Why are you often afraid to fail? Why does it paralyze you from continuing to pursue your dream, take the next right action, or act on your calling? For most of us, failure is devastating and demoralizing. But it doesn’t have to be that way.

The Real Reason You're Afraid to Fail

A Lesson in Failure from my Father

I’ll never forget the day my dad taught me the right way to handle failure. When I was growing up playing competitive golf, my dad often served as my caddie. He was also a teaching professional who’d played in more PGA Tour events (two) than I ever did (none). So he knew a thing or two about the game.

On this particular day, I’d just hit a miserable putt and immediately hung my head in shame. I knew as soon as I’d hit it that the ball would not go into the hole.

So I muttered something sarcastic to myself, complained out loud about my effort, and pouted while the ball rolled past the hole. That’s when my dad asked me, “What are you paying attention to right now?”

I didn’t really know how to answer him. I was paying attention to my feelings. I was paying attention to the fact that I had just hit a terrible putt. I was paying attention to my feelings of frustration, anger, and disgust. I was focused on my failure.

I was not focused on how the ball was rolling past the hole.

The Opportunity in Failure

Most golfers do the same thing…they only pay attention to the putt until they’ve determined whether or not the putt will go into the hole. They only pay attention long enough to decipher between success and failure. It’s so black and white.

Most people do the same thing in their professional and personal lives. They only pay attention long enough to decide if an activity is a failure or not, then focus on the failure. They get nothing out of it worthwhile.

What my dad was saying was, “You are missing so much right now, Matt.” I could have watched how the ball rolled past the hole to get a better idea of how the next putt would roll. That would help me to perform better on the next effort.

My dad was telling me that there is an opportunity in failure, but only if you pay attention.

There is immense opportunity in failure, but only if you pay attention.

Like a Child

This concept comes naturally to a child but we lose it over time. Less than a decade after learning to tie our shoes, failure suddenly becomes something to be avoided, something that hurts, something that we no longer learn from.

Think of how a child operates as he learns to do something for the first time. He tries it one way and fails, so he tries it a different way. He forgets step two, remembers step four, does it backwards, sideways, and upside down, but each time he builds on his past failures until one day, it’s second nature.

He doesn’t get halfway through learning to tie his shoes, fail at it a few times and then decide he’ll just never learn to tie his shoes. No, he takes what he has learned about tying shoes and each time he starts over, he is at a new level.

This is a concept we’re going to explore more next week and I’ll share with you the key difference between how the middle class and the wealthy respond to failure. So make sure to subscribe so you don’t miss that. You’ll also get access to my entire VIP vault.

The Real Reason You’re Afraid to Fail

You might think that the reason you’re afraid to fail is that it is painful in some way. Perhaps it will cost you money or valuable time. Perhaps it’s embarrassment. Others will say “I told you so,” and try to drag you down. Or maybe, it’s something a little deeper and hidden to most of us.

The real reason people are afraid to fail is that they think they are going to do it again. They think it will become a habit.

If you don’t think that is the case, consider this. If you knew for a fact that your first business would completely tank, but that your second one would make you a billionaire, would you be afraid of that first failure? Of course not.

You would have no reason to fear the first failure, because you know that your next attempt will be a success. But what happens with most people is that they fear that failure will become repetitive, so they never take the first step. They never risk anything.

What would your reaction be after the first failure if you knew your next attempt would succeed? Probably something like, “Woohoo! That’s done with. Next!”

You wouldn’t sulk or dwell on the past. You would quickly move on and take the lessons you learned with you to the next business, right?

The lesson here is cliché but important: Your future is not determined by your past. It is influenced by your past but it is not dictated by your past.

Your future is not determined by your past. Look for lessons from failure, but don’t dwell on the hurt.

The Key to Getting Past Failure

The key to getting past failure (and more importantly, using it) is to ask yourself the question my dad asked me:

What are you paying attention to right now?

The hurt? The anger? The embarrassment? The loss?

Or are you focused on what you can learn right now that will help you with the next step of this journey we call life?

here’s my question for you…what do you pay attention to after you’ve failed?

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9 thoughts on “The Real Reason You’re Afraid to Fail

  1. Dave from Toledo says:

    Thanks Matt. You can’t believe how much this helped me today.
    Dave from Toledo

    1. Matt McWilliams says:

      So glad to hear that Dave! You guys getting the same kind of flooding we’re getting here in Fort Wayne?

      1. Dave from Toledo says:

        Many of the parks are under water. There’s lots of standing water in corners and lowspots of bean fields out near where I work. People at work had water in their basements, who’d never seen a drop get in.

  2. Heidi Bender says:

    Very interesting perspective on failure! I’ve been letting the fear of failure hold me back from get started

    1. Matt McWilliams says:

      Getting started on what Heidi?

      1. Heidi Bender says:

        selling an eBook. finally working on it this week!

      2. Heidi Bender says:

        that’s after having it mostly written for over a month.

      3. Marty Labrado says:

        I wish you the best of luck, Heidi!

  3. Marty Labrado says:

    I’m a Perfect Melancholy (From Florence Littauer’s book Personality Plus), so I have a bad habit of putting myself down whenever I mess up or fail. I’ve gotten a lot better over the years but I know there’s still room to grow. I can be a little too critical of myself.

    To add to your post: I think a lot of the times people are afraid to take risks is because of what they’ve associated with the possible failure. It could be their belief, or lack thereof, in themselves and their capabilities.

    Good on your dad for teaching you well.

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