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Fear of Failure? Here’s How I Changed My Perspective

Fear of failure - Here's how I changed my perspectiveHave you heard the heroic stories about people quitting their jobs?

They follow their passion. They’re on a mission to improve the world. Full of energy and drive. Brimming with confidence.

For me, it was different.

I didn’t feel like a budding entrepreneur. I felt like I gave up my ambitions. Quitting my job felt like a failure.

Sound familiar?

Is a fear of failure stopping you from taking on new challenges? Does a fear of failure keep you awake at night?

Fear guzzles up energy, and wears us down.

How can we conquer our fears?

How can we enjoy the roller-coaster journey of running our own business?

In 2014, I was treated for a whiplash injury by a physiotherapist. Let’s call him Dave.

Dave is a chubby, jovial guy. We shared stories about my cycling trips and his motorcycle rides. We talked about running our own businesses. It was fun to chat with him.

But Dave was also tough. When I wasn’t able to do the exercises, he told me to try harder. He made me feel clumsy. Why couldn’t my body cooperate? It felt like it was my fault.

After a year of physiotherapy, I was labelled a hopeless case.

And that’s when I met Scott.

Scott taught me how to listen to my body, how to manage pain, how to coax my muscles gently into behaving themselves. Scott encouraged me to slow down rather than try harder. To give my body time to heal.

I stopped feeling like a hopeless case.

fear of failure 2

Our inner critic often behaves like Dave

When you see how well others write, but can’t emulate it, it’s easy to think you lack talent. When you can’t even draw a Snoopy, it’s easy to think you’re not artistic enough. When I see how fast others are growing their businesses, I think I’m too slow.

It’s crazy, eh?

Our inner critics approach our struggles with a fixed mindset—as if we can’t learn from our mistakes. As Professor of Psychology Carol Dweck suggests, people with a fixed mindset believe that “success is about being more gifted than others” and that “failure does measure you.”

When we approach failure as lack of talent, then we reject our ability to learn from our mistakes.

Scott believed I could learn how to manage my dysfunctional muscles. He gave me the confidence to try and keep trying.

In business, we should nurture Scott’s attitude. Each mistake is a chance to learn and to get better. My first e-course launch, for instance, was a miserable failure. I didn’t know what I was doing. But I learned and improved the launch process. And with each launch, I learn more.

In her book Mindset, Dweck quotes eminent sociologist Benjamin Barber:

I don’t divide the world into the weak and the strong, or the successes and the failures… I divide the world into learners and nonlearners.

As the world changes faster and faster, the ability to learn is one of the most precious skills we can nurture. When we embrace learning, we can adapt to change; we can seek new opportunities; we can enrich our lives.

We’re often told to dream big

We should set hairy, big, audacious goals.

Does it work for you?

Dealing with long-term injury has taught me to dream small.

Instead of dreaming about my next cycling trip, I try to enjoy a walk in the sunshine. Instead of dreaming about a 100k email list, I try to add another 100 subscribers. Instead of dreaming about a bestselling book, I write an outline. I do the work.

Big goals can undermine your motivation. You forget to live here and now, to enjoy small pleasures. A bird singing in the garden. A happy client. A spark of inspiration. Finishing one chapter of your book.

Change your perspective

We’re taught to be strong even when we feel weak. We think we should stop being afraid. As if we can turn off a switch, and Poof! Our fear magically disappears.

But just like building muscles takes time, we can build our confidence and resilience, too. We can learn to dance with our fears. We can coax ourselves to move forward tiny step by tiny step.

Recovering from injury requires us to manage pain. We learn when to slow down and when to push ahead.

Managing our fears works the same. Learn how to push yourself gently—not too much, and not too little.

Build your courage over time.

And don’t forget to celebrate each small success.


  1. “Scott encouraged me to slow down rather than try harder.”
    Everybody needs somebody to tell them trying harder isn’t the default setting.
    Have a great day in sunny England Henneke πŸ˜‰
    Veronique Mermaz recently posted…18 Copywriting Tips to Catch the Roaring E-Commerce WaveMy Profile

    • Yes, so true. It has worked the same in my business. Since I’ve slowed down, I get more done. It’s weird how that works.

      I hope you’re enjoying the sunshine, too!

  2. Great! hats off to Henneke for overcoming the fear of failure.
    Yes, we often tend to lean towards the failure with a little setback.
    But, during the pitch black darkness, we should think positively that the dawn is ahead.
    We need to do our duty and go on. The fruit for our effort will be delivered to us automatically.
    I got this from you, thanks for your motivating lines.
    I feel renewed. Want to take risks and proceed.

