking risk is dangerous. It has a crippling effect for many of us on a daily basis. At school, everything is either right or wrong: pass or fail. At work, performance reviews focus on our weaknesses and 360-degree reviews allow others to critique our behaviours. Media spotlights individuals’ weak spots or negative stories—and, at worst—even when they are successfully achieving, they are slammed in an effort to dig up dirt and create headlines to knock them down a peg or two.

It becomes easier to ‘stay safe’ rather than putting ourselves out there where we risk looking stupid or being vilified.

Befriend Failure

If you look at some of the most successful individuals in play today, at some stage they have ‘failed’ and shown courage and strength in coming back from the edge.

Richard Branson has failed and gotten up more times than many other entrepreneurs have made a decision. He befriended failure as an invitation to keep following his dreams. While inventor Sir James Dyson, the beloved designer of the vacuum cleaner, went through 5127 prototypes and 5126 ‘failures’ to get his phenomenally successful first model right. That’s a lot of what could be termed complete and utter failure.

Befriending failure is facing the fear head-on, exploring all the options while breathing deeply, trusting yourself, turning negative thoughts into positive and then quite simply just doing it.

Invitation to courage

If you want to do things differently, to challenge the norm or play a bigger game it takes a lot of courage to move forward in the face of possible failure. Negotiating a pay rise, resetting work boundaries, deciding to be part, or not, of a changing organisation, saying no—everything takes a lot of courage. And while it’s easy to say, it’s hard to do. It takes a level of self-belief to challenge the traditional: the ‘it’s always been like that’ or even ‘this is how I’ve always done it’.

It means going against the status quo.

Unicorns and rainbows won’t happen 100 per cent of the time. The reality is there will be failures and mistakes. But if we are going to change anything we have to embrace the notion that failure is not a dirty word, stare it in the face and say, ‘I’m coming for you anyway’, knowing this is a necessity for driving change and progress.

A fear of failure doesn’t mean full stop – it means do it anyway, be brave, and go for it.