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Why Do We Fear Failure?

Dear friend,

What holds us down and holds us back in life? Often our fear of failure that is self imposed by ourselves.

But let’s dig deeper — what exactly is “failure”?


PDF: Fear of failure

1. Define failure for yourself

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Failure, according to me:

Not meeting our own expectations of ourselves.

I like this definition, because it gives us more power and control over ourselves and lives. Because, we can put in more effort to reach our own self imposed expectations. Furthermore, we can also set our own expectations for ourselves.

On the other hand, we often define failure as the following:

Not meeting the expectations that others set on you.

This include societal expectations of your social status, your possessions, your money, and your external markers of success.

2. Do you fear going broke?

I know a lot of us also see failure as monetary failure— having the fear of going bankrupt, and going broke.

But the thing is—we often fear bankruptcy and going broke — but honestly if we really did go broke, how bad would it be?

3. Don’t be afraid of going broke

A personal story: my dad was a chronic gambler, and would often steal money from my mom to go gamble. Eventually, my moms credit cards were maxed out, and we could no longer pay the rent. Thus, my mom had to declare bankruptcy.

What happened? We didn’t fall victim to the streets. Instead, of course my moms credit was shot. She could no longer open up or have her own bank account, but she made by —she was able to share a checking account with a family friend. She no longer had credit cards, but she paid in cash. Of course there was the social stigma of my mom having to ask friends and family to borrow money, but we got by.

It was a very important lesson for me, because it taught me:

Going broke isn’t as scary as you think it is.

I also grew up, with my mom paying the bills paycheck to paycheck. The threat of having to perhaps go to a homeless shelter was real. But, regardless of all that — I didn’t worry too much about money as a kid.

4. Hustle to win independence

Having no money forced me to hustle. I knew my mom couldn’t give me money to buy the stuff I wanted. Therefore, I started to tutor, work at internships, and pick up some side cash. I think this is where I got my hunger for entrepreneurship —wanting to gain control over my personal finances, to become independent of my mom, and control my own destiny in life.

5. Losing faith in myself

Moving forward to 2010-2011 when I started to blog a lot about street photography. Initially, when I was a small sardine, I got a lot of love and support. However, as time went on, and I became more famous and notorious, I started to get more haters.

To be honest, the haters got to me to a certain extent. I would feel down —

“I’m trying to help people… why are they hating on me?”

Also, it started to subtly change my personal opinion of myself. I became more fearful to really share my own personal opinions. I began to self censor myself. I stopped really being genuine and true to myself, because I was fearful of what others would say to me.

6. Dodge the haters

Today with YouTube and random/anonymous internet trolls, a lot of people who want to start their own blog, YouTube channel or business are fearful. They are fearful of having people hate on them, or they are maybe fearful of not having anyone appreciate their work.

7. Ignore positive and negative feedback

I want to encourage you and empower you. Don’t let the expectations of others, society, or your own self induced fears hold you back.

This is my strategy:

Be really really honest with yourself, ignore the comments of others (whether positive or negative), and really stick to your own inner voice.

You aren’t gonna please everyone. No matter how nice, and politically correct you try to be, you will always (eventually) offend or piss someone off.

But, if you are centered and focused in yourself, you gain more control and power. You are your only judge in life. You will gain the ultimate robustness. Your only judge is looking at yourself in the mirror; deciding whether you’re proud of your own accomplishments, or if you feel like you’re a failure.

8. Our ultimate fear

Going back to the matter at hand — why do we fear failure?

I think we fear failure, because we are ultimately afraid of death.

In the past, to “fail” meant upsetting the social community, and getting expelled, and therefore you would probably starve to death.

In modern times, honestly —the only real fear we have is the fear of social failure. The fear of being looked as a “loser” or a “failure” by others. But, if your own self assessment of yourself is by yourself — why do you care what others think of you?

9. Do you feel successful in your own eyes?

The biggest thing that has helped me personally is stopping to read comments and feedback from others. Why? Because it helped me stay more true to my own perspective and opinion.

The problem is that we judge the positive feedback and negative feedback from others with too much weight.

Shadow on man's face. Lisbon, 2018
Shadow on man’s face. Lisbon, 2018

For example, when I got good feedback, I would figure out what made others happy, and I would just keep on trying to do what gave me good feedback, rather than asking myself, “Do I like what I’m doing?”

And of course, getting negative feedback sucked. It would make me doubt myself, and it would just put me in a depressive mood. I also want to clarify — getting constructive negative criticism is very useful, but what really got to me was just getting random hateful criticism that wasn’t constructive, that didn’t offer any solutions.

Selfie and blue. Lisbon, 2018

I still do think it is useful to listen to the feedback from your close and loved ones— but my suggestion is this:

Physically listen to the feedback from your inner circle, but ultimately, you must decide for yourself how to act upon that advice.

Pink wall selfie. Lisbon, 2018
Pink wall selfie. Lisbon, 2018

That means, listen to what others tell you, but remember, the feedback your loved ones give you is just their suggestion, not a mandatory thing you must implement.

Conclusion: “What are you really afraid of?”

Selfie Lisbon blue flash

Today your assignment is writing down your biggest fear in life. Then look at what you write, and ask yourself,

“Is this really as bad or scary as I think it is?”



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