Get Up And Code 049: Overcoming Your Fear of Failure
Failure is not something to be feared. Instead, you should fully embrace it and recognize it as the only way to reach long term success. In this episode, I talk about failure and why you need to learn to overcome it.
Full transcript below:
John: Hey, everyone. Welcome back to Get Up and CODE. I'm John Sonmez. In this episode, I'm going to do something a little bit different than what I normally do. I actually decided to do a solo episode this time. I’ve got some interviews lined up that will be coming down the pipeline here, but I wanted to do something a little bit more personal, a little bit more motivational. I was trying to think of what topic that I really wanted to talk about that I felt could help you who are listening to this. Maybe you’re already successful but there are certain places that you’d like to go, a certain level that you’d like to achieve and you haven't reached that yet. Or maybe you’re listening to this podcast and you’re just starting out and you’re just facing this big task in front of you and you’re not motivated to do anything about it yet. You keep putting it off. You’re going to start tomorrow. You want to lose weight, whatever it is, get in shape, fix your diet.
I want to give you something that you can use from this podcast today. What I was thinking about actually with this last week, I released my first real big solo product called How to Market Yourself as a Software Developer. Actually, by the time that you’re listening to this, I think the launch had just ended. That launch really brought up some thinking in my head, some feelings of fears really of what if this thing fails? I’ve devoted 3 months of my time to doing this. I’ve invested a lot of emotional energy, a lot of who I am into this thing. There’s a real possibility that I could open up the doors and it could flop.
That whole mindset, I went through that for the last week or so that made me realize that this is a common thing and this is something that a lot of people struggle with in all areas of their life. Not just in the fitness and diet. Yes, this is a podcast about fitness, but I want to address the whole person because I think that’s really—having a holistic approach to your fitness, to your diet, to your life, to your career is really important because if one of these things is out of balance, they all falter.
Actually, if you find strength in one of these areas, one of the things about getting in shape, I’ve talked about this a little bit is you build that confidence, right? If you start going to the gym, if you start shaping your body, pretty soon you’ll end up getting confidence in all areas of your life and it makes all the ships in your life rise up with it. It’s really important to take that approach.
That’s where I'm getting with this episode, is, basically, this problem that a lot of us have which is dealing with failure. Now, failure itself, I think, is really misunderstood. I think a lot of it comes from how you’re taught growing up. I went to regular public schools growing up and you had the As and you had Fs as failure. When you messed up, you had an F as a failure. You could fail a class and get a failing grade.
That view of failure basically didn’t give any value to failure. It was all or nothing thing. When you failed that was it. End of story, you failed. It wasn’t this brought you closer to the truth or brought you closer to your goal. It was this is a final sentence. You have failed. I think that mindset really affects a lot of us today in our everyday lives, whether it be fitness, whether it be in our career. We’re afraid to fail because we think that the failure is a permanent state.
More so than that, I think a lot of people are afraid of failure because they have identified themselves with different things that they’re pursuing. They’ve put their whole identity into one thing and they’re afraid that if they fail they lose their identity. They, themselves, are a failure. They can’t separate the action, the thing that you’re pursuing from you as a person. It’s really, really important to be able to do that because this whole mindset of seeing failure as a bad thing, what it does is it makes it so that you’re afraid to go out into situations where you could fail.
Let me give you some examples here. The obvious example for most guys, right, if you are afraid to go out and talk to a girl, talk a woman that you want to meet. Most guys, I think, have this failure. I'm going to stereotype here but we’re software developers. We’re programmers. Not known for extreme social skills.
Now, don’t get me wrong here. There’s no reason why that stigma has to exist, right? It’s just something that’s out there. Nothing about programming, about being a software developer, about being smart that makes that true, but it’s just how it is, right? Let’s deal with the reality, how the reality of the world is.
My point is that that’s probably a fear that you can relate to and it’s based on, you could call it rejection, but I’ll say that it’s actually failure. Now, I don’t want to exclude women out here too. It might be the same thing. You might have the same—I can only talk from a man’s point of view because I am a man. That’s why I'm talking from that point of view, but I'm sure you can relate anyone really who has experiences. It could be talking on stage, right? If you’ve ever had to go up and speak to a large group of people, you might have experienced a fear and that fear is based on failure.
Here’s why I'm going to say that that fear is based on failure, right? Let’s suppose that you know that you are going to hit a homerun. Let’s suppose that you know that whatever you do you’re going to succeed. You know that when you go and talk to that girl and ask for her number, her friend has already told you that she likes you, right? Let’s go back to high school days or let’s pretend that the audience that you’re going to talk to. You know that they’re going to cheer and they’re going to love you. You’re already a famous celebrity person and you’ve done this a hundred times before.
By just having that mindset of knowing that you’re going to be successful, knowing that you’re going to hit a homerun would make it so that you wouldn’t have fear anymore. If you’re a hundred percent confident in your ability, you would be confident. You wouldn’t have fear. You wouldn’t worry about failure.
What all that is to say that the underlying root cause of a lot of our fears is really a very big fear that we all have, which is this fear of failure. Then let’s take this back to the diet and fitness and nutrition side again because it’s a little bit harder to see it here. Why do people fail at their fitness goals? Well, it’s because they are afraid to fail. It’s because here’s what happens, right? Let me see if this describes you, because described me at times in my life. I'm not immune from falling back into this mode.
You tell everyone you’re on a diet. You tell everyone that you’re trying to lose weight that you’re going to lose weight. You have your goal or you’re going to the gym. You live 2 lives, right? There’s the life of you go out to dinner with friends. They see you eat the chicken breast. You eat a little bit of salad or whatever. You’re sticking to your diet. Then there’s the second life. You’re alone. You’re driving home from dinner and you now stop at a convenience store and you buy a bunch of sweets, right? You get home and you pig out.
Now, what ends up happening is you put this front, right, because you’re afraid to show that you fail. You’re free to fail so you end up faking this, right? You pretend like you’re sticking with your diet. Oh, it’s just not working. I'm not losing weight. I'm not gaining muscle. You tell everyone that you’re still lifting 3 times a week or whatever it is and you’re eating healthy, but secretly, you’re living this other life.
Let me paint the picture of what you should be doing in that case. You should say, “Man, I just biffed it. I screwed up.” Not pretend like you’re sticking to the plan, but just say, “Hey, I screwed up,” and then let that failure be known and then move on. What did you learn from that? What happened? That’s the healthy way to get through this.
This fear of failure, definitely in the diet side and the fitness side, is a big thing that might be holding you back. It might even be holding you back from starting. Let’s talk about why people don’t start and I’ll talk about this in a second but really going all in on some kind of effort, putting your butt on the line.
A lot of times why people don’t start is, again, this fear of failure. Because they think that if they fail, if they mess up, it’s the end of the world. They don’t want to put themselves into a situation where they are subject to failure. This is a very, very common problem. If you’re sitting out there right now, you’re listening to this podcast and you know that you need to get in shape. You know if I'm talking to you. What’s holding you back? What are you afraid of? Again, what are you afraid of? Admit that you’re afraid of something that’s stopping you from going forward.
I don’t think it’s just laziness because there’s laziness, yes. We’re all subject to that as well. A lot of what stops people from succeeding is this fear of failure. Again, going back to the school system, going back to what we’ve grown up with and been trained that failure is a bad thing. Now, let me paint a new picture for you about failure.
Failure is not a bad thing. Failure is a necessary step to success