The Fear of Failure

Failure: an act or instance of failing or proving unsuccessful; lack of success.

Failure, a word we all hate. Many of us not only hate the word, but we fear it as well. It can either drive us or paralyze us. Many choose to let it paralyze them.

I once heard a conversation that went something like this:

“You’ll never succeed if you don’t try.”

“But I might fail.”

“So? What if you fail?”

“Then I’m a failure. A loser.”

“No. Then you try again.”


“No buts. If you give it your best effort and you still fail, at least you tried, and trying and failing is better than never knowing if you could have succeeded.”


Be afraid. Be very afraid.


Why are we so afraid to fail? Is it the way we’re raised? Is it thinking we will let others down? Or maybe we feel we will let ourselves down? Maybe we think people will laugh at us. Sure, that could be it. I’m sure we’ve all been laughed at before. Sometimes it’s quite uncomfortable, especially when you can’t escape the laughter.

Does it really matter? Does it really matter what others think about us? Should it?

Listen to me for a second.

I’m terrified of failure. I hate it.

I wasn’t a particularly popular kid. Nor was I the guy the girls all went googly eyes over. I didn’t come from money. And, to be completely honest, I’m not all that smart. What comes naturally for most, I struggle with. In order for me to ‘get it’ I have to do it over and over again until it is a habit.

Not being popular isn’t such a bad thing. I learned to rely on myself to get things done (for the most part, I still do that today). Since the girls didn’t particularly find me as appealing as others, when the right one came along I knew it and I hadn’t been in a ton of relationships that could taint the ‘right one’ (though I had been engaged once before and that ended badly when I found out she was the cheating sort). Not coming from money helps me to value my money more so, to not spend it willy nilly, to cherish the things I have. And not being all that smart makes me appreciate the things I can do even more and it also gives me the right to say, ‘if I can do this, so can you.’ It also makes me try harder in hopes of succeeding at what I put my mind to.

But that doesn’t keep me from being afraid to fail.

Let’s look at this another way: What causes us to fail? What is behind our failures?

Is it a lack of real efforts? Sometimes.

Is it a lack of know how? Sometimes.

Is it rushing through things and not doing it properly, not reading the instructions all the way through? Sometimes.

Is it being afraid to succeed? Hmmm… Sometimes.

All four of those questions have a similar theme: the person who is afraid of failure is generally in the way of their success. It’s true. What keeps you from succeeding at a task? Lack of effort? Lack of know how? Rushing things? Afraid of success? Answer the questions, and if you answer yes to any of those four then you are in the way of your own success.

I have been guilty of all four at one time or other and sometimes more than one at the same time (maybe even all four at once).

Here’s a little secret that only a handful of folks know: Outwardly I come across as confident, and in many things I am. But inwardly… inwardly, many times I am worried about how I will do, that I might screw something up or that I might do something wrong, maybe even say the wrong thing at the wrong time. Or that someone won’t like what I have done. Believe me, failure is something that is always in the back—scratch that, in the front—of my mind.

Sometimes—yes, I’ve used that word a lot in this blog—you have to stop being afraid, or at least be brave enough to step outside your comfort zone. With writing, that is what I do. I step out of my comfort zone every time I submit a story or promote someone’s book or do an interview. When Along the Splintered Path came out back in January, I was excited, but I was nervous. Admittedly, sales haven’t been that great. It’s hard to market a book that was Amazon’s Kindle only for the first nine months of its existence. Even now, with the book in print format, sales are not what a writer would hope.

Still, I’m proud of the short collection.

The daunting task came for me to look around for other publishers who may give me a shot. Guess what? I tried. I contacted several of them. When none of them considered my work an option, I could have given up and stuck with submitting stories to magazines and e-zines.

Instead, I decided to try to do this on my own. I began the tedious work of creating my own book. There were times that I started to think it wouldn’t be any good, that who would buy from an unknown. That is fear poking its ugly head out and laughing at me. I trudged on, and with the prodding of a good friend and my wife, Cate, I finally put out Southern Bones, a collection of short stories. I had some help—a lot of help, actually. But there were times that I still doubted myself.

Failure. That’s what I am afraid of.

Now to the reality of writing. This collection, like the first one, hasn’t fared too well in the sales department. But, like the other one, I’m proud of it. I’m proud of the effort I put into it. I’m proud of the fact that I didn’t know how to do it and I sought out the right help and learned how to format the book and put links in and upload it and do it right. I didn’t rush through it. I took my time and went over the book several times—so many times that Cate and Belinda were ready to kill me—or at the very least, maim me.

Still that fear of failure nagged at me, right up to, and after, I pressed that submit button. I let out that long breath that comes after holding it without realizing. My body sagged in my desk chair and I think I sat there for ten minutes without so much as moving.

Here’s the thing: I did it. I did it. Do you understand that? I did something that just a year or so ago I would have never attempted. I didn’t let the fear of failure stop me from trying. And that’s the key, people: Trying.

Not some half-hearted attempt. A full out put yourself into it effort. Do that, and regardless of where you end up, you can hold your head high and say, I did my best. Win or lose. Fail or succeed. If you don’t try, you never know.

Southern Bones may never sale another book, but I’m proud of it.

If you want to succeed, you have to do two things: 1) Try and 2) Get out the way. You’ll never succeed if you are in the way, and you certainly won’t succeed if you don’t try.

I need to go. I need to make sure I did the print format for Southern Bones right. If not, then I will try again until I do get it right. I may be afraid of failure, but I never want to say I didn’t try.

Until we meet again, my friends…

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