If you are too afraid of failure, you can’t possibly do what needs to be done to be successful.
I fail far more than you might assume, especially given the fact that I’ve written hundreds of articles, coached thousands of people, and even written a book on forming productive habits, being mindful, and finding contentment despite our struggles.
I fail at all of those things sometimes, and it feels just as dreadful for me as it does for anybody else.
I come down hard on myself, feel guilty, try to avoid thinking about it, and would rather hide my failures from everyone I know.
Yes, failing hurts! And yet, I brush myself off, get back up and try again.
I still fail at getting to the gym sometimes, but I keep trying. And I’m actually pretty good these days at sticking to a regular workout regimen, but I failed and tried again, repeatedly, for years before I became reasonably consistent.
I fail at being loving and compassionate to myself sometimes. But I don’t give up.
I fail at being a patient and present dad and husband, especially when life gets busy. But I continue to try, and sometimes, I’ve been told, I’m the best dad and husband in the world.
I’ve made three attempts at writing the article you’re reading now, and scrapped it entirely the first two times because it didn’t feel right. And yet, I started again, and obviously I’m done now.
When I try over and over again, I succeed in the long run.
And if you try over and over again, you will succeed too.
You may not succeed in the exact way you hoped you would, within the exact timeframe you hoped you would, but you will learn and grow from your experiences and failures, and you will be better off in the end.
More than anything else, here’s what you need to be willing to fail at to succeed in life:
1. You have to be willing to fail at the original plan.
Life is full of screw-ups. You’re supposed to fail sometimes. It’s a required part of the human learning process.
I’ve learned that a more flexible, open mindset is what’s required. When you are rigidly attempting to carry out a plan or reach a dream, and things don’t go exactly as planned, then you feel like a failure and every bit of positive action from that point forward gets derailed. But if you have a more flexible and open mindset, and instead think, “This may not go as planned, but that’s OK because plans can change,” then it’s not a catastrophe when you realize you need to slow down, pivot or switch paths.
There’s no single path in life that you have to stay on to be successful and happy. Success and happiness comes with noticing the progress you’ve made, and understanding that every lesson is a step forward.
2. You have to be willing to fail at feeling completely confident and prepared.
For starters, extreme confidence is often just ignorance in disguise. If you’re feeling super confident and cocky all the time, it’s likely because there’s something important you don’t know.
But the inverse of this equation can also be incredibly problematic – letting your lack of confidence stop you from learning and growing. For instance, you may get so accustomed to the comforts of “I’m not good enough”, “I don’t want to” and “it’s too hard,” that you stop doing things for yourself and instead expect others to do everything for you. And all this really means is you’re not achieving anything at all for yourself. You’ve simply made yourself weak.
The key is to understand that you don’t need to be confident or feel fully prepared in order to make progress in life. You simply have to befriend the possibility of failure and then step forward. Failing is learning, and learning is progress.
You want to know the difference between a master and a beginner? The master has failed more times than the beginner has even tried. Behind every great invention, creation or work of art is a hundred failed attempts to make it, but these attempts are simply never shown to us.
Bottom line: Success always begins with one step outside of your comfort zone. When you’re feeling a little unconfident and struggling to make progress, that’s when you’re growing stronger and smarter. The more time you spend there, the faster you learn. It’s better to spend an extremely high quality ten minutes growing, than it is to spend a mediocre hour running in place. You want to practice at the point where you are on the edge of your ability, stretching yourself over and over again, making mistakes, stumbling, learning from those mistakes and stretching yourself even farther. (Read Drive.)
3. You have to be willing to fail at fitting in and pleasing everyone.
The strongest and happiest among us are often the creative, daring ones who never go completely mad, even when everything gets crazy. They aren’t so easily disheartened by the seemingly endless amounts of scrutiny that creative individuals tend to receive because they, like insanity itself, are the ones who feed off of opposition and negative feedback and manage to continue along with a healthy dose of ambition. It’s the willingness to be different that teaches us to use our gifts wisely and own all the critics of the world, with smiles on our faces.
