How I conquered my fear of failure

Ever remember how scared you were when you did something new?

I get scared every time. I’m easily scared. And that’s the truth.

It’s not just the big stuff either. It’s the small stuff. I constantly worry about whether I’m doing the right thing, if I’m good enough, if other people think I’m good enough, whether an idea will sink like Titanic or will it fly. Worse, what if it just get several hundred yawns across the world? That would not be good. To me, it’s worse than the idea tanking altogether.

As I get older, I find that it’s easier to allow fear to take over. Maybe because I know I did a lot of crazy things when I was younger. Like the time when I came home from my job as a full-time magazine editor at 8pm at night, and then coding up my blog until 3am (darn those pre-Wordpress days) and then going to work at 8am the next day – without ever knowing what will come out at the end of all that. I did this for a few months until everything was set up just the way I wanted it to be.

Or like the time I climbed a few respectable mountains during my school days. Before I started my first climb, I was so scared that I couldn’t complete the tough trail ahead, which usually took about 8-10 hours. Or worse yet, my team mates would have to bring me down on a stretcher (that happened to someone else!) That didn’t happen at all; though along the way, I got bitten by leeches so bad that when I picked them up, all fat and heavy from sucking up my blood, I just tossed it over my shoulder like they were nothing but pieces of lint that hung to my shins. Meh, I said, and plodded on.

So when in retrospect (maybe it is for me) – when I think of the stuff I did when I was younger, I feel like those days were an adventurous time in my life. As I grew older, I learned to avoid the potholes and to fix things that go bump in the night. I started to feel safe – and I even subconsciously choose the safe route, instead of taking small risks or even go in search adventure. Looking back, I might even think that what I did back then was foolish. And I bet that if people ask me if I would do it all over again right now, I’d think “heck no way!” But I’m glad I did – and I’m better for it.

When we’re younger it’s easier to heal from rejections, and somehow our skin is a little thicker too. It’s easy to want to take the quick road, the one with the less hassle and obstacles. The one where you know exactly what happens next. The safe option. But life isn’t like that.

It was crazy of me to think that I could survive on my own – joining the ranks of many freelancers out there after I said goodbye to a stable and rather glamorous job as a magazine editor. But I did. Although I was living in fear for the first two years – wondering when my time was up and that I would go back to working in a cubicle – I just tried my best and put myself out there. And here I am, 6 years on, going strong and having lots of fun.

It was crazy of me to create an online class for artists and illustrators that told them to try new methods for getting themselves out there, instead of just sticking with what was the norm (which hadn’t worked for many). Sure, I was scared of being a failure – but it didn’t matter, because I had a mission, and I did it because I didn’t feel right if I didn’t at least try to change some minds.

And just recently, it was crazy of me to start a survey where I asked information about income. I had wanted to do it for the longest time, and it wasn’t just because I was curious. It was for a bigger reason – I’ve talked to a few artists and illustrators who were doing other jobs on the side (myself included) and I thought it was something that was never talked about openly. So I thought to myself, why not start a conversation around it? And so I did.

And oh wow did I learn a lot. And it wasn’t just the stuff that you guys were sharing with me. I learned things I never thought of before I launched the survey. I sat on it for 3 weeks before I plucked up enough courage to hit the launch button. But apparently 3 weeks wasn’t enough because I missed the mark on quite a bit of things. Things like how I should have looked properly at the main continents of the world instead of just looking at my stats (sorry people in Africa!) Or the fact that maybe some people would have wanted to not share their income for the survey (I’ve added the option to avoid it if you’re uncomfortable). There’s more, but I’m already embarrassed enough as it is. The main thing is, I wouldn’t know all of these things if I hadn’t put myself out there, and especially if YOU didn’t tell me. But I’m so glad you did.

Because I know that with every choice I make there is an opportunity to learn and to grow.

And I don’t want to grow old and be afraid of failure.

I’ve learned that conquering my fear of failure doesn’t just come from doing the work or putting myself out there. It’s about being hopeful that whatever happens, I’ll trust that it’s going to be fine – especially if I learn from the experience and make sure I won’t repeat the mistakes I made. I don’t want to let the accumulation of age or experience hinder me from taking that leap into the unknown, because I’m still constantly surprised at where I land when I do.

So here I am. I’m listening.

And my question for you is this: what have you done to conquer your fear today? Are you taking that small step in trying out a new illustration style? Or are you planning to talk to your boss about trying out a new flexi-time schedule so that you’ll have more work-life balance? Or are you gathering up enough courage to say hello to that girl you see every day at the library? Share your story with me in the comments – I’d love to know.

NOTE: The Pikaland 2014 survey will still be up for another 24 hours, so if you haven’t participated, consider this your last call!

[Illustration: Climbing the Ladder of Success by Grace Danico]

3 Replies to “How I conquered my fear of failure”

  1. Candace says:

    In response to your question, though I can’t quite say that I’ve conquered it.. I am working at overcoming my fear of income. Specifically, the lack of.

    Like many illustrators I’m sure, I too wish to work freelance and commission jobs from home. I want to write and illustrate (and have published!) my own children’s books. I’ve wanted to turn my art in to a career for as long as I can remember, and each day I feel like that dream is slipping away. It slowly wisps off into some unseen oblivion, like a tuft of thinning cotton, every day that I have to juggle two jobs just to pay the bills. To support my son. To buy groceries and make a car payment. As the old cliché complaint goes: my artistic to-do list grows and grows and is neglected because I feel there is nothing creative left inside of me once dinner is made; once my son is in bed for the night; once the dishes are done and the laundry folded. I’m spent. And then I have to wake up the next day and do it all over again.. sit behind that desk where I work hard to make someone else his money. To keep HIS dream alive, while mine separates from stem and is carried off in the wind.

    Well, today one of my jobs has died down enough to where they don’t need me so much. And the other? Apparently our economy has not recovered enough to support the likes of me and so my position is dissolved. Divvied up. I’m let go.

    Today I am trying to see this as an opportunity. That all things will– do– happen for a reason and we must venture down the path even if it seems scary. Today I am telling myself that all will be well when it comes to those bills, that perhaps I could take this time for myself and spend it creatively; letting that pent up creativity surge and see what it creates. I hope for it all to transition in to something bigger and better, and am chinning up at the thought of it.

    1. Ros Harriott says:

      Hey Candace, I hear your pain. Although not in quite the same position as you (my main freelance client is winding my work down), I have stood in your shoes several times after having been laid off from a full time role. Each time I panicked and reached out for the next full time role instead of listening to my inner thoughts and gut feeling that I wanted, no NEEDED to work for myself…

      This is an opportunity, what have you got to lose? Go dream a dream, work out a plan and go for it! I found this quote the other day from Steve Jobs..

      “You can’t connect the dots looking forward you can only connect them looking backwards.

      So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future.

      You have to trust in something: your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever.

      Because believing that the dots will connect down the road will give you the confidence to follow your heart, even when it leads you off the well worn path.”

      I am today conquering my fear of not bringing in enough freelance work to keep my family afloat. I am diversifying and learning how I can use all my skills wherever I can open up new possibilities. The work is out there, I just haven’t connected the dots yet…

      1. Candace says:

        Thanks so much for your personal input, Ros. I’m thrilled to hear another freelancer with an inner need to create stands by my side with a “you just gotta do it.” (!)
        Good luck on connecting your dots!

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