Executive & Life Coach, INDIA
Paulo Coelho, a Brazilian poet and writer, in his work ‘The Alchemist’, has very rightlysaid, ‘There is only one thing that makes a dream impossible to achieve: the fear of failure.’ (1)
The fear of failure and being labeled negative eats into the very fiber of our being. Fear of failure keeps the person in a procrastinating mode.(2) Action never happens and indecisiveness and procrastination saps all energy leaving the person mentally, emotionally and to a degree physically paralyzed.(3) People find themselves stuck in a dark tunnel of helplessness. To make matters worse they are labeled as negative and pessimist.
This state of being is aptly described as Atychiphobia.(4,5) It is the abnormal, unwarranted, and persistent fear of failure which often leads to a constricted lifestyle and is particularly devastating for its effects on a person’s willingness to attempt certain activities.
This research will explore the impact of failure, fear of failure and the role of a coach.
Biographies of outstanding personalities belonging to different sections of society and era were studied and used. Study was based on their management and approach to failure. A true case study of a Life Coach and a client with the fear of failure was used. Books, journals, websites and self-reflections were used during this research
A: Study of Famous Personalities
Abraham Lincoln was the 16th President of the United States serving from March 1861 until his assassination in April 1865. His list of failures was a long one, but his failures never deterred him from achieving the most coveted position of the President of USA.
Abraham Lincoln’s failures:
1. Lost his job and entered politics, 1832, (6)
2. Defeated for legislature,1832 (7)
3. Defeated for Speaker, 1838 (8)
4. Defeated to be nominated for Congress, 1842 (6)
5. Lost nomination as a Congressman, 1848 (8)
6. Rejected for Commissioner of the General Land Office, 1849 (9)
7. Defeated for Senate, 1854 (10)
8. Defeated for nomination for Vice-President, 1856 (11)
In spite of so many failures Abraham Lincoln had a series of accomplishments to his credit. He led the country to victory during the American Civil War and contributed profoundly towards ending the widespread slavery in America. Before being elected to the Presidency; Lincoln was a successful lawyer, an Illinois state legislator and a member of the United States House of Representatives. His presidency is primarily marked by his illustrious success in defeating the secessionists, abolition of slavery and neutralizing a war-like situation with the United Kingdom. (6,10,12) Apart from these, the former President is credited with the establishment of a ”Republican form of Government” in America through a policy of reconciliation. Since then he has been ranked among the greatest presidents of America. (6,10,12)
Steve Jobs was the co-founder, chairman, and chief executive officer of Apple Inc. His unending failures never stopped him from touching the zenith of success.
Steve Jobs’ failures:
1. The Apple III computer–the first PC was a poor design. (13)
2. The Lisa, a personal computer was very expensive for general use and the company suffered losses. (13)
3. Early Macintosh computers were bulky and slow. (13)
4. He was fired from Apple Inc.by Scully, the CEO. (13)
After his return to Apple Inc. and having several successful ventures such as iPod, iPhone, iPad he still had some products which did not do well such as:
5. Apple TV. (14)
6. The NeXT-like Apple G4 Cube. (14) The way he handled his failures and emerged as a winner was commendable (15) and he expressed his strategy in his famous 2005 commencement address at Stanford University: “I didn’t see it then, but it turned out that getting fired from Apple was the best thing that could have ever happened to me. The heaviness of being successful was replaced by the lightness of being a beginner again, less sure about everything. It freed me to enter one of the most creative periods of my life. [...] Sometimes life hits you in the head with a brick. Don’t lose faith. I’m convinced that the only thing that kept me going was that I loved what I did.” (16)
B: Case Study:
(Name changed to protect client’s identity)
A 28 years old man named Shyam approached a Life Coach, presenting symptoms of fear of failure and unhappiness with regard to career and future prospects. He agreed to be coached for 12 sessions. Probing and exploratory questions threw light on his current reality. He appeared emotionally drained, unhappy, tensed and frustrated with life and living. He strongly believed that he was incapable of achieving success in any aspect of life. He had zero confidence and commitment towards his intent which appeared clouded.
Quoting Shyam, ‘I am convinced that no matter whatever I do I can never succeed even if I work very hard. So why bother to make any attempt.’ His pessimism and fear of future failures made him highly skeptical in achieving any success in life and pushed him into a cocoon of inactivity.
