Overcoming the Single Biggest Reason for Failure

There is no more powerful player on the stage of life than failure.  Real or imaginary, failure wields powerful influence. It falsely commands respect and it this unearned respect that tear at our dreams, goals, and hopes of accomplishment.

Kelly does a great job of breaking down life’s archenemy.

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Despite the claims and their best intentions, many people fail to succeed simply because they lack the necessary desire to succeed. For these individuals, the barriers and resistance that always accompany a worthwhile endeavor are just not worth the effort.

There are many, however, that stand frozen in life’s starting gate, unable to take even the first step on the path to success. Sadly, it is not the desire to succeed that is an issue; there is a much more insidious nemesis to contend with – fear. Indeed, much has been written about the negative impact fear can have on performance. Brian Tracy, renowned author of Psychology of Achievement, claims that the fear of failure is the primary source of individual failure:

“The fear of failure is the biggest single reason for failure in adult life. It is not failure itself, but the fear of failure, the prospect of failure, the anticipation of failure, that causes you to freeze up and perform at a lower level.”

Which is somewhat incredible. Of all the things that might viewed as the most significant barrier to one’s success – socioeconomic circumstances, inadequate resources, excessive regulation, connections you don’t have and can’t make – each is apparently less a factor in derailing success than one single emotion. The fear of failure – something intangible and unseen, something imagined, something that is sometimes completely irrational – is, most likely, your most powerful enemy.

But what is the ‘fear of failure’ exactly? Surely we don’t fear failure; rather it is the imagined consequences of our failure. It is what others will think. It is what might be lost (status or respect). It is the fear that our failure will create a perception of who we are that is inconsistent with the perception we desire people to have.

Which, though true, is somewhat irrational, isn’t it? How many times have we heard the story of Thomas Edison or Michael Jordan or Reggie Jackson? Edison failed thousands of times before he discovered the light bulb. Jordan was cut from his high school basketball team, but led the Chicago Bulls to six NBA titles. Jackson, “Mr. October,” struck out 2,597 times, more than any hitter in the history of Major League Baseball.

Failure after failure that preceded, or even coincided with, success. Indeed, upon careful reflection, it would appear that failure is a necessary requisite to success.

But that’s not the point; the point is the powerful feelings that accompany what one believes others will think of them.

And that fear is crippling.

Battling Fear

It is probably self-evident that the ability to overcome fear requires courage. What might not be as apparent is what it means to have courage. Quite literally, to have courage is to have heart. The word “courage” is derived from the Latin word cor, which is translated as “heart” (think Richard “The Lion-Hearted”).

Courage, then, is not, the absence of fear; rather, it is the condition that exists when the desire of the heart far outweighs any resident fear. To ‘have heart’ implies that an individual is so invested in his/her thoughts or ideals that he/she is not influenced by the opinion of others. To have heart suggests that a person believes in something so much that the consequences of a potential failure are insignificant by comparison.

In sports, an athlete is said to “have heart” when he or she refuses to quit, despite the obstacles. For the competitor, the potential reward far outweighs what others might possibly think about failure. And that is one of the critical keys to negotiating this formidable barrier to your success.

Courage cannot be faked, but it can most certainly be constructed. Armed with a clear vision of exactly what you want to accomplish – a future state that you believe in completely – you will have created the conviction to move forward, despite the opinions of others. In other words, when you care more about the potential reward than you care about the risk associated with failure, you will find the courage to push ahead.

Still, success is often a very long journey, and it can be difficult to internalize the reward associated with something so far away. To overcome this obstacle, the key is to create momentum.

Momentum is nothing more than a series of small victories. When you can win one game, you believe you can win again. When you can win in small arenas, you believe you can win in larger arenas. Eventually, your confidence can take you all the way to your final destination.

As Mark Twain once said, “The secret of getting ahead is getting started. The secret of getting started is breaking your complex overwhelming tasks into small manageable tasks, and then starting on the first one.”

Conclusion: When you can visualize and wholeheartedly believe in the value of success in your particular endeavor, a series of smaller, manageable tasks make it easier to see how success can be accomplished.

And, really, what is there to fear in a “small manageable task?”



Kelly Riggs is an author, speaker, and business performance coach for executives and companies throughout the United States. He is widely recognized as a powerful speaker and dynamic trainer in the fields of leadership, sales development, and strategic planning.

He is a former two-time national Salesperson-of-the-Year with over two decades of sales management and sales training experience, including the development of two comprehensive corporate sales training programs in two different industries.

Kelly is also the founder and president of Vmax Performance Group, a business performance improvement company located in Broken Arrow, OK. He has written extensively for numerous industry publications, and his first book, “1-on-1 ManagementTM: What Every Great Manager Knows That You Don’t,” was released in 2008. His second book, “Quit Whining and Start SELLING: A Step-by-Step Guide to a Hall of Fame Career in Sales” was released in May 2013.