So remember, you don’t need everyone to like you and your creations. You are like an artist with a gift. Not everyone is going to see your beauty and talent. Trust your intuition when it comes to working on what’s meaningful to you. And know that trusting your intuition is equivalent to trusting your true self… and the more you trust your true self, the more control you have of making your biggest goals and wildest dreams come true, even when life’s inevitable changes and adversities get in your way.
4. You have to be willing to fail at being OK all the time.
You can only grow by opening up fully to what you’re feeling.
Take any emotional feeling – love for a significant other, or grief over a lost family member, or fear and pain from a deadly illness. If you hold back on your emotions and you don’t allow yourself to go all the way through them, you can never get to the point of being detached from them. But by throwing yourself into these emotions, by allowing yourself to fully embrace them to the point where you’re effectively in over your head, you leave no emotion abandoned or question lingering in your mind.
You know what love is. You know what grief is. You know what fear is. And only when you know these things can you say, “I’m OK again, and ready to move forward with my life.” (Angel and I discuss this in more detail in the “Adversity” and “Self-Love” chapters of 1,000 Little Things Happy, Successful People Do Differently.)
5. You have to be willing to fail at doing it all by yourself.
Just because you don’t need to please everyone, doesn’t mean you have to go it alone all the time either. There is a middle ground, and it’s OK to ask for help when you need it.
One of the biggest barriers to success and happiness is the significance we often place on the idea of “doing everything ourselves.” Somehow as a society we have come to associate success with not needing any help from anyone. Many of us are willing to offer a helping hand, but we’re hesitant to reach out for help when we truly need it. Don’t do this to yourself.
For the last several years I’ve asked for help whenever I needed it, and doing so has made all the difference. When I’m desperately struggling with something, I know I can either quit or I can figure out a smarter way. But it’s not always easy to figure out a smarter way, so I reach out to Angel, close friends and family, mentors, peers who I respect, and I ask them for help. They might not have all the answers either, but sometimes they do, and even when they don’t they still give me some necessary perspective. Whatever happens, my family, friends, mentors and peers – my tribe members – never fail me.
What opportunities have you missed out on simply because you were scared of failure? Do you have any other thoughts about this post? I’d love to hear from you. Leave a comment below and share something with us.
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Photo by: Sweet Caroline
Wendy Marsh says
Over the past several years I’ve missed out on more social engagements, dates, job openings — you name it — simply because I didn’t feel confident enough. I found your blog after my sister gave me your book this past Christmas. Already I’m seeing small bits of progress in my mindset and daily behavior. This post further reinforces the fact that I’m on the right track. Thank you.
Marc Chernoff says
I’m glad to hear the book has been helpful, Wendy. And it’s inspiring to hear that you’re already seeing progress. Please check back in with us and let us know how things are going.
Janice Ramos says
I have been postponing going to school to become a Dog groomer for years. I can finally take classes after work and now i am afraid to come home to late and not have time to do anything else..i am so mad at myself because it is something i have always wanted to do. I am unhappy at my current job and really need a change. I am also afraid of failing at it. This article has helped a lot. Thank you for the great advice.
Marc Chernoff says
Go for it, Janice! 🙂
Double go for it…all the way…even if you fail, you ll fall forward, be kind to yourself, your nature s miracle, simple as that.
I agree! Go for it! Life is too short to be miserable!
This post came at the perfect time! I am in the process of interviewing for a new job, but I have been scared of leaving the security of my current position. I know in my heart that it is time to move on and this post really helped me to feel more confident in that decision. Thank you, Marc and Angel!
Marc Chernoff says
You’re welcome, Erin. Cheers to the next step!
Such a great post!
No doubt about it… Just like Angel said on Facebook:
“Sometimes it takes a good fall or two to really know where you stand in life.”
We all go through some failures in life and it is totally devastating at times. It is scary (true) but we need to accept and just let it go, it is hard yes, but it is the only way out. Allow ourselves to be surrounded with people who love and believes in us, open our minds to more productive and great opportunities ahead, count our blessings with an open heart and full of gratitude. Thanks for sharing a very informative and motivating post. Great Read.
