Monday, August 11, 2008

Fear of failure

- by KParthasarathi 11 Aug 2008
I was once asked to address a large group of workers and employees on target setting. Generally workers fear stiff targets and would be happy with a comfortable figure that they can achieve without strain. I began the talk with an illustration. I asked the audience how many of them would be able to walk on a large diameter pipe of 24 inches diameter lying on the ground. We have all walked easily as kids on the roadside kerbs. Everyone lifted their hands. I asked them how many would run on the pipe. Most signalled they can. I then asked them that if I place securely the pipe between two tall buildings at 40 feet above the ground, how many would walk on it. Not one hand went up. There was an uneasy silence. I reminded them that it was the same pipe of same width on which they said earlier they could run but with a change only in the location. But they felt they would surely fall down. The reason for unwillingness is the fear of failure. The mind is capable of wreaking havoc or bringing out wonders. If you fill the mind with fear, it robs you of the power to succeed. Fear paralyses the mind and prepares it for failure. The thinking facility goes haywire and self confidence is destroyed. It is only the fear of falling that prepared them for a certain fall. I told them if they think they can, they will certainly accomplish whatever the target be, so long as they are not unrealistic. What is needed is a positive frame of mind along with an abiding faith in their ability. Most of us fear failure because of inadequacy in our own effort, likely criticism, fall in the opinion of others and possible rejection. While the successful do not allow the fear of failure to constrain them, most of us get incapacitated by the mere thought of failing. Before Edison successfully produced the bulb, he failed thousand times. He was not defeated as he didn’t consider them as failures but thousand ways to find the correct method. He profited by not repeating the mistakes and he never quit. Most of the unsuccessful persons drop the idea at the first sign of failure. Successful people do not give up. They persevere avoiding the pitfalls of the earlier attempts. The best example of perseverance is Abraham Lincoln. Born in indigent circumstances, he had a string of failures. He lost eight elections, failed in business twice and to cap it all he had a nervous breakdown. Despite all these, he never quit as most of us would have done. He was not afraid of failure. Because he did not quit, he became one of the illustrious presidents of America. Our own Mahatma Gandhi is another example of fearlessness and a success story.
Let us understand that fear is one great reason for holding us back from our full potential. We try to play safe and most often miss the good opportunities that come our way. One must realise that without taking certain amount of risk we cannot exploit the opportunities that present themselves before us. We would live in the security of risk free life but without achieving substantially anything of note. I read about a few ways to overcome such fear.
Take calculated risks: It is not jumping blindly into anything without examining the pros and cons. Every proposition has certain uncertainty be it business or finding a partner for life. All things do not unfold before us in the first instance. If you think about the likely loss of a missed opportunity against playing safe, you may be in a better position to evaluate the risk. There is no free lunch, the price being the calculated risk. Despite all this one may fail but that is part of life’s game.
Unknown risks: Most of the fear is because of unknown risks. You find a pretty girl for matrimony but not sure whether she would be compatible with you, whether she would get along with others in your family, whether she can manage the house within your income and not have extravagant habits, whether she is good natured, whether she would work to augment income, whether she would be willing to raise a family etc.Most of these can be resolved by a little bit of research about her family and its antecedents and by a frank discussion with the girl. The fear vanishes once you have more information. Lack of knowledge is the origin of vague fear.
What can happen if you fail: Assuming that you fail by taking the risk, evaluate the cost of business failure and whether you can recover it or go down irretrievably. It is likely the worst case scenario may not be as scary as it initially appeared and the risk may after all be worth taking instead of a missed opportunities. It would be good to have an alternative plan at the back of our mind if we are not fortunate. That may give confidence. But persevere unmindful of the initial hurdles and possibly doing things in different ways as Edison did.
Plunge into action: Once you have examined the issue carefully plunge boldly into decisive action. There should be no vacillation after the action has begun. Once we are in the thick of action the fear vanishes just like the initial fear of taking bath in cold water in a river receding.Proceed carefully but surely forward.
Never look back: I read in an article that the Greek armies after travelling across seas to conquer other lands burnt their boats once they got down.. This gave the Greek soldiers the only option of winning to avoid dying at the hands of the local armies. They invariably won. The moral is not to look back and march ahead with confidence. Fear of failure vanishes like snowflakes in sun when it realises it has no scope to invade your mind.


  1. WOW, Parthasarathi,
    this is outstanding.I am sure the group of workers will remember your words."the reason for unwillingness is the fear of failure" sums it up beautifully.
    You have also given the solution:"what is needed is a positive frame of mind along with an abiding faith in their ability".
    Along with a great theme, motivation, very good use of language.

  2. I liked the point - plunge into action.