Fear of failure

April 16th, 2013 → 1:20 pm @ // No Comments

There are lots of things to be afraid of on this planet.  Business failure isn’t one of them.  Yet many would-be entrepreneurs are paralysed by the fear of failure.

As I write this, the TV is showing the first reports of the Boston Marathon bombings.  Such events are now commonplace around the world and are so frequent in some countries that they barely make our news.  Then we have car accidents, disease, muggings… there are plenty of things to be afraid of if we’re prone to fear.  For most of us, these events are just risks we live with.  We shrug, take some precautions, and carry on.

Starting a business offers a substantial up-side in financial security and in a sense of accomplishment.  The down-side is unpleasant; bankruptcy, anger from investors and family, perhaps some ridicule… but that’s all.  So why are so many people who want to start businesses prone to paralysing fear?

Unlike things which can happen to us, like muggings and car accidents, starting a business is a matter of personal action and presumed control.  We think we are totally responsible for the outcomes, and our egos become hugely invested in the process.  Failure is a sign of personal inadequacy.

Although that response seems to be the norm, it’s not rational.  We can’t stop competitors from innovating and making our products redundant, we can’t predict sudden changes in market preferences, we can’t be sure suppliers will deliver on time, or staff will be honest… the list of factors outside our direct control is endless.  Those who succeed as entrepreneurs are lauded for their success and attributed with developing the new great product.  But more often than not, their greatest achievement was in struggling through against all the unforeseeable hurdles which threatened to destroy their dreams.  Were they fearless?  Perhaps some were, and some others were so afraid of failure that they daren’t give up.  The fear or lack of fear was not the key issue; it was their persistence in the face of adversity (along with some good fortune) which brought them success.

And what of those who did fail?  Some slunk away and swore never to start another business.  Probably, their businesses failure had serious financial consequences for them, their families, and their investors.  But, giving up on business was probably more a reaction to emotional responses; angry investors, disappointed wives/husbands, disapproving parents.  Those reactions can chip away at our self-worth if we let them.  Those who give up after experiencing the great learning curve of a failed business have often taken too much responsibility for things outside their immediate control.

Feeling fear of failure is okay when we start a business… it can make us focused and determined.  But we should also recognise that there are genuine factors outside our control.  If we’ve done all we could do, and the business still failed, there is no reason to suffer a shattered ego.  Business failure is a small issue when set against all the things on this planet that can do us, and our families, real harm.

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