This post reminds me of one of my favorite quotes:
“Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.” – Winston Churchill
In my 57 years of experience on this planet, everything you’ve said in this article rings true. Excellent reminders!
Rose Costas says
Having the courage to start living my dream was my biggest move. It’s a new year and even more committed to seeing it come through. You blog has always been a source of motivation and encouragement to me.
I am older, wiser and more confident now. Thanks again for this awesome post.
I love this post – there”s nothing like a good reminder that failure is okay to get you going. If nothing else, it helps guide you away from the safety of your mediocre comfort zone and out into the risky unknown!
There’s no telling how much I’ve held myself back in life because of that irrational fear of failure. But, like you say, you just have to keep on trying and learn from your failures!
Marc Chernoff says
Well said, Mathias!
Ed Gordon says
Failure is one step closer to success!
Wow! You two young “old souls” (judging by the amount of wisdom you have) are amazing! Your words about great inventions and how many failures before success hit home here! In 2009 I asked God for something to do as I knew I was going to be single. I knew I needed an income, within one week I woke up at 4 a.m. with a dream about a thing, an invention! it was a gift from God!I immediately ran with it.God gave me the right people the right place the right time. after applying for a patent I was told to expect A rejection letter, but instead I got an acceptance letter! the first time which is rare and get this, I received it on Christmas Eve! I just want to say after reading your post today ii hit me really hard what an incredible gift it is! There were NO failures! First prototype works perfectly! Now after 6 years of hard work I hope to have it on the market this year! Your words today reminded me how good my God is and how much he cares about HIS children. Blrssings to you both! Thank you for your hard work in pushing through the resistance in fulfilling your purpose!
Marc Chernoff says
You are welcome, Judy. Thank you for the kindness.
I find it so hard to accept someone in my life. I fear the fact that I can’t make it on my own. I want to be able to accept the person I have in my life now and love them for who they are, not their looks or actions. Anyone have any answers or ideas on how to quit judging and just be happy and content? I just come out of a relationship of about 30 years because the person would not accept the fact that I had anxiety and depression. That is what’s hurting and killing me the most right now. Hurting either way really bad.
I’m no Guru but I would say that whatever you(the individual) projects outward is a reflection of what’s inside. If you are constantly judging others and are having a hard time stopping this behavior. This is only speculation, but you are judging yourself really hard and it may be because you need to forgive yourself. Dont be so hard on yourself for a mistake that was made. What’s done is done, you can choose accept that or not. Forgive yourself, love yourself especially for all the weird and eccentric parts that make you YOU, and the rest will fall into place. 🙂
Check out an internationally available group called Recovery International (adaa.org). A family member developed great coping skills to boost self-confidence and independence, reduce judgements and fears, and helped overall coping skills. They really helped with how making judgements plays a role in life happiness. Meetings are available in person or over the phone, Sunday night’s is free. Yearly membership is modest, and the group dates from more than 30 years. It works. Check it out and good luck.
I, too, am about 2 1/2 years out of a 30 year marriage. It’s hard to feel confident when so much of what you worked for and believed to be true crashed. At least that’s how I feel. I am blessed to have a large family and friends who are my support group. Do you have that? I was in a relationship of a year since my divorce where I felt unsure and unable to commit. I decided it was too soon for me and I needed more time alone before entering into a relationship. It is lonely sometimes because most of my friends and family have relationships and I feel like I’m missing out. However, I would rather be alone than settle just to be with someone. He was a wonderful person, just not the one for me.
Maria Stenvinkel says
It’s so important to know that failure is a natural part of growth and nothing to fear (easier said than done of course). I’ve made a promise to myself to keep my eyes on my ‘why’ and never let fear of failure stop me. And I’m also working on being open with vulnerability and confusion so that I can get the support I need to move on as smooth as possible.
Thanks for great advice!
