Southern Stock—Getty Images
Career

How I Overcame My Fear of Failure

Feb. 10, 2016

The advice that helped a startup founder take the leap to start her own business

Let’s be honest: no one wants to fail. I certainly don’t. Just the thought of failing is enough to make me cringe. It’s bad enough to anticipate the external humiliation of failing in front of others, wondering what they’ll say and do and think, but the internal insecurities and questions of self-doubt that rise to the forefront of my mind are even worse. That’s why, when I first started my company, Avelist, a website where people can share tips and advice with each other, I realized I needed to overcome the fear of failure if I wanted to open myself up to any chance of success. Here are three things I learned in the process that helped me overcome my anxieties.

Read more: How to Come Out on Top After Getting Laid Off

1. Think about your worst-case scenario
I’ve found that, in general, the anticipation of failure is way worse than any actual failures themselves. That’s why going through your worst-case scenario is so powerful. This is exactly what I do when I’m starting a new project or a new venture: I ask myself what the absolute worst thing is that could happen. I name it, write it down and give myself a chance to process the risk associated with this failure. I consider the emotions that would follow—and suddenly, the fear of failure loses some of its hold over me. It isn’t vague or unknown anymore, and I realize it wouldn’t be the end of the world, which gives me a feeling of control. And if the worst-case scenario does happen (which, might I add, often isn’t the case), I know I won’t be caught off guard. Which brings me to my next suggestion…

2. Come up with a plan for how you’d deal with that worst-case scenario
When I started Avelist, the worst-case scenario was that we would run out of money. Sure, I’d raised a small round of funding, which enabled me to leave my stable corporate job and take the “startup plunge.” But I was paying myself, three full-time employees and some part-time freelancers. I also knew that product development often takes longer than expected, which meant there was a good possibility my funds would run dry.

Read more: The Power of Writing Down Your Goals

So I came up with a plan: I’d buy a house with my savings, flip it and (if we ran out of money) sell the house to fund the company. Sure enough, we ran out of money. I sold my house for a profit, and the company survived. I was lucky, but it helped that I’d thought of the worse-case scenario and developed a plan for how to deal with it if it came to fruition. I recommend anyone grappling with a risky decision and a fear of failure do the same.

3. Know who you are
What do you place your identity in? Make sure it’s not solely in this one venture or one project or the approval of one boss. Because after all, no one is just one thing, and finding self-worth in other aspects of yourself beyond one element will help cushion any ego blow if you do face failure. For myself, I take the time to invest in my family and close friends. I also have side hobbies and interests outside of my company. There are other projects and companies that I dream of starting in the future. My whole life isn’t riding on the success of this company. Don’t get me wrong, I care about Avelist a lot, but my world won’t be over if Avelist ends because Avelist isn’t my whole world.

Subscribe to the Motto newsletter for advice worth sharing.

And if you do fail…
Unfortunately, sometimes even backup plans fail. Sometimes, many times, the outcome of a situation is out of your hands. It could come down to external circumstances, the timing of a particular market, a theory that didn’t pan out exactly the way you hoped. But remember: If you fail in one venture, you can start another. If you mess up a project and disappoint your boss, that sucks, but there will be other bosses and other promotions. Use each failure as a learning experience. Be honest with yourself. Whenever I mess something up at Avelist, I do two things. First, I ask myself if it was my fault and if it was I apologize to anyone my mistake affected. It’s important, I’ve found, that I forgive myself, too, because I can be my own worst critic. Second, I ask myself what (if anything) I could have done differently to avoid the mistake. Pushing yourself to improve is a way to turn failure upside down and bring good out of it.

You’re going to fail at some point or another—we all do. It’s not fun, but it’s part of the human experience. So don’t let your fear of failure hold you back from achieving something great.

Jody Porowski is the cofounder and CEO of Avelist.