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Fear of Failure

There seems to be a common misconception as to what the “Fear of Failure” truly means. It seems that many people think they need to work harder to succeed so they do not fail at some activity or task. They therefore put more hours into studying to pass a test or put in more time at work to complete a project. Or they work harder at whatever they are doing. While none of that is a bad thing, that is not what the “Fear of Failure” truly means.

The Fear Of Failure, also known as (Atychiphobia) is not necessarily about working harder so as not to fail. It is also not about being unsuccessful at some activity. Rather the Fear of Failure is when someone allows some type of fear to stop them from doing, or even trying to do the things that could benefit them or move them forward in their life or toward their goals. It is really about fear holding you back so much that you do not even try.

Examples of fear of failure

It can come in many fashions. It can be relevant in your personal life, any life-long goals you have, making changes in your life, or in the business world. Fear of Failure (Atychiphobia) can also be relevant in personal relationships, and really anything in life. We give a few examples below to hopefully maybe help people understand it a little better.

  • Someone will not ask for a raise at work because they are afraid they will get turned down or the boss will be upset with them for even asking.
  • Not investing in a stock as they think they will lose all their money as the stock will go to zero.
  • Not going for a walk or run to exercise to lose weight as they think they will not be able to walk or run more than a very short distance so why even bother trying.
  • Not going back to school or college for a new or better degree that could lead to a higher paying job as they think no one would ever hire them.
  • Put off doing something that may improve your life without having a very strong reason to try to do it.
  • Putting off a move as they think they will dislike or not fit into the new area they move to.
  • Not starting a business as they think no one will shop at their store, sign a contract with them or buy their product.

Those are just a few examples to hopefully help you visualize and understand it. But Fear of Failure can really apply to almost anything. There are countless examples.

As far as symptoms of fear of failure, they include self-sabotage (anxiety, procrastination, anger, etc.), low self-esteem or confidence, and perfectionism among others. As you will see the examples of Atychiphobia we indicated above all have a common theme…and that is around not trying to do some activity at all because you assume you will fail or not be successful. The Fear of Failure involves not even trying…not even getting yourself into the “game”.

While there is no hard data around how common the Fear of Failure is, I bet we all know people who have not tried something as they fear the result of it. In fact I bet for many people that everyone you know in your life fears trying something…so everyone you know or have in your life may have a Fear of Failure. Or maybe you fall into that category, if you can take an honest assessment of yourself. Atychiphobia is probably very common, and there are even many articles from Psychologists who say everyone has the fear of failure.  No matter how common it is or isn’t, there are some common causes of it, and ways to overcome it.

Causes of Atychiphobia

We do not employ therapists or Psychologists at needhelppayingbills. All of these suggestions are based on a combination of my experiences, stories from our staff/contractors, and sources of data on the internet.

First of all, it is always very important to understand the root cause of something. As with anything in life, you need to understand the root cause and acknowledge there is an issue out there. Admitting there is an issue or problem, whether Fear of Failure or something else, that is often half the battle to getting better. Without acknowledging a problem, it is impossible to overcome it.

Fear of failure can be linked to many causes. For instance, having critical or unsupportive parents is a cause for some people. Because they were routinely undermined or humiliated in childhood, they carry those negative feelings into adulthood.

It can be caused by an experience that maybe you did not do that good at, such as public speaking, a test in college, etc. and that disappointment “follows you”. Now you are afraid that same issue will always come up in the same or similar activities.

Another cause may be perfectionism. Someone who thinks they need to be perfect, and do not get it on the first attempt, may put off even trying again.  Fear of Failure often occurs in people who lacked positive adult role models who supported the kid, which caused the child to have low self-esteem and did not help them build their confidence.

Most of the causes of Fear of Failure come from childhood, and they carry over into adulthood. That should not be a surprise, as it is true of almost everything in life in that things carry over from when you were younger. Personally, I can relate to many of those challenges that carried over to be being an adult…lack of parental support, trying to be perfect as a kid, etc. However while I had and have challenges, I never had the Fear of Failure…that is one challenge I have not had to acknowledge and overcome.