Patricia Whitener says
I took a big step last year and found a property where I could keep my horses so I wouldn’t have to board anymore. It was a move from the safety and convenience of the suburbs to the country. I love the barn I had built and love knowing that my horses are being cared for the way I want them cared for. However, despite updates to the house, I hate my home and I hate the commute to work or to the store. I also really miss walking my dogs every evening – it’s way too dark to do that after work – and I miss being able to ride my horses during the winter as I don’t have an indoor arena like I had when I was boarding.
I have been beating myself up by how stupid this was for me to think that this could work; I had talked myself into this move without fully thinking it through. Now that I have decided to move back into town, I now worry about what people are thinking about my stupid move and my retreat back to “reality”.
I read the first failure, ” You have to be willing to fail at the original plan” and that spoke to me – LOUDLY! Yep, I failed at my original plan but so what, right? How many other people would be willing to take such a big step; to give one of their dreams a shot at fruition? It didn’t work out and life will go on.
I can relate to this myself. I thought if I bought a home and got involved with someone it would cure my depression and anxiety only to find out that is not a solution.I am so upset and scared. I just want to be happy again and can,t find a solution.I to wonder what people would say about that too if I sold my home when I just bought it. I also don.t know where I would go.
Linda Bauman says
I received your book on Saturday! I LOVE IT!!
I have been stuck for so long I almost stopped feeling anything about my own happiness anymore. After a complete melt down this morning, I of course came here to read your thoughts for today. Right now you two wonderful people are the best friends I have! After a good cry, I picked up my book and it opened to Part Four – “Self Love”.
I am 65 years old and have an 80 year old husband that I divorced in 2005 and remarried in 2011 and left again in2014 and took back because he wouldn’t leave me alone (too afraid to move on) and totally took care of last year because he had two major surgeries and almost died. Now he is doing better , totally lives in his past and blames me for his inability to be happy! Most of my friends have given up on me and, I have a direct marketing business that I don’t have a clue how to grow, need to make more money because my husband has not made money in years blah, blah blah- am I not the most depressing person! Anyway, Part four turned on some lights for me, I am qualified to do many things and with your help, will get moving!
Thank you for being there – not ready to kill myself just yet! I love you both.
Lisa Griffiths says
Dear Marc and Angel,
I have been reading your posts for quite some time. They’re changing my life. Thank you for being real, and for sharing this powerful gift that you both have with the rest of the world! You have impacted me personally, and professionally in my business.
I pass your links on to my friends and post them to my Facebook and Twitter pages regularly. I discovered you on Twitter, keep up the great work!!!!
Lisa aka That Nutty Redhead
David Rapp says
Success consists of going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm. Winston Churchill
It’s like this post was written for me. I have been struggling through anxiety and depression for the last three weeks. And my biggest unspoken emotion has been a crushing fear of the future. Mindfulness is not working and I have fought off two panic attacks by forcing my mind to shut down over the emotional forces.
The guy in the mirror is failing, and he knows it.
But things have been popping up that could offer support, including this post. The church service I went to yesterday is helping. I have an overwhelming need to talk to old friends. I am clearing out space in my home, office, mind and life to make room for the new.
So we will see what happens next….
Thanks for your advice. I am in a relationship with someone who is also with someone else and I can’t seem to let him go. I try and can barely function until I connect with him again. By text. Or talking. Tough place to be. I am strong in almost every other area of my life. This sucks .
I retired 7 months ago and started a wonderful new phase to my life. I don’t mind that I’m growing older, but I have been a DIY’er all my life and love being able to do things for myself. So far I still can do the things I need to, though it takes longer and I hurt more afterward. The reality that it may not be long before I have to ask for help really bothers me. Perhaps it is time for me to adjust my thinking some. Thanks for the post. It has certainly made me think, and not feel that I am failing because I am no longer the young guy that could do it all. Maybe God is telling me it’s time to relax and enjoy what I have right now.
