Sunday, September 7, 2008

Putting Fear of Failure in Perspective

Along with the issues of self-doubt and anxiety, fear of failure can be a huge obstacle for an aspiring author to overcome. Last year I read Judi Moreo's book, You Are More Than Enough Every Woman's Guide to Purpose, Passion & Power and I came across a section where Judi talks about fear of failure. This is what she had to say:

"What's wrong with failure anyway? Why do we let it stop us from doing, achieving, and having what we want? Failure just means you've discovered one more way that doesn't work. Thomas Edison worked for more than a year and a half to create a better, long-lasting light bulb that could be used in a mainstream application. During that time he found 9,999 ways that didn't work. If he hadn't persisted, you might be reading this book by candlelight! If you try and still don't get the result you want, it simply means you were willing to risk, it might take longer than you expected, your goal was unreasonable, you have to do something differently next time, or you have an opportunity to start something new which is more suited to you.

Wouldn't it be wonderful if we could just overcome this fear? We know there's always a chance we will fail, so why worry about it? Everyone else has the same chance of failure as we do. We are not the exception to the rule, but we will never succeed unless we try."

Looking at fear of failure in this way makes writers heroic every time they send out a submission; even if it gets rejected.

I found a few quotes about mistakes which further help to put fear of failure in perspective.

“The man who makes no mistakes does not usually make anything.” - Edward J. Phelps

"It's okay to make mistakes. Mistakes are our teachers - they help us to learn." - John Bradshaw

"The greatest mistake a man can ever make is to be afraid of making one." - Elbert Hubbard

"So go ahead and make mistakes. Make all you can. Because that's where you will find success. On the far side of failure." - Thomas J. Watson, Sr.

Terry Bragg, the author of 31 Days to High Self-esteem put together an eight-step plan to overcome failure. I would like to share it with you here:

Step One: Take action

"Action gives you the power to change the circumstances or the situation," says Bragg. What could you achieve if you weren't afraid to fail? Nike has an ad campaign that says, "Just do it." Write this down on a sticky pad and attach it to you computer screen.

Anytime you feel paralyzed by fear of failure, read that quote and heed it's advice.

Step Two: Persist.

How many times have you heard published authors give advice that includes, don't give up? Why do you think that is? Because successful people don't give up! They try something, and if it doesn't work out, they try something else. They keep trying until they get the results they want.

Step Three: Don't take failure personally.

Here's a big one. When you don't get the results you want, it doesn't mean you're a failure. It simply means you tried and it didn't work out. See Step Two for what you need to do next.

Step Four: Do things differently.

This is a no-brainer, but there are so many people out there who keep approaching things the same way and not getting the results they're looking for. Well, stop it! Don't be afraid to try something new. It might make a world of difference.

Step Five: Don't be so hard on yourself.

Raise your hand if you're too hard on yourself. Yes, mine is raised to. I am my own worse critic. I give into negative self-talk. As Bragg says about failure, "If nothing else, you know what doesn't work."

Step Six: Treat the experience as an opportunity to learn.

I'm a strong non-fiction writer, but fiction offers me challenges like there's no tomorrow. The most difficult thing I struggle with is "show don't tell". Luckily, I have a good group of people who critique my work and offer suggestions.

In the writing world they say that practice makes perfect. So I am practicing a lot. And I'm learning a lot. Each time I write a short story, I am improving my craft. Each article I read about "show don't tell" brings me that much closer to mastering this aspect of fiction writing on my own.

Step Seven: Look for possible opportunities that result from the experience.

If you submit a short story to a market and receive a rejection letter, what opportunities or benefits does that provide?

Well, it could provide you with an opportunity to review your story with a fresh set of eyes and revise it to make the story stronger. Perhaps this also gives you the chance to perform additional market research and find a home that is even a better fit than the one you had originally chosen.

Always look for the benefit.

Step Eight: Fail forward fast. According to Bragg, this is a term used by management guru, Tom Peters. It means that the way to learn is to make mistakes. So if we want to learn faster, we must make mistakes faster too. The important thing to remember is to not repeat those mistakes.

With eight tiny steps you can move forward with your writing career, without the fear of failure.

I want to leave you with a powerful quote from Susan Jeffers, which came from her book, Feel the Fear...And Do It Anyway:

"I said to myself: 'You mean all those people out there that I’ve been envying because they’re not afraid to move ahead with their lives have really been afraid? Why didn’t somebody tell me!?' I guess I never asked."

This article originally appeared at my old Aspiring Author blog on 6/1/08.

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