Probing made the coach realize that Shyam was an intellectual, a high performer and a high achiever who failed in an important career entrance exam due to over confidence. This failure left him scarred for life, sapping him of all his enthusiasm, energy and left him completely powerless.
The coach used different tools to create a shift in his perspective. Using Strength Finder the coach made Shyam realize his basic strengths. Recapping the strengths made Shyam feel slightly energized but there appeared no indication of any kind of shift in his perspective. Employing tools of Metaphors, Analogies, Emotional Delayering, Powerful Questioning and providing space of Silence the coach did succeed in creating self- awareness within Shyam but the fear of failure remained clinging to him like a python. Thereafter the coach redefined Failure and Fear of Failure which brought about a great breakthrough in the client. From a cocooned caterpillar Shyam emerged a free butterfly taking high flights in life. The coach used a different technique of Visualization. He asked Shyam to visualize a highly successful personality whom he idolized. The coach then asked him to visualize that he himself is that person of his dreams. Shyam visualized himself as Steve Jobs. The coach questioned him about his (Steve Jobs) life focusing on how Steve Job had transformed his failures into stepping stones to success and Shyam narrated all the success stories he had ever heard or read. The coach asked Shyam how he was feeling as Steve Jobs and his replies were full of happiness, high energy and confidence as though he has achieved the ultimate pedestal of success and happiness.
The coach then asked Shyam how he (Steve Jobs) managed his life then. Shyam as Steve kept the energy level high, listed all his failures and kept on narrating how he had faced the failures of life with rigor, passion and fervor and turned all his failures into successes. At this juncture the coach requested Shyam to open his eyes and step back into his own life. The coach observed a gleam in Shyam’s eyes and asked, “How can you use the same thought process, fervor, passion and rigor in your own life?” The floodgates of positivism were thrown open and Shyam showed a tremendous shift in his perspectives, thought processes, emotions and the entire paradigm. He experienced a huge ‘AHA’ moment. The breakthrough was tremendous and the ‘AHA’ moment was captured forever. The coach was witness to Shyam’s successes thereafter.
A. How successful personalities managed and used their failure and fear of failure :
1. They looked at failure very carefully, very intently inspected and understood it.
2. They looked at the variables that could change and tried to realize how they could affect that same failing result in the future and established if they somehow had any control over the given variables.
3. If they felt they had no control over the variables, they just preserved that failure as a great experience in their knowledge bank.
4. They understood that failure is inevitable but in no way an end.
5. They used it as an indicator of potential future problems.
6. They never blamed themselves, other people or external factors for failure.
7. They converted Failure and Fear of Failure into great learning tool by embracing it, feeling it, owning it and learning from it.
Studying the life of successful people it was found that they used failure as a stepping stone to success.
B. Role of a Coach on the basis of the given case study:
The coach redefines ‘Failure’ and ‘Fear of Failure’ causing great breakthrough in the client. The new definition of ‘failure’ takes away the fear from the client and the client feels completely liberated from the fear of failure.
1. It also frees the clients to strive for success without reservation, to explore, take risks, and vigorously pursue their dreams.
2. Clients will know in their hearts that failure is okay and in no way a negative reflection on themselves as human beings.(18,19)
3. Finally, failure will ultimately enable them to achieve success. As Winston Churchill once said, “Success consists of going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm”
The gray space and the gap from the dark well of helplessness to the beautiful bright sunshine of happiness, peace and glory is the space where the coach steps in. The coach makes the client realize that failure is the seed which creates the possibility of germinating into a flowering tree of development, progress and achievements. Coach uses Failure as a boon and creates tremendous shifts in the client’s perspectives and complete paradigm.
Coach makes the client realize that failure is a huge learning process which has the potential to overcome obstacles that caused it. It shows people what they did wrong so they can correct the problem in the future.
A coach redefines Failure and successfully creates awareness in the client to focus on their strengths and overcome their fears. A coach using apt tools from his tool kit enthuses, empowers and energizes the client to shift from the state of helplessness to total peace, happiness and control. Fear of failure is no longer dreaded by the client. The coach makes his client realize that he needs to face his fear of failure head on and leads his client to find a way to deal with it.
The coach enables the client to highlight the fact that all the coveted characteristics of a human being are taught and instilled by failure. Qualities of leadership, confidence, commitment, patience, determination, diligence, decision making, team spirit and problem solving get imbibed beautifully. It helps respond positively to the frustration and disappointment that people often experience as they pursue their goals. Failure teaches humility and appreciation for the opportunities that they’re given.
