If you have ever had the unique opportunity to observe the behavior and development of young children, you would notice something astounding. Young children have little or no fear of failure. They are keen to explore new places, engage in new activities, and attempt physical feats that can make the heart of a parent skip a beat. Children have a bold curiosity for the unknown, and concerns about risk or failure rarely enter their minds.
However, as children develop they begin to learn to fear failure. Parents often tell them “no” or quickly shelter them from the risk of negative outcomes, such as injury, disappointment or losing a game. On the one hand, teaching kids to be smart about what risks they should not take, such as touching a hot stove, can benefit their development and allow them to make more informed decisions. On the other hand, parents who do not allow children to experience some types of failure may condition them into thinking that failure is unacceptable or that they are entitled to succeed. This is common in youth sports today where many kids receive trophies even if they are on the losing team. In this case, children will be conditioned to think that there is no such thing as failure, and it will lead to a greater fear of failure as adults.
By the time most people reach adulthood, they have had many years of conditioning around the fear of failure. Those who grew up in very protective environments may have larger fears of failure, while those who experienced more failure will often take greater risks and be less fearful of negative outcomes. In either case, the fear of failure can be one of the biggest limiting factors in achieving personal success as an adult, whether it is a career, a personal aspiration or life in general. However, with the right focus adults can learn to control and even overcome their conditioned fears of failure to achieve things they never thought were possible.
While most people will never completely overcome all fear of failure, there are some important skills and behaviors that one must focus on and develop in order to reduce that fear or even harness failure to create a higher level of success. Over the coming weeks we will take a journey through different approaches to overcoming the fear of failure, but it all starts with recognizing and embracing failure as part of the success process. Although many of us have heard the saying before that “failure is not an option,” my hypothesis is that failure truly is not an option, but rather it is a necessity for achieving at a high level.
– J Stoiber