Julie @ HappinessSavouredHot says
You are so right. I only started making significant progress with some of my most challenging goals (e.g. running long distance races) when I accepted that setbacks and even failure were a normal part of the process. Perfectionism had been a ball and chain for way too long.
Thank you ?
Kirk Mayers says
Your article is interesting in that it contrasts with a viewpoint I have but we achieve the same thing.
I would say I’ve failed at plenty things in my life. Some things were within my control and some thing were outside of my control. Some things I moved on from immediately and some thing caused me to stop and lick my wounds. However, at the time, I’m not sure I looked at them as outright failure. They were things that didn’t work out, for one reason or another, so I moved on. Some things which didn’t work out needed me to approach them from a different angle, others needed an entirely new plan. Sometimes, I’ve sat an wondered why things worked out for other people and not for me but I’m a firm believer in the fact that we are all travelling different paths and this is my path.
Even now, something which I started doing when I was 17 (I’m 40 now), the stars have slowly started to align for me to finish what I started. Am I scared to do so? Yes but I know how I’ll feel if I don’t do it and I think how life works in giving me this second chance is that if I don’t take this chance, it will never come again and I may have only myself to blames for failure, once again. The problem with failure is not having failed, it’s having the courage to get back up again when you do. I’m not the bravest person in the world but something in the back of my mind keeps nudging me.
Thanks for your very inspiring words! (And your website on the whole)
I have failed at quite a number of things. Sometimes it gets me angry, but then I look at the many other things I have succeeded at, and I get courage to look up once again.
A beautiful part of this article is where it said everyone doesn’t have to like what we’re doing. Just trust your intuition and keep going. Thanks a lot for this piece.
Patricia and Brenda above. I learned this the hard way, but when you make your decisions on whether to move again or not, make the decision on your own terms. Really, and I mean really, take your time to ensure you make the best decision for you and you alone. Other external peoples opinions really don’t matter, and if you let them matter, (like I did) it will lead you to the wrong decision.
I was building a dream a couple years ago and regretfully I listened to my own internal negative feelings which were fueled by external opinions and ended up with my rash abandonment of all my hardwork and dreams. Its something that has brought me to my knees repeatedly these past couple years ands I fight every day to move on.
I haven’t experienced a tougher lesson in my life and I still search for a silver lining, although have found many many lessons. One such lesson learned from this failure is to listen to my gut instincts and exclusively avoid the negative noise.
You can’t please everyone all the time. Trying to do so will only lead to failures. Being specific and unique with your goals is a path to success.
Thanks for sharing this!
Beautiful and encouraging post! I speak with people daily who struggle with self acceptance (women especially although men go through these experiences too and are often even more terrified than women are at failure) – it’s easy to love ourselves when we’re at our optimum but when we’re struggling it’s very hard to love ourselves as much. Self blame and accusation abound. I’m 61 years old and I just love to read posts like yours from young women speaking to other young women about self love and acceptance. Young women can never get this message put to them enough 🙂
Wise truths to help us live and grow.
I’m so glad that I finally read this article it helps me a lot as I feel like I have been given a chance I still don’t have much confident with myself I have been treated very bad where I used to work even resigned last year November because I couldn’t take it anymore everyone was undermining me at work accusing me of the things I didn’t even do it was asking myself lot of questions like is it because I’m black or lesbian is it the reason they treating me like this cried about it all the time I took them to ccma even ccma wasn’t really interested on my side of the story instead they were going on and on about the company and not having a enough evidence felt like was forced to sign that settlement even now I’m still sad that the company won I do not know how to prove it that I have been mistreated and ignored for that matter its very sad but reading this article I’m trying to find another help to prove it I was mistreated before they do it with somebody else like me thank you very much for the article
Its a coincidence that I am facing the same situations you discussed above. But I am sure the write-up is going to help me out. Thumbs up for the post.
Scott Jasper says
Definitely! I think that am expert is someone that has made every single mistake in a very narrow field. It is truly when we make a mistake that we learn more than from the success. I do enjoy small wins to start off to get my confidence up and know that I’m doing right but then failures are where all the learning is.