We’re raised to always do our best. That’s good, to some extent: we need to push ourselves, persevere, and to avoid the temptation of mediocrity. But what if the desire for perfection becomes paralyzing? We become afraid of failure, and ashamed of mistakes. We undervalue our accomplishments, because somebody else did it better. We constantly seek the approval of others— someone who’ll say, ‘Good job!’ and give us the proverbial gold medal.
These thoughts can limit us and eat away at the passion that propels true success. Here are some tips for shaking off the fear of failure.
Sometimes, aim for ‘good enough’
You can’t be the best at everything. An Olympic gold medallist can excel at one sport, but know nothing about another. The total focus demanded of one goal sometimes requires letting go of other areas and giving yourself permission to just be ‘good enough’ at things that don’t really matter. For example, working moms can focus on quality time with the kids and not feel guilty about having a messy house. Or, a sales manager can think about building relationships with a very important client and just meeting the bare requirements of low-yield accounts (see the 80/20 rule).
Even for important projects, you may need to adjust expectations. If you notice your fear of failure is actually stopping you from working on, or even finishing something, then just adjust the goals. You don’t have to create an award-winning advertising campaign: you just have to submit the ad materials by your deadline. Do it, and move on.
Perfectionism and fear of failure can cause you to dawdle too long over one task, constantly polishing it at the cost of working on other projects. Try to see things from a big perspective: this goal is not your whole life. Sometimes you have to say, ‘Okay, this novel isn’t really working out, but finishing it will help me make a better second novel.’
Realize the effects of your fear on the people you care about
You may think perfectionism is a good trait, until you realize how it may be stressing out the people around you. Missing deadlines affects co-workers, who rely on you to get the job done. Your constant whining about your fear of failure may be alienating friends and family.
Embrace your human-ness
People make mistakes. Even the best selling novelist wrote thousands of pages of rejected manuscripts, and millions of paragraphs that were deleted before they reached the final draft. Millionaires have experienced bad business ventures and interrupted deals. Scientists go through hours of failed experiments before they finally hit on the right formula. Mistakes are part of the process.
Don’t compare yourself to others
There will always be someone richer, prettier, thinner, smarter, and more successful than you. But they have problems you don’t know, and even their most successful strategies and principles may not work for you. Instead of comparing yourself to them, celebrate your own victories. ‘I did this better than I used to, five years ago.’
Photo from flicker.com