  3. Hello Henneke “I do the work.”

    Two of my favourite quotes are… 80 percent of life is showing up (Woody Allen) and The thought that life could be better is woven indelibly into our hearts and our brains (Paul Simon).

    Every day I think of ten things I’ve got to be grateful for.

    As I’ve got older I’ve become more and more aware that being happy has little to do with other people’s view of my success. It’s more to do with how I occupy my time each day.

    If I’ve done something useful or helpful, my day has been a success.

    P.S. Earning enough to live on helps too πŸ™‚

    • Yes, those are great points. Earning enough makes a big difference. It can also help to lower costs as much as we can, so that earning enough becomes easier.

  4. Thanks for sharing this, Henneke! It resonates with me.

    I’ve been thinking a lot about my past failures lately and I also started to put that on paper for a potential article, which I may or may not share publicly.

    Looking back, everything I did looks like a failure, but instead of feeling guilty about it I am trying to figure out what I can learn from each mistake I did.

    Am I feeling like a failure? No! That’s because I learned that success comes with patience, determination and doing the work. And my work is not finished yet.

    Now, I am trying to focus all that energy which I feel that has been lost into doing better work and moving forward.

    Maybe I am setting the bar too high, but I believe that this keeps me motivated.

    I may be wrong, though, and I will try to learn more about how to push myself gently and build courage over time.

    • It sounds like you have a great approach to improving your business. It might be that for some people those big hairy goals work energizing; we’re all different and we all have to find out what works for ourselves πŸ™‚

      • Yes, I agree that we’re all different and we need to find out what works best for us.

        My thinking is that if I set a bigger goal, I may get farther than setting up a smaller one, getting comfortable and doing less work.

  5. Rightly said, Henneke.
    Now, we too learned how to dance with it and accept it as part and parcel of our life.
    The key point is to conquer it and to learn from it. πŸ™‚

  6. Wow! I really really needed this today. After a small failure, I was feeling hellish. Sometimes it becomes really important to separate yourself from the events and just flow. Thank you for the reminder that failing once doesn’t mean that you will be miserable and a failure forever.

    • Yes, it’s fine to be upset or disappointed for a while, but then it’s useful to create some distance and try to analyze without getting tangled up into emotions.

      And failing never means that you are a failure, you simply have more to learn. Projects can be a failure. People can’t be a failure.

  7. I love that quote, Henneke. What a great concept – learners and nonlearners. And the great thing is even nonlearners have the opportunity to learn. It does not need to be a life sentence. πŸ™‚

    One of the things I like best about getting older (and there’s a phrase you don’t see every day) πŸ˜‰ is how easy it is to ignore the “you need to do this to succeed” mandates. Celebrate each small success. I like that quote as well. πŸ™‚
    Cathy Miller recently posted…Who are You and How is Your Business Different?My Profile

    • Yes, that’s so true. I still have to remind myself often that I am the only one defining what’s successful and what’s not for me. With the internet, it’s so easy to get distracted by what others are doing, but it doesn’t matter to us. We’re all on our own journey. We set our own standards and keep improving. Thank you, Cathy.

  8. Great post. It’s a lesson we all keep learning, over and over. When we learn to face fears in one area, it doesn’t “cure” us, we still face them in other areas. Hopeful we can reapply what we’ve learned, or at least we learn the lesson more quickly. I recently wrote about a similar experience at a music lesson.
    Kathy Keats recently posted…The Best Coaches Call Your BluffsMy Profile

    • Yes, I think it becomes easier to re-apply what we’ve learned. I find it’s become easier to recognize what’s going on in my mind and to act on it. For instance, I know when I get certain thoughts about being a failure, more often than not I’m too tired. I’ve learned to smile at myself (and my silly thoughts!) and to take a break to refuel.

  9. Lots of reminders here… Is the dream rooted in desire or is the desire rooted in the dream? Frankly, we all know how easy it is to dream. The real work begins with courage, then discipline and resolve. You are absolutely right, we are going to have failures along the way, that’s part of our growth. But, it’s true we need to be gentle with ourselves and maintain a proper attitude. I like the story about pulling up on carrots does not make them grow faster:-)

  10. Nice one Henneke,

    Daily measure of successes are very useful indeed. I would like to add that sometimes looking at the reasons of failure along with the circumstances at the time, makes it even more interesting. I can easily look back and see why some of my past struggles were stubborn, the stress I had created was stopping me to see the clear picture.

