Fear of Failure

This is roughly the transcript from a recent talk I was invited to give at the Fear of Failure Forum, raising awareness for beyondblue.

Failure is necessary.

Failure is the thing that makes us feel alive when we achieve success.

It is the shadow that allows brilliance to appear brighter.

Without failure, even the most amazing feats morph into a sea of grey.

I left a well-paying banking job back in 2014, to pursue an entrepreneurial dream. A startup focused on innovation.

That had all the markings of success – the dominant corporate narrative was about innovation and disruption. What company didn’t want to be innovative? Even Malcolm told us that the mining boom was about to become the ideas boom.

I was poised to Ride. That. Wave.

Three years later, my company ideocial isn’t a household name. I should have been surfing that wave, but instead some days it feels like I’ve been dumped, need to find air, and don’t even know which way to swim up.

Originally, when Kat asked me to talk this evening, I thought I would be telling you a story of reinterpretation. No, there’s been no IPO and this isn’t listed on the NASDAQ. But yes, I’ve learned a lot. I’ve learned how to start a business, what order to do things, and a bunch of techy geeky stuff.

I now have confidence. I was telling my wife about a problem I was having and she asked me “how are you going to solve it?”. And I looked back at her and simply said “I don’t know”. Completely comfortable that there was a way, and that I’d find it.

You could say there’s been some success, but really the jury’s still out on this one.

So the question then becomes: what can you learn from me? Someone who hasn’t declared victory, but also hasn’t admitted defeat.

We look to stories of success and successful people to reassure ourselves that failure is not a certainty. We look to those who’ve been through adversity to remind us that when the chips are down, it is possible to survive and thrive.

But there’s another group we can learn from – those who choose not to recognise fear.

Did I fear anything when I resigned from my job? Not really.

For me, trusting my instincts is something I’ve been doing for a while.

At university, the head of engineering told me my thesis wouldn’t work. It did.

We choose to interpret being questioned as ‘apprehension’. Something inside all of us can turn the smallest hint of challenge into an energising force.

This isn’t about minimising the likelihood of failure, but of minimising fear. And without fear, you’re free to be present and experience the journey.

And you know what? I’m still here. I’m not defined by my successes, but equally not by my failures. I’m still just on a journey. So, trust your instincts. You don’t have to be as successful or as resilient as others. Most of us aren’t.

But overcoming fear by trusting your instincts may be just as important as reinterpreting failure.