Overcoming Your Fear of Failure as an Entrepreneur

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Maddy Osman
Maddy Osman



Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu once wisely said, “The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.”

how to overcome a fear of failure

But he conveniently left out the fact that the first step is often the hardest. For entrepreneurs starting a new venture, that first step can feel more like stepping off a cliff rather than strolling along a sidewalk.

What makes that first step so difficult? For many, it’s the fear of failure and the idea that they might disappoint not only themselves, but others who have placed their faith in the endeavor. 

The truth is, failure is a part of life, and it’s often a part of running your own business. All entrepreneurs need to accept this fear, and come to a certain level of comfort with it, if they are to succeed. 

What is fear of failure?

Fear of failure refers to a feeling of fear or dread associated with the idea that you might not succeed when taking on a new project or pursuing a new goal. You may feel certain that you’re going to fail and worry that you’ll disappoint the people around you.

In business, fear of failure often gets attached to things like taking on new projects or even starting that company you’ve been thinking about for years. You may think you don’t have the skills you need to succeed, or worry that people will look at you differently if you’re not a roaring success. 

In more extreme cases, fear of failure can develop into a condition called atychiphobia.

Fear of failure vs. atychiphobia

Atychiphobia is a diagnosable condition that refers to an intense or extreme fear of failure. For your fear of failure to qualify as this specific phobia, it would need to meet the following criteria:

  • The fear is unreasonable and excessive
  • It causes you to feel anxious
  • It leads you to avoid the thing you’re afraid of 
  • It causes you to experience extreme distress
  • It gets in the way of you living your life normally
  • It’s lasted at least six months, and there’s no other identifiable cause for your symptoms

Atychiphobia can lead to physical symptoms, such as dizziness, excessive sweating, nausea, and even panic attacks. The good news is that there are ways to curb the fear of failure before it grows to this level.

What can cause fear of failure?

Fear of failure can be frustrating at the least, and paralyzing at worst. So, where does this feeling come from? 

The causes behind a fear of failure are many, and can vary significantly from person to person. The reason that one person experiences this unpleasant feeling will be unique to them, and may be due to a combination of factors. Here are a few possible reasons people can experience a fear of failing.

  • Anxiety: One of the main symptoms of an anxiety disorder is trouble controlling your worries. While worry is a part of everyday life, people with anxiety can get stuck in mental loops of constant fear and worry, which can lead to fear of failure at work. 
  • Other mental health issues: If you struggle with other mental health issues — for example, depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), or bipolar disorder — you may feel like your condition interferes with your work. As a result, you may feel you don’t have the skills to succeed or that you’re bound to mess up and disappoint others.
  • Upbringing/past experience: If you grew up in an environment where failure wasn’t tolerated, you might experience dread about disappointing others even when you make a minor mistake. This can also happen if you have had a traumatic experience around a single event, such as completely blanking during an important meeting. It can make you hesitant to step out of your comfort zone again in the future.
  • Perfectionism: Perfectionists hold themselves to impossibly high standards and can experience harsh self-criticism when they fall short. At work, this can cause you to fear projects you aren’t sure you can succeed at.
  • Too much focus on results: Attaching your self-worth to your work makes it easy to feel anxious about new ventures. If you can’t separate your work from your self-esteem, setbacks in business can make you feel like a failure as a person. That can lead to feelings of dread and symptoms like avoidance or procrastination.

Fear of failure examples

Fear of failure doesn’t have to turn into a diagnosable phobia for it to become a hindrance to you, especially at work. 

Here’s how fear of failure may appear in your life.

  • Putting off finishing tasks that you are uncomfortable with
  • Feeling certain that you can’t or won’t achieve your (or your business’s) goals
  • Lowering expectations by telling people that you’re probably going to fail, or that your work will not live up to expectations
  • Constantly worrying about disappointing your loved ones, employees, co-workers, or clients/customers
  • Feeling that others will discover your imperfections and think less of you as a result
  • Wanting to achieve something but doubting you have the ability, skills, or knowledge to do it

Say that your boss is looking for someone to lead an important new project. You want to volunteer but worry you don’t have the exact experience needed. As such, you fear that you’ll fail, embarrass yourself, and let the company down. In the end, you don’t step up, and the project goes to someone else. That’s fear of failure creeping in.

So, how do these feelings and behaviors impact your professional life?

How fear of failure affects your work

If you don’t address the negative thoughts that come with the fear of failure, they can impact your ability to take risks and work productively. 

Here’s how fear of failure can show up in your professional life:

  • Difficulty finishing projects or missing deadlines because of procrastination and lack of self-motivation
  • Low self-esteem and irritability with others
  • Difficulty taking constructive criticism
  • Avoiding big projects or new risks
  • Always expecting the worst-case scenario to happen

As you can see, these characteristics don’t scream “successful entrepreneur.” Instead, they look more like the road to bitterness and regret. 

How do you avoid taking that turn? By implementing strategies that help you cope with and overcome your fear of failure.

Here are some tried-and-true strategies you can use to come to terms with the fear of failure and ensure that it doesn’t get in the way of your goals.

How to overcome fear of failure in business

  • Break down your goals
  • Visualize success and plan for setbacks
  • Focus on well-being
  • Practice self-compassion
  • Reframe failure

Break down your goals

As an entrepreneur, you’re no stranger to big goals. But the bigger the goal, the more overwhelming it can seem. 

Athina Zisi, COO of online gaming company EnergyCasino, says that one strategy that helped her was “breaking down large goals into smaller, more manageable tasks.” Doing so can help reduce anxiety. 

Not to mention, building a habit of consistently achieving your manageable tasks helps boost self-confidence over time.

Visualize success and plan for setbacks

Visualization is a powerful mental tool that can keep you focused on the positive possible outcomes. That said, the road to success is often paved with setbacks. 

You can also use visualization and forward-thinking to consider the variety of ways your strategies may not go exactly as planned. 

Once you’ve identified potential obstacles, you can create contingency plans. Having backup strategies helps you feel more prepared and can reduce the intense fear of failure.

Focus on well-being

Commercial success isn’t the only measure of a well-lived life. As entrepreneurs, it can be easy to have tunnel vision when trying to bring your dream to life. However, creating a rich quality of life outside of work can give you the support you need to weather any difficulties that pop up along your entrepreneurial journey. 

Set boundaries on your work and invest time in things that energize and motivate you, whether that’s space for self-reflection, hobbies you do just for fun, or quality time with friends and family.

Practice self-compassion

Lachlan Brown, author and founder of the psychology website Hack Spirit, recommends “[treating] yourself with kindness, understanding, and empathy.” 

Understanding that everyone makes mistakes can also help you reduce negative self-talk and cultivate a growth mindset where you accept failure as a necessary part of the road to success. 

Some ways to practice self-compassion include: 

  • Forgiving yourself for past mistakes
  • Setting aside time for mindfulness exercises and deep breathing
  • Taking time to celebrate small wins and personal growth

Reframe failure

Being solely focused on your results can make failure seem more critical. But you can reduce self-doubt and find more opportunities to improve if you treat each setback as a learning experience rather than a permanent reflection of your abilities.

One excellent tool for reframing your mindset is cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), where you work with a mental health professional to reduce negative thought patterns and cultivate positive thinking.

Successful people aren’t magically born without the fear of failure. Instead, they’ve learned to accept, befriend, and overcome it. If your fear of failure is holding you back from chasing your dreams, try some of these strategies to see what works for you.

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