    Our environment and our brains can manifest successes, so always build on the tiny successes.

    • Yes, stress is bad for us, both physically and mentally; and often we don’t know how badly affected we are. I’ve been in some stubborn struggles, too!

  11. Hi Henneke,

    Your comparison with physical recovery is perfect for me as I have been a personal fitness trainer for over 20 years. It made me think, why is it a victory when I can add 2.5 pounds to my max lift but nothing short of viral will be a victory for a post.

    The number of times I have said listen to your body to a client are too numerous to count. I am going to listen to my body and apply it to my online experience. When I look back over the last eight months I am definitely in the category of learner.

    Thanks for pointing out that lack of success is not a matter of talent or artistic ability. I just don’t know enough yet. And that I can fix. Very encouraging, thanks.

    When people ask me for advice about working online I always answer just don’t quit. Keep learning. It’s about time I take my own advice.

    Excuse me , may I have this dance.

    barry recently posted…Life Is About The LessonsMy Profile

    • Yes, let’s dance. Can you turn up the volume a bit?

      And you know … sometimes when writing a blog post, hitting “publish” is enough of an achievement.

  12. What a timely post! I love your advice to ‘build your courage over time’.

    Sometimes, things can get so overwhelming you don’t know what to do first, or which way to turn. Worried that each choice may not be the right one. Step by step, one thing at a time, gaining courage and celebrating each small victory along the way – it’s a great philosophy. And one I’m going to keep reminding myself of.

    • Yes, I know the feeling of being stuck, not knowing which step is best to take. Rather than staying stuck in analysis paralysis, I sometimes give myself a deadline when I need to make a choice. It’s better to keep moving and do something useful rather than keep comparing options and not making any progress. We often can’t know which option suits our purposes best anyway.

      Good to see you again, Sarah! I think of you when I drink tea from my purple striped mug πŸ™‚

  13. Hey Henneke,

    Happy Tuesday and great post here.

    It truly is about taking those small steps. The more we celebrate small wins, the more motivated we’ll be to achieve.

    Lack of success is about not knowing enough yet. And each day I dedicate myself to learning more. But the thing is to actually apply what is learned. That’s the key part.

    This post helped me put a lot of things into perspective. Especially regarding launching. We can’t always get things right the first time and there will be mistakes, but it to learn and adapt … that’s the real key.

    Have a great day once again.

    – Andrew

    • Yes, that’s so true. We often learn most from applying what we’ve learned (and then make our own mistakes!).

      Sometimes it’s hard to know when we should stop learning and start doing.

  14. ‘Big goals can undermine your motivation’ – I feel exactly the same. Moreover, I feel there is a lot of hybris in all those BHAGoals. Great post!

  15. Love your perspective, Henneke. Reminds me of the story; the student asked the monk what do you all day? The monk replied: “I fall down and get up again.” Seems to me that if we set smaller, do-able goals it’s easier to get up, if we stumble. And then we grow our leg muscles for the bigger steps.

  16. Thank you Henneke! Such a great gentle reminder of how to be more efficient. Just what I need today as facing a treatment with someone who tends to be a warrior. Today I have to remind her, gentle sometimes works better. Thx for being on the same page!

    • In the book Accidental Genius, Mark Levy tells a story about a coach training Olympic sprinters. He notices that the athletes are tense and in a second sprint he asks them to run at 90%. Surprisingly, they ran faster than when they tried to go as fast as possible. That’s how I learned that value of working at 90%. Gentle often works better.

  17. So wonderful, Henneke. One of your best. We must be gentle with ourselves. Progress is never made with the stick, instead we must always use the carrot. Great job.
    Laurie recently posted…A Lesson Learned from a Missing CatMy Profile

  18. David Isaac says:

    This is great! I found your first article on copyblogger, and now I can’t stop reading your work.

  19. So true, I like the way you are gentle with your body, I hope you talk to it too.
    Our body should be celebrated a lot, for where would we be without it?
    I am still stuck on the celebrating but at least I have started.
    Don’t leave it as long as I did, life is worth celebrating and all.
    Love and Blessings A

    • You’re so right. For years, I didn’t realize how precious our health is and that we need to take care of ourselves. I had this crazy idea that life is short so we better live fast. A slower pace actually makes life more enjoyable.

      You should also celebrate having started. Getting started can be as hard or even harder than finishing!