Coach makes the client realize that failure should not deter one from trying again and again to achieve what one desires. As Michael Jordan gives his own example “I’ve missed more than 9000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. 26 times, I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.” He also stated rightly -“I can accept failure, everyone fails at something. But I can’t accept not trying.”
Personal Observations: Observe the first step a baby takes in its quest to experiment walking or the first step a baby bird takes in its quest to experience flying ; in both these scenarios we see how a baby keeps faltering and falling but continues its endeavor to stand and walk. Not even once the baby frowns and feels, ‘Oh! You know what people, I have failed’ on the contrary the baby has that sweetest chuckle and untouched laughter in its demeanor. The mother of the infant continues coaxing, encouraging, clapping and nudging lovingly until the baby takes that first coveted step. In the mother we see and feel the presence of a coach who views this all not as success or failure, but as a process of life. Jane Powell has rightly said ‘Dissipate fear of failure by rediscovering the child within.’ 17 This same child within is not worried about failure or being labeled as negative.
The research shows that failure and fear of failure is a boon and not a bane. When the coach empowers the client to use these as the remote control of power to bring about the desired change it creates miracles to happen. As Anthony Robbins said “I’ve come to believe that all my past failure and frustration were actually laying the foundation for the understandings that have created the new level of living I now enjoy.” (20)
A coach knows that human potential is unlimited and he brilliantly awakens the giant within the client. As Anthony Robbins said “No matter how prepared you are, there’s one thing that I can guarantee: if you are on the river of life, it’s likely you’re going to hit a few rocks. That’s not being negative; that’s being accurate. The key is that when you do run aground, instead of beating yourself up for being such a “failure,” remember that there are no failures in life. There are only results. If you didn’t get the results you wanted, learn from this experience so that you have references about how to make better decisions in the future.” (21) Coach makes the client realize his potential and innate strengths. Man has evolved from Stone Age to the present Modern Age conquering his fears using his in depth strengths. ‘Treat a man as he is and he will remain as he is. Treat a man as he can and should be and he will become as he can and should be.’ – Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe. The new definition of Failure and Fear of Failure: “Failure and Fear of Failure is a boon and not a bane. It is the plinth on which one can build one’s dream life. Accept it as a new beginning – a stepping stone to success - a gateway to a bright future” –Sunita Chhibar.
1. Coelho, P. (2006). The alchemist. (p. 141). New York: HarperCollins.
2. Schouwenburg, H. C. (1992), Procrastinators and fear of failure: an exploration of reasons for procrastination. Eur. J. Pers., 6: 225-236. doi: 10.1002/per.2410060305
3. Tracy, B. (2011, October 20). Fight or Flight: Overcoming Your Fears. Retrieved from http://www.briantracy.com/blog/personal-success/fight-or-flight-overcoming- your-fears/
4. Colman, Andrew M. A Dictionary of Psychology. (3rd edn, 2009).
5. Bauers, Deborah. ‘An Overview of Atychiphobia.’ Helium. (Nov. 23, 2010). Retrieved 2011-11-17.
6. Ketcham, H. (2010). Chapter VII Entering Politics. In The Life of Abraham Lincoln. Public domain. EBook.
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8. Herdon, W. H., & Weik, J. W. (2012). Chapter 8:Lincoln a member of the Legislature at Vandalia. In Herdon’s Lincoln: The True Story of a Great Life. Charles River Editors. Ebook.
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16. Smith, C. (2011, October 23). What Steve Jobs Learned From His Biggest Failure. www.huffingtonpost.com. Retrieved July 1, 2012, from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/10/23/steve-jobs-failure_n_1025732.html
17. Powell, J. (2012, March 28). Dissipate fear. Retrieved from http://meditationsforwomen.com/dissipate-fear/
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19. Gardner JW. Self-renewal: the individual and the innovative society. New York: W.W. Norton & Company; 1995, p. 14, 124.
20. Robbins, A. (2001). Dreams of Destiny. In Awaken The Giant Within.(p. 19). Great Britain: Pocket Books, Simon & Schuster
21. Robbins, A. (2001). Decisions: The Pathway to Power. In Awaken The Giant Within. (p. 44). Great Britain: Pocket Books, Simon & Schuster