Why fear of failure still looms so large in our careers

Don't worry. This isn't another blog about how many times Elon Musk almost went broke or Walt Disney failed to get a loan before they ultimately triumphed and changed the world. Huzzah!

I don't know about you, but I don't find those stories relatable or motivating.

Yet so much of what we hear about failure actually reinforces people's biggest fears about pursuing their career aspirations: that it's going to be big, it's going to be bad, and you'll probably go broke. But don't worry, after you fail repeatedly and spectacularly, your wildest dreams will come true!

Sign me up???

Our culture has made the "f" word so freakin' scary that it becomes this amorphous blob waiting to swallow you whole if you even consider changing your career course and don't have it entirely figured out at the outset.

No wonder you feel stuck.

Here's the thing: you don't have to fail repeatedly or spectacularly at all.


Caroline Adams Coaching career change career coaching career transition

Let's look at the definition of failure, shall we?

Failure: a situation or occurrence in which something does not work as it should.

No mention of shattered dreams, broken relationships, or living under a bridge. Failure is simply getting an unexpected result.

So many great discoveries happen when things don't go according to plan--the layoff that forced you to start that business you've always wanted, the job you failed to get that led you to an even better opportunity, the nightmare boss that forced you to leave before you felt ready, the path you tried before realizing, "This is NOT it!"

We get so attached to expected outcomes that we don't see the even better opportunities coming our way.

We see only F-A-I-L-U-R-E. Then we personalize it. I failed = I am a failure.

How crazy is it that these fears, existing in our head, cause us to live as if they've actually happened?!

Avoidance of failure does not equal success. If your fear of failure keeps you from going after what you really want, is that winning?

Yes, some things will not go as planned. Why assume that's a bad thing?

I watch client after client make inner discoveries and create amazing external career opportunities as a direct result of things not working as they should.

Once you understand why failure feels so scary and what you're making it mean, you can plan for it.

If you equate failure with financial ruin or damage to your reputation, then let's come up with a plan to prevent those things from happening.

Part of why failure feels so scary is that we infuse the tiniest of steps toward what we want with outsized fear of failure. If the stakes are feeling too high, lower them. You don't have to create the career you want in one step, so take the pressure off. Give yourself ample opportunities to fail and succeed in a way that feels safe and energizing.

Failure will only loom large in your career if you make it your focus. There's always opportunity, and it's a heck of a lot easier to focus your energy on that.

Let me know in the comments where fear of failure is keeping you from career success.

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Author Bio: 

Before becoming a coach, Caroline worked in management consulting and financial services. She's made it her mission to help people grow, contribute, and get wherever they want to go.

Caroline wants people to recognize how much power they truly have to define their careers. The life and career you want really is possible once you have the roadmap. Take the first step by downloading her free guide: 4 steps to take back your life and design a career with purpose.

She’s also a tennis fanatic, aspiring Minimalist, FIRE (Financial Independence and Retire Early) enthusiast, and Aloha Spirit seeker 🤙. She loves to share stories from her unconventional life and career focused on freedom, creativity, fun, health, family, and community. If she can do it, you can, too.