  20. This a great reminder to keep it simple. One reason I am so excited to take your class! Focus on what I love! After a big failure of miscommunication in 2014, I did the work to heal and wrote a blog on it in 2015. Here it is if anyone needs a boost. Also, there is a pic of some of the books I read.

  21. Thank you! A great post on what it really takes to heal, succeed and enjoy life. Your sharing this personal experience is the best way to remind us what matters in our days and how to approach a new year with energy and love for our ever changing bodies and careers.

  22. Henneke: Always great work sprouts from your pen, your brain, your heart…
    I love the thought of “never done learning” because even the learned can learn, in my view, but being open to learning sometimes gets forgotten with people. Do they feel like they’re all set and don’t need to learn more or are they satisfied at what they already know or think they know? Or have they closed their minds? Hmmm.
    The other thing that resonates in this one for me is that your victories don’t have to have approval from others to be valid. Maybe it comes with age, or experiences, hardships (even physical set-backs) like your story, but the important thing is you have to be good with you. I feel like when you can feel that, everything becomes a more positive endeavor. At least that my take on things. Thanks again for a thought provoking read, miss enchanting writer:) Take care, Sue-Ann

    • I love how you put that, Sue-Ann. This one was written more from the heart than from the brain.

      I also like your point about not needing approval from others. So true. Why do our brains seem wired to always seek approval from others? I still need to work on that!

  23. Hey Henneke,

    This was a big lesson I learned a couple of years back. In fact I did a video mentioning taking smaller steps.

    But it’s true to take more bite size steps in order to progress continuously. It takes keeping your mind open for learning and executing. Now I look forward to my future mistakes, although it sounds ironic, but from my experience that’s what it takes to keep moving forward.

    Thanks for the share Henneke! Have a great week!
    Sherman Smith recently posted…3 Elements To Focus On To Help You Save TimeMy Profile

    • Yes, I agree with you – the practice of taking smaller steps is a great one to deal with our fears and keep progressing smoothly.

      Thank you for stopping by, Sherman.

  24. Hi Henneke

    A number of very good takeaways from your post (also an excellent quote about learners and nonlearners). Daily, I break down a list of objectives into small achievable goals. It works and there’s a tick and a sense of accomplishment for completing each task. I couldn’t achieve my main goals without having such a mindset.

    Unfortunately failure is perceived by many as a character flaw, particularly in more conservative societies. If you haven’t failed at whatever task, big or small, then what have you learn’t?

    I do hope you’re on the road to a full recovery.

    Kind regards
    Mark Crosling recently posted…Create a Persona to Visualize and Understand Your AudienceMy Profile

    • Yes, I believe I’m still on the road to a full recovery (even though I’m in the slow lane of a rather bumpy road ;-)).

      I also like it when I can tick off the tasks for a day. It feels like I’ve accomplished something.

  25. What a great post, and one coming at just the right time! Something says that there may be a book in all of this. Just saying.
    Thank you for some excellent work.

  26. I completely agree. Once you lean into the new skill, you can get progressively better at it. By setting high goals without a clue on how to achieve them and setting unrealistic expectations, we discourage ourselves before we even start. By leaning into it, by getting better at one small skillset at a time, we will arrive at the place we aspired to reach. Thanks for another memorable post. I think you’ve just discovered a great theme for your next book.

  27. Love this post…really resonates with me. And I need to meet Scott for my neck injury!
    Jessie, FlusteredMom recently posted…Silent Vitamin D Deficiency (Why you feel like cr@p?)My Profile

    • I’d happily refer you to Scott, but I don’t think he’s taking on new clients. Scott isn’t a traditional physical therapist. He’s an experienced Yoga teacher. You might be able to find “your Scott” by asking around for someone with a background in Yoga who has experience in dealing with neck injuries? I’ve heard from several people who have found that Yoga is excellent for neck injuries (it’s part of my injury, too, and the Yoga exercises have made a big difference, quite quickly). I wish you a good recovery!

  28. Beautiful, sensitive and true as always. Thank you, Henneke.

    I’m no stranger to dancing with my inner critic. And it’s true that “trying harder” rarely works. So instead, whenever I feel my inner Dave putting up strong resistance to something I want to achieve, I look for a small element that I can get started on quickly. That gets the ball rolling, which tends to calm Dave down.
    Bart Schroeven recently posted…If I had known back then what I know nowMy Profile

    • Thank you for your kind words, Bart. I appreciate it. And I like your suggestion for starting with a small element quickly to get a project started!

  29. Hey there Henneke, a great reminder to us all to be kind to ourselves – resonating and appreciated. Love the idea of fear as a dysfunctional muscle. As a muscle, fear can be stretched, coaxed and trained. Fear already feels less limiting and debilitating when you think about it like this. That means we can move from paralysing stiffness and learn to dance with our fears.
    Keep on publishing the mind AND heart posts!

    For recovering goal addicts (that’s me too), check out “the Cup List: On Living Realistically” via – a refreshing alternative to the bold Bucket List. πŸ™‚

    • Yessss: “fear can be stretched, coaxed, and trained.” And, like a muscle, fear is part of us; we can’t amputate our fear, but we can learn to live with it and stop it from paralysing us!

      Thank you for the tip. I’ll check it out!

  30. You make some very good points Henneke. I’ve listened to the experts who say to make the big, hair, audacious goals like you said. Then there are the ones who say that all it takes are baby steps. I think we should set goals that are big enough to motivate us and take us outside of our comfort zone, face some of our fears, but not so big that we completely overwhelm ourselves with it. Then take even the smallest step toward that goal every day. I remember when I quit my job to do my business full time. I had already been building it or 3 or 4 years before I took that step.
    Ben recently posted…They’re Back, Saved By the New Low PricesMy Profile

    • Yes, I think it’s about building the right habits so we can reach our goals step by step.

      It’s great when you’re able to build your own business on the side while still in employment. I went cold turkey but had a buffer money-wise, so I didn’t need to panic about making money straightaway.

      Thank you for stopping by, Ben. I appreciate your comment.

  31. Thanks, Henneke! I have a special folder where I save most of your emails and, of course I’ve bookmarked your blog.

    What I’ve learned in my long life (I’m now 79) is that people are different. I’ve read an article lately on how following rigorously the positive thinking system makes quite a lot of people feel much worse. A different, but pretty scary for me approach is described in the book “The 10X Rule”. I have known many people, some of them my close friends, that were those tireless, efficient, always busy and big goals oriented people naturally, without any effort or any need to read “How to be successful” manuals. I used to envy them and tried to imitate them, only after many attempts realizing that I’m just a different person.

    Making small goals is working well for me. In some areas goals are just plain bad. I was a professional musician all my life and was lucky to understand early that in music goals like “I will be better than anybody” or “I will write better music” are deadly. The steady progress is important, there is no end, just milestones.

    • Yes, that’s so true – we’re all different. Perhaps I should make this clearer in my post. I don’t mean to stipulate that the way it works for me is what works for everyone. I simply share my experience. I’ve also heard about the 10X rule. That would be a disastrous approach for me!

      Thank you for stopping by to add your thoughts, Alexei. I appreciate it!

  32. Thanks so much for that lovely blog. It has been an inspiration to me. I was an abused kid and the results of that has spilled over into every facet of my life including my work life. I have sabotaged every work effort I have made, lest I actually succeed at something. I believe I am finally getting a handle on this but it is putting me face to face with paralyzing fears that go back to my childhood. Being gentle with myself and doing it as I can makes so much more sense than trying to muscle my way through it. Which hasn’t worked so far. It is finally all right to be where I am. I cannot thank you enough. I have called myself every name in the book for not being able to just get over myelf and get on with it. Not even therapy helped because I think they all thought I should just get on with it. You are supposed to just talk about it and get on with it. But it isn’t as simple as that. If it was we’d all be cured. It’s all in a tangle in my head. I just have to detangle it, thread by thread, which takes patience and perseverance. And meanwhile keep working. As best I can. As best the fear will allow. A journal will help. And a plan of action. I am taking Jon’s class, which should help too. So that is my first step.
    Thank you

    • I’m sorry to hear about your childhood trauma. No kid should have to deal with that.

      I’m glad to hear you’re finding a way to disentangle the threads in your head and to move forward at your own speed. And well done for joining Jon’s class – I hope you’ll enjoy it and find it valuable.

      Be kind to yourself.

  33. I find your posts enlightening and super educating, Henneke and I discovered you only this morning.
    I have been telling myself to slow down and achieve my goals at a reasonable pace but I sometimes get into this self-defeatist mode of trying to do too much at once. Thank you for reminding me to celebrate the little achievements and pay less attention to ‘Dave’.

    • Hi, Ini, welcome πŸ™‚

      Yes, I know about this self-defeatist mode of trying to do too much! But a steady pace can get us quite far, too.

      Thank you for stopping by on your first morning at Enchanting Marketing!

  34. Some point during your life, you will fail anyway, So better try more to increase your failures and your success rate!

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