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Fear, Procrastination, and Failure

I had a reaction to something I read on Seth Godin’s blog regarding fear.  (BTW, it’s great to see Seth writing anything about emotions!)  In his post set the agenda by showing up first, Seth wrote about the importance of acting early and how our fear can impact that.

What I keyed in on was the relationship between fear, our behavior when we are scared, and how that can lead to failure.  Fear can keep us from acting early; it can also cause us to procrastinate, wait till the last moment, or not act at all.  Our fear of failing can actually cause us to do just that.

I saw this quite clearly recently in my own behavior.  I had an important interview to land a long term consulting engagement.  I was excited about the opportunity and frankly, I wanted the position.  But I was scared.  And unfortunately for me, I was not aware enough at the time (i.e. self-aware) to appreciate how afraid I was.

My fear was not so much about the opportunity as about the interview.  I was so excited about the engagement that I was afraid I would blow it, or that somehow my GREAT DESIRE for this opportunity would be apparent.

So what did I do?  Well, I let my fear nearly cause the exact thing I was worried about.  I procrastinated, I stalled, and didn’t get ready on time.  I left my house late.  And I arrived 15 minutes late for the interview.  My fear of blowing it caused me to stall and arrive late, which nearly cost me the position.

The lesson here is that we need to pay attention to our fear and not let it shut us down or sabotage us.  I’m more in touch with my fear than I have been over the course of my life.  But I still recognize that there are situations where I go unconscious and let my fear shut me down.

What I need is to do a better job of catching myself when I am afraid.  Sometimes simply naming the fear is enough to take the energy out.  It also helps me to determine what my fear is telling me.  In the case of the interview, it was telling me that it was important to me.  Using the fear as information is the essence of emotional self-management.

In this economic climate, we each need to be playing at the top of our game.  We need to see all the opportunities that exist.  We need to recognize when we are afraid and determine what our fear is trying to tell us.  Our fear may be trying to tell us that we are making a mistake or that we don’t have enough information.

The good news is that I am making some progress.  Two weeks ago I recognized that there was another opportunity with this same client to help two other projects that were in trouble.  It was scary to do so; frankly I was much more comfortable staying in my current role of managing one large program.  But I’ve come to appreciate that recovery of failing projects is the area where I do my best work.  And here were two that were in trouble.  So I pushed through my fear and offered to help these projects.  Yes it was scary, but so is unemployment!

I’d love to hear your stories about how fear has impacted you and your decisions.  When is this most likely to happen?  Do you ever stall or procrastinate and miss opportunities?  What are you missing out on right now?


This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. Maranda Gibson

    I have always believed that fear can be a great motivator. I think it’s a foolish thing when people say they do not experience fear. Fear is an emotion and anyone who is human will experience it. Fear has always had the opposite affect on me and made me be early and overzealous about everything. The fear of failure made me go a little bit too far. Once the first projects I had when I started at my first “real” job was to write a guide for clients. I blew through it so quickly that I made a ton of mistakes first draft, things I should have caught.
    One thing I try to do to control my fear of failure is to remind myself of the accomplishments I’ve made. It sounds conceited I’m sure but when that fear can get to be too much, sometimes it’s nice to hear something that’s positive.

  2. Anthony Mersino

    Hi Maranda, thank you so much for your comments! I agree wholeheartedly that anyone who is human experiences fear though many people are not aware that they are afraid. It sounds like you have learned to use your fear to be more prepared and to avoid failure. I am more likely to get shut down or to have it cause me to procrastinate.
    I also like your tip for controlling your fear. Affirmations are good, as is positive imaging, and talking it out with a friend. Breathing exercises can also be extremely helpful in reducing our level of fear. Finally, my favorite way to control my fear is to find something to laugh about.

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