A Coaching Power Tool created by Brandy Morris
(Business Coaching, CANADA)
There is only one thing that makes a dream impossible to achieve: the fear of failure. Paulo Coelho, The Alchemist
In many stories of aspiration there is one character that almost always gets a role in our tale. That character’s name is Failure; a giant, horrific monster. It stands in our path, thumping its hairy chest, threatening to come and get us if we dare to move towards our dreams. There are times we manage to run between this wild creature’s legs and reach our intended destination. Sometimes, the introduction of the monster stops the story before it even begins. The beast is just so frightening; we turn around and run in the other direction. It’s the only way Failure can win. This beast’s power is not in its bite; it relies entirely on its bark.
Those of us who are able to face their fears and run at Failure full force can often get a pretty major smack down but it almost never ends in our demise. In fact, being knocked to the ground often allows us to see things from a different perspective. We stand up, dust ourselves off, and if we’re really paying attention, take note of what prevented us from slaying the demon and file it under “useful” in our minds. That knowledge makes us more powerful, more agile, and more likely to reach our destination in future attempts. The most successful of us begin to realize that the monster is not a monster at all. Failure is just Experience dressed up in a scary costume.
We, as humans, dress Experience in that frightening get-up. It’s merely an illusion. We can liken it to a 3D movie, we know nothing is actually flying towards our heads, but we flinch anyway. If we look back on our encounters with Failure, we’ll find an extraordinary amount of evidence that our fears are irrational. We might even see that Failure is a loving, caring creature that is much more giving than Success when it comes to our growth. When we can see this clearly, the deception is exposed and the paralyzing fear can’t prevent us from chasing our dreams any longer.
How the Monster is Born
There are a lot of factors that can increase the strength of our failure monster’s war cry. If we allow past disappointments to define and label us, we might be considering ourselves failures right out of the gate. We might hold onto those failures as evidence of why we are not worthy, or enough, or capable. The past failure might have produced a limiting belief that makes it very hard to for us to visualize ourselves dancing in the joy of a success.
Projection into the future can also fuel the mighty roar of Failure. We’ve never taken the path we are considering before so it’s easy to let our imaginations run away with us when determining how hard it will be. We might be worried about letting others down, or what not reaching our goal will say about us. No matter what’s turning the volume up on our fear, the best way to silence it is by exposing the monster for the illusion it is.
Self Application: How Failure Helps Us
Failure is the condiment that gives success its flavor. Truman Capote
Failure becomes Experience when we allow ourselves to see the proof. Look back at the experiences you deem as failures. Ask yourself what good came out of that disappointment. Was there knowledge gained? Did you recognize a shortcoming in yourself that you were able to work towards correcting? Maybe when the path was blocked, you were forced to look in other directions and saw opportunities you hadn’t even noticed before. You might even realize during this reflection that Failure was just a stepping stone on your way to success. Failure is not only misunderstood; it is also under-appreciated. How does it feel to view Failure in this kinder light?
The better our relationship to failure, the better we will be able to support our clients in recognizing that it’s not really that scary after all.
Application to Coaching
Fear of Failure may be one of the most prevalent topics of coaching. Shortly after selecting a goal, our clients often begin to suit up the terrifying beast and initiate its game of intimidation. They begin to procrastinate, or back pedal on their desires stating that it’s not as important as they had thought. These symptoms could represent a variety of other concerns such as values conflict, waiting for the right moment, or a plethora of underlying beliefs. The first step is in diagnosing the block. Once the fear has been identified, it’s a great opportunity to introduce this powerful perspective shift that, if accepted, will change the way the client approaches his goals entirely.
Taming the Beast
The goal is not to try to eliminate the idea of failure altogether. Failure is very clearly defined in the dictionary as not actualizing desired results and expectations; it is not imaginary. The fear that we experience as a result of its potential for failure can be minimized greatly by recognizing that failure is temporary and quite often very helpful.
Turning past failures into experience
The first step in exposing the monster is to redefine past failures as valuable experiences. This is exceptionally powerful as the client begins to collect evidence from events that have already happened.
- What positive outcomes came as a direct, or not so direct, result of that failure?
- What new doors opened because you didn't get what you wanted?
- What awesome things in your life could not have happened if you had achieved your intended goal?
- What tools or wisdom did you gain from that experience?
Opening ourselves up to experience
If failure is a result of not reaching our desired outcomes, detaching from the outcome lessens the fear. Now that the client has looked into the past and witnessed failure as experience, it will be much easier to welcome that outcome for their future actions.
- What would you do if you weren't afraid?
- What’s the worst thing that could happen? If that did happen, what experience might you gain from the event?
- What awesome alternate results have you not considered?
- What if the outcome was even better than you had hoped?
- How does it change things if you view this as an experiment?
Other ways to combat fear of failure
Taking inventory of our supports
- What skills and qualities do you posses that will help you on this quest?
- What resources might you need along the way? What do you already have? What do you still need help with?
- Who can you ask to support you on this journey? How can I support you on this journey?
Removing the unknown
- What’s the worst thing that could happen?
- How have you dealt with these types of obstacles in the past?
- Who do you know of who has travelled a similar path? What insights can you gain from their journey to help you on yours?
By redefining Failure, we open up our ability to see it as a support and approach it from a place of gratitude and respect. When that happens, we can move forward with the confidence that whether things go according to plan or not, the one certain outcome is Experience- and that’s really not so scary, is it?