Tips to overcome Fear of Failure

Once again, this is a combination of what we find online and personal experiences. But no matter what, we think it is critical to overcome the Fear of Failure. If someone can’t, they may never hit their lifelong goals…whether it is getting a better job, moving to a new part of the country, getting a degree, starting a business, giving a big speech, buying that stock investment, etc.

I firmly believe that it is critical in life to set small goals. I remember when I bought my first stock at the age of 16. I was so afraid I would lose all my hard earned, paper boy money. I was so tempted to not invest. But after reading up on the markets and educating myself I started to realize the risk was not as bad as I thought…but I was still afraid. So I decided to just invest a small amount of my money at the time. That was in effect a small goal/step.

The same concept of small steps/goals applies to much more. If you are afraid of failing at a college degree, set a small goal of meeting a teacher or go to the admission office. Then take one class, commit yourself 100% to it, and see how you do. If you are afraid to ask for a raise, research the job market, put together a list of your accomplishments and projects, and ask for a smaller raise as a starting point; maybe not an outrageous increase. Get small, early wins to boost confidence.

Or, when the time is right, take a chance and go for the big “win”. When I asked for the promotion to be the youngest director at a publicly held company, I took a risk and it paid off. Always dive right in to the activity as well with these small goals.

Another tip is to look at worst case scenarios by trying. Even if you take a test to go back to school, and fail at it, what is the worst that can happen? You are still in the same place today and can go about your life. Or if you apply for that promotion and work and do not get it, the worst that can happen is you still have your same job but at least showed initiative to take on a new role. Along the same lines of worst case scenario, always put into place a back up plan. This will sometimes help people try something new and get over that Fear of Failure.

Get outside your comfort zone. Maybe take a class on something new. Even if it is not your main goal, trying something new (taking a yoga class, painting, etc.) can help you get over a Fear of Failure as it helps you get comfortable with maybe an activity that is lower stress as not tied to your main goal. And if you are not that good at the class (no matter what it is), it helps you learn to try (and failing) is not the end of the world. As trying is key to business and other dreams.

And always remember, if you do not at least try (and commit yourself wholeheartedly to it), you have already failed. When you are not trying as you are scared of the outcome or think you will not be any good, that is the Fear of Failure.

If you are able to try to forge ahead, that in itself can lead to you at least trying to achieve those dreams and goals you may have. Even if you do not reach the objective you may have on the first attempt you make at it, it is very likely you will at least learn something about yourself and the goal. You can walk away knowing you had courage for at least trying to meet your goals, and that in itself is very rewarding.

No matter what your goals or objectives involve (business, personal, giving back, etc.) Overcoming the Fear of Failure will at least allow you to try to hit those dreams/goals…and getting off the couch and trying is also often more than half the battle! As at the end of the day, and the end of your life, most people say they wish they tried at whatever the activity may be. Do not let any Fear of Failure hold you back from at least trying your best at whatever your dream may be. Never be afraid to fail, but rather you should be afraid to not have tried.


Jon McNamara is the CEO of needhelppayingbills.com, a company that he started in 2008 and that specializes in helping low income families as well as those who are in a financial hardship. He also found NHPB LLC, a company committed to helping the less fortunate. Jon and his team also provide free financial advice to help people learn about as well as manage their money. Every piece of content on this website has been reviewed by him before publishing and many of the articles he has personally written. Jon is the leading author for needhelppayingbils.

One thought on “Fear of Failure

  • March 7, 2019 at 12:18 pm

    I was so scared. I faced abuse from my partner. I needed to remove me and my son from that situation I was in so had no choice but to leave everything behind I found a place in the new city I wanted to live in. I just started working at a new job there. Change needed to happen now or my life will start to fall like dominos. I was so scared of change. I did it though. My son and I am are doing well now and I will not fail! I overcame my fear and it is better than the abuse I lived in!


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