Our Fear of Failure

Our Fear of Failure

FailureAlthough the fear of failure is often romanticised or quoted by famous stars, it can still be a confusing topic that’s difficult to apply to our lives. The impact it has on our mindset is absolutely crucial though, and so it’s a topic which I’d like to explore further in this post.

I’ve always had quite a high risk appetite compared to my friends, having started an electronics company at the age of 12 which I was very proud of. Everything was going very successfully until one point at the age of 14, things went sour with a set of faulty car stereos which cost me about $3000 to refund. Although I had become bankrupt by $500 overnight, I honestly wasn’t too phased. I definitely didn’t cry.

Fast forward to 2014, I’m 20, I’ve been risk taking for years and I’m doing a hoodies order for about $8000. The supplier I had used escaped, left me $8000 out of pocket and without the hoodies. The absolute loss was much greater this time, but the percentage of my wealth lost was actually far smaller.

One of the positives of the experience was being featured in the Med School magazine ND haha...
One of the positives of the hoodies experience was being featured in the Med School magazine ND haha…

Both times shared dealing with complaints and having people swear at me for the mistake, but the second time differed that it was with my friends and colleagues. The money didn’t matter at all in fact, but this time with 6 more years of experience, I did cry.

I had a similar experience while creating this blog, where I knew I’d draw criticism for having bought my own domain but thought I was ready for it, until that criticism came from some of my closest friends. It truly did cut me and suddenly raised doubts in my mind, making me question whether I should stop blogging altogether. I realised then how powerful the influence of friends was on me, and I thank my friends for their honest criticism which allowed me to reflect on this.

You see, it’s really for our friends and society that leads us to be afraid of failure, not ourselves. After all, would creating and writing this blog have been so scary if I didn’t dare post it to my Facebook? An anonymous blog would have been so much easier, but would have lost most of its value. Likewise no one’s afraid to lose when they’re playing a video game alone, but bring in just one person to watch or play with them and all of a sudden we cannot risk failure – just look at the amount of drama one Fifa game can stir haha.

We are born as profound risk-takers; screaming, shouting, running and jumping around as soon as we have the ability to do so. Only through our interactions with others are we “taught” not to dare stand out from the crowd or we’ll be punished for it. Consider the ill-fortuned Japanese proverb, “The nail that sticks out gets hammered down” which sadly encourages this bland, uniform society; yet not a single person who has followed this proverb is remembered. Eminem couldn’t stick out more for being a white rapper. Elon Musk couldn’t stick out more by aiming to retire on Mars. And Jesus definitely couldn’t stick out more with His limitless love to everyone. Yes, all three were hammered as the proverb suggests, but they weren’t hammered “down” – they stood for their purpose, remained upright and were remembered for it.

The Nail that sticks out does get hammered, but it's also the only one that's remembered.
The Nail that sticks out does get hammered, but it’s also the only one that’s remembered.

I hope for a day where we can all be nails that stick out without being hammered, and I honestly believe we can do this one person at a time. Firstly, we must not be afraid to stand out ourselves, even if others hammer us. Secondly, we must do our best to not hammer others doing something different – but instead celebrate those who leave the well-treadled path! But finally and most importantly, let’s openly discuss with one another learnings from our own failures without being awkward about it. I honestly feel stronger and braver already for writing to the world about how I cried – I’ve now reflected on it, learnt from it and have moved on.

So go out there and be the nail that sticks out there for whatever you believe in; even if you’re hammered for it. It’s the greatest feeling in the world to be able to withstand that pressure, and there is no better way to move our society forward than overcoming the fear of failure for ourselves first!

3 thoughts on “Our Fear of Failure

  1. Fantastic post Mark. I commend your courage in sharing such a personal story with the wider internet world! No easy feat for anyone.

    I agree with your principle; that one shouldn’t be afraid to make mistakes, as it is through mistakes that we learn and grow. However, just as there are many people who’s risk taking behaviour has paid off (pioneers, leaders, celebrities), there are many who have not been so fortunate, and continue to suffer the repercussions of their mistakes for many years.

    Many of those who suffer from their risky behaviour do so because their decisions were often not considered, and were plainly foolish. Driving under the influence of alcohol across the Auckland harbour bridge at 2am on a Sunday morning comes to my mind as an example of a courageous and risky move, though not necessarily as a wise one. On the other hand, many people have taken calculated risks, and have failed with their endeavours. An example in my mind is that of a businessman, taking a business risk such as the one you took, but on a larger scale. Should this man fail, there is potential for bankruptcy, and, in extreme cases, homelessness.

    What would your advice be to readers of this blog, who are keen to be the nail that sticks out, but want to avoid being hammered to death?

    • Thank you Patrick for your positive feedback and insightful comments, they really do allow for deeper thinking into these ideas!

      Firstly, I agree with you about the need for all risk to be well-calculated rather than plainly foolish such as drunk driving. But the next important point about risk is only risking what you can afford to lose. My electronics business, and hoodies initiative are both examples of calculated risks that failed, and while I risked all my wealth ($3000) on the electronics business, I could afford to lose all of it thanks to the stable family environment I lived in – shelter, food and drink all already provided. The $8000 in hoodies was likewise money that I could afford to lose as mentioned in my post.

      This is therefore what limits the amount of risk that one can take – I was able to take very large risks as a proportion of my wealth just because of the secure, stable lifestyle that my family provided. Likewise for very large-scale businesses, you must start with a lot of capital that you can afford to lose. To me, there is no greater example here than Elon Musk, who after having made $800 million from selling PayPal, decided to put his money into starting a space company and electric car company – both had crazy levels of risk, but could well be justified by his wealth which he could afford to lose. His crazy risks both almost crashed in 2008, but have now paid off very handsomely with his current worth at roughly 9 billion dollars, and potentially much more in the future.

      So hopefully the advice of risking only what you can afford to lose can help us be nails that stick out while also withstanding the potential hammering that will come!

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