Fear of failure

Twenty four years back, I attended the first MILT convention at Bangalore, called “Sangam”. Krishnan and I had been married a few months then, and (late) Reddy’s wedding gift was our trip to Bangalore and attending the convention. There were several technical papers presented and one of them was on “fear” and how to be fearless. I had questioned the presenter saying, we do need some fear, because it helps us be better prepared. You fear for your safety at night, and take precautions. You fear for your reputation so you stop yourself from doing something stupid. So fear in small measure is needed … Ofcourse Aporesh tried making me a Miltonian by saying, “she wouldn’t understand, she is not a Miltonian” :):). I did have a private argument with Aporesh later but “fear” as an emotion has always been fascinating.

I came across this poster on facebook and it sums up what excessive fear of failure can do –


As I have grown older, I realise that people fear failure the most after death. Fear of death is the biggest fear out there, and I feel the fear of failure is the next. While growing up, the fear of failure leads to good students actually failing in exams and then committing suicide because they failed. Parents are held responsible and considered a failure if their child doesn’t turn out to be the brightest, smartest, best behaved or with the highest marks. In sports excessive fear of failure leads to bad performance by great sportspeople. In the corporate world the person who has this fear will never earn his team or peer’s respect. Imagine an operations leader struggling to say “no” to a client because he doesn’t want to fail and eventually fails because he/she cannot deliver or a salesman wanting to perpetually shadow his manager because he is scared of taking the blame of the sale not happening, or a leader scared of failing always finding a way to blame “others”….

Fear of failure is crippling. One of my favorite questions in any managerial interview is “what are some of your failures, where did you go wrong, what did you learn ?”. Very often the answer I get it, I don’t have any failures or something so tiny that it doesn’t count !! If you don’t have any failures in life, it only means you haven’t tried hard enough and you haven’t taken enough risks. It could also mean, you will not let your team commit mistakes and will be harsh on them – a clear disaster as a manager.

No one can succeed all the time, Abraham Lincoln, Edison, Einstein, Napoleon, Alexander the Great, Gandhiji.. Pick any great man or woman, they all faced spectacular failures right through their life. Imagine if any of these people had the crippling fear of failure, we certainly would not be remembering them because they would have remained another “unlived” life.

Fear is needed, in small doses to get the adrenaline flowing, but not the fear that cripples and stops you from acting. Especially never be afraid to fail or pass up the opportunity to fall down – dust yourself off, laugh with those that laugh at you and get on with what you need to achieve.

The best quote to help those who fear failure is the following one, print it off and stick it on your wall, read it everyday and just keep moving.


3 thoughts on “Fear of failure”

  1. What a thought provoking post Bindu Ma’am… reminds me of JK Rowling’s commencement address to Harvard graduates in 2008 which was on ‘The Fringe Benefits of Failure, and the Importance of Imagination’…it most definitely is one of the best commencement addresses I have heard. i’m sure you might have come across it. Just in case you haven’t (and I seriously doubt it) You can read the transcript here http://news.harvard.edu/gazette/story/2008/06/text-of-j-k-rowling-speech/
    And the video is here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wHGqp8lz36c


  2. You certainly should. I’m very sure you will enjoy it. And as a happy coincidence, soon after reading your post and sending you a link for JK Rowling’s commencement address speech, I came across an announcement that this particular speech is being published in 2015 into an illustrated book titled “Very good lives: The Fringe Benefits of Failure and The Importance of Imagination”.


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