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60 Seconds to Better Handle the Fear of Failure

This post is less than 200 words long. By most read-speed estimates, it will take about 60 seconds to read. I hope it helps you think differently about the fear of failure.

There aren’t many things that prevent us from things we might really want to do.

Mostly they’re governed by fear.

And mostly that fear can be broken down into two categories.

  1. The fear of judgment
  2. The fear of failure

Fear of judgment — we’ll tackle that another day.

When it comes to fear of failure, it runs deep in almost all of us.

The way I like to thing of it: 90% of people feel fear; the other 10% are afraid to admit it.

Fear of failure is a major driver for many of the top performers in every field.

What might happen if we thought of fear of failure like this:

Failure is feedback.

If we try something and it doesn’t work, there are three real choices we face.

  1. To try something else.
  2. To refine the thing we’re trying and go again.
  3. To give up trying.

If we can agree that 3 is not an option that most of us want to consider, then we only have 1 or 2.

Either is good.

Let’s go.

The heartstopping beauty of a genius at work

From Tom Brady to Velazquez to Virginia Woolf, the innate human capacity for genius and the witnesses to its expression, is endlessly beautiful.


I realised something important over the past few days.

My mind was a little addled, my head overwhelmed, my email inbox overflowing in that intangible but all too real digital way, and various projects full of undone to-dos.

It’s only the third week of January, but I needed a break. To put it more accurately, my head needed a break. My brain had been in overdrive since the Christmas holidays, thinking of the ways to keep all the plates spinning and avoid any breakage and move forward into 2019 and beyond on the right path. (Because I had spent too many years drifting aimlessly down the wrong ones…)

I started thinking about movies. In the past the cinema was often the break my head needed when the overwhelm rose up around me.

Not any film, though.

There’s a huge problem with movies right now, which the excellent short video essayist The Nerdwriter talks about in his YouTube video, The Epidemic of Passable Movies. (Aside: the Nerdwriter is great for thought-provoking 10-minute diversions into pop culture and the arts — some favourites: how Emily Dickinson writes a poem, how Donald Trump answers a question, the psychological phenomenon of being in a state of flow)

But every so often, for whatever reason, through some collective wizardry and alchemy in direction and writing and editing and performance, a film lands that delivers exactly what I need it to. (Everyone’s different: you will likely have some category or subset of movies or art or books that delivers just for you.)

And I realised this.

The movies that speak to me, the movies that uplift me and connect with me in a way that stays with me for decades, are almost always about the concept or character of genius.

I loved Shine, but I listened to film reviewers who told me that Geoffrey Rush’s standout performance was the most notable factor.

I loved Good Will Hunting, but I told myself it was the perfectly pitched script and the origin story of Matt Damon and Ben Affleck that did it.

I loved The Hours, but I thought it was the four interweaving storylines that grabbed me.

What I think now, though, is that genius is the common denominator.

It’s genius that lights me up.  It’s genius that resonates with me at a level much deeper than basic understanding. It’s genius that makes me appreciate the time spent standing in front of a Velazquez in Madrid, or Tom Brady to Julian Edelman at 3rd down and 10 in overtime, or Leo Messi’s two-touch-control-and-goal at the World Cup.

And here’s what I really think about genius.

Genius is about way more than just the small handful of people who excel at the level of greatest of all time.

We all have our own individual genius.

It is born within us, and the best we can do is channel it and allow its expression. The paradox of genius is that it’s absolutely of the self, but it is designed to be witnessed by others.

So many of us take our genius to the grave, because we cannot find a way to express it, and that saddens me greatly.

We do that because we’re afraid of failing.

Or we’re afraid of being judged.

Or we’re afraid of succeeding.

That fear is to be recognised, welcomed and challenged.

We must try to meet fear, greet it, and defeat it.

It starts here.

Pessimism is a game that’s impossible to win

One of the enemies of happiness, of peace of mind in the moment, is pessimism: the uncertainty, anxiety and fear we have about the future at any given point in time.

Jane Austen, the 19th century novelist, has a line in Emma that goes: “Perfect happiness, even in memory, is not common.”

For many of us, though, memory is the only place where we’re truly happy. Because when we remember any given situation, the one thing that we don’t recall, because it has been erased by the passage of time, is the uncertainty and fear about the future that we held in that particular moment.

(Kevin Barry is an Irish novelist working 200 years after Austen. His thoughts on happiness owe something to this retrospective state of happiness, of a happiness in memory because the memory doesn’t contain the uncertainty, anxiety and fear that we held deep in our psyches in real time. He told Blindboy in a live podcast interview recently, “I’m generally moaning and grizzling at the time, but as soon as I leave a place I become nostalgic for it. I think, Yeah, I was happy back there.”)

So how do we become happy in real time? How do we have that peace of mind in the moment that is a hallmark of true happiness?

Things can go wrong. Things can always go wrong. Things do go wrong.

But how often do things go right? Or at least, how often do things not go wrong in the way that we have projected in our minds?

Retreating into pessimism about the future, allowing ourselves to be anxious about things going wrong, is a game that is impossible to win.

As Tesla founder Elon Musk, in an interview with Joe Rogan in September, said, “I’d rather be optimistic and wrong, than pessimistic and right.”

Pessimism is a game we can’t win, even if we’re right.

And optimism is a game that helps us win, even if we’re wrong.


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