The fear of failure... it's not failure that's the tough part, it's dealing with the fear

I'm sitting at Techsylvania listening to a panel with the awesome Ondrej Bartos of Credo Ventures who has backed companies like Brainient and UIPath. Credo are our co-investors in, the world's leading makers of beacon hardware and software. 

The panel is talking about failure, its varying cultural acceptance across geographies, and I find myself shaking my head - which means it's time for a blog post.

First off, failure sucks. It's draining, painful, and if you do it wrong you keep carrying it around for years and that energy will attract more failure. The world is magical in that way. It's what we mean by stigma and the reasons for that are deep and evolutionary. You have to free yourself from failure through a shift in perception, what I call raising your consciousness. That's the main capability of the human spirit over its mind, the realization that consciousness is a constituent element of reality, which means that perception is a choice. And so not just talking about but truly understanding the (at some level) "failures" of your life as opportunities or even calls to personal growth is absolutely pivotal for a long-term good life, including health, wealth, and happiness. This is not some spiritual mumbo-jumbo, it's as real as things get.

So where do I like to focus? Look at the book titles below. These are part of my talk later today:

The hard thing about hard things. Sounds bloody difficult. Zero to one. I mean, think about that for a second. You want to get to one, but where are you starting from. You’re a zero! Ha! Only the paranoid survive. I mean, Jesus. Who would ever want to be a founder? They are right of course. You should be afraid. You should be scared. Very, very afraid! 

Can you feel it in your body? Can you feel what it does? Fear contracts. It activates the amygdala. Fight or flight. It’s scary. It’s also a little bit exciting, mind you, but that’s just your body getting ready to fight to the death.

And that’s an interesting realization: fear is at its base always the fear of death. It’s the fear of disappearing back into the void, of being nothing, not having mattered.

So if we explode that a little bit, what is this that we’re scared of when it comes to founding companies?

  • Disappointing people (ostracization)
  • Ending up broke (survival, ability to provide)
  • Failed self (self-esteem, self-worth)
  • Starting from nothing (social hierarchies)

I mean, your entire evolutionary history is aimed at avoiding pain. And here you’re about to run a great risk of getting into a lot of pain. Having to start again from nothing. At the bottom of the heap, so to speak. Also not what evolution sets you up for.

Here’s an interesting scenario: imagine you are at a concert. The lights dim, the music is about to begin. And you remember you forgot to lock your car. You can’t get out, too many people. And now you can’t enjoy the music. You’re caught between two things! And this is an image of running a startup from a place of fear. It takes you out of the moment, out of the present, it reduces your awareness. It blinds you. It makes you more likely to fail!  

And here’s the crazy thing: fear doesn’t exist in the world. Fear only exists in your mind. It’s a matter of perception. Nothing has the power to upset you unless you give it this power. You’ve been trained to be fearful. You’ve been programmed to react this way. But here’s the secret: perception is a choice. How you look at something is a choice.

And we don’t talk about this! We don’t talk about this because we’re pretending to other people that everything is always amazing and great. Instead of sharing the journey, we are actively communicating to each other: I’m doing AMAZING! Everything is working out SUPER WELL. And we think: Oh. No one else has these problems. It must be something wrong with me. I’m weak. And then we’re wondering why even someone as successful and seemingly strong as a Kate Spade or an Anthony Bourdain can’t talk about the pain of the journey. The hardest thing of all the hard things is the demons in our head. The pioneer is always in a minority of one, which from a social perspective means you’re crazy until you make it.

If you're here, come to my talk. I'll share the secret of how to deal with all of that.