“But… what if I fail?”

It’s one of our greatest fears, and yet, unlike clowns, heights, flying or a sequel to “Gigli,” it lacks the same degree of PR.

At some point during our runs around the sun, this fear has gripped us, often right before we’re about to attempt something new, something novel, something… risky.

Starting a new business, moving to a new city, choosing French toast over an omelette… these life-changing (not to mention breakfast-changing) “risks” often bring with it the stomach-churning fear of something going horribly wrong. Of failure.

Of course, as with so many fears, the fear of failure is based on little to no information, or even evidence. It’s purely an emotional reaction to the unknown, and the (possibly) unsafe.

The trouble is, this fear can prevent us from leading full and rich lives. It can hold us back from taking ANY risks, and risk… is where growth happens.

A tree cannot grow unless it sprouts out of the ground, bearing the very real risk of being burned, struck by lightning, or being turned into a luxury high-rise real estate development by enterprising squirrels.

Humanity itself would not exist now if a brave, tree-dwelling creature named “Oog” (name changed for legal reasons), climbed down from his lofty perch in the trees to explore the world on the ground – just before being eaten by a sabretooth squirrel.

Dear reader, someone as perspicacious and perceptive as yourself will probably be able to guess where I’m going with this. These days it seems that anyone with a keyboard and an internet connection has a plan for “conquering,” “destroying,” or otherwise “punching fear in the nose.”

Figurative fisticuffs aside, I have a much simpler solution to dealing with fear, specifically the “what if I fail?” type that so many of us experience on a daily basis.

My solution is this: Answer the question with a question. Allow me to explain.

When you ponder a new idea, process or decision, invariably the question will arise: “But what if I fail?”

Firstly, scold your fear for beginning a sentence with “but.” Such morphological monkey-business will not be countenanced.

Secondly, answer the question, “what if I fail?” WITH a question: “What if I DO fail? What then?”

The goal here is to counteract the fear with information. If there’s one thing that fear… um… “fears,” it’s context.

So when you think, “what if [project] fails?” simply play it out. What WOULD happen if you failed?

  • Will you be embarrassed?
  • Will you lose money?
  • Will humans around you lose faith?
  • Will you die?
  • Will the Earth shift on its axis and plunge humanity into an endless winter of pain, suffering and enterprising sabretooth squirrels?

Once you put structure around that possible future, the fear shrinks in response to the context. Let’s break down these possible “outcomes:”

  • Embarrassment sucks, but can be dealt with.
  • The loss of money or other resources is unfortunate, but they can be replaced.
  • Some humans may lose faith, but those folks probably aren’t those close to you anyway.
  • Aside from that idea you had about launching yourself across the English channel using a REALLY big rubber band, it’s doubtful your death is even part of the equation.
  • This… this is too horrible to contemplate.

My point, which I hope to get to before I reach the end of this essay, is that fear thrives in an environment of ignorance. (By that logic, the White House is a veritable Club Med for fear one assumes, but… that’s another tale, for another time.)

The next time you feel the cold sting of fear, when you begin to doubt yourself, simply call fear’s bluff. I’m willing to bet that such an interrogation will dissipate the fear or at least reduce it to a low level background hum.

Failure, even when it happens, is rarely final. In fact, it’s often a catalyst for a more creative, even better solution than you had considered before.

So there you have it dear reader, a method for counteracting one of our most common fears, and a catalyst for even greater solutions. I’m happy to have been of service.

As for the sabretooth squirrels… I’m afraid you’re on your own. Perhaps you can do a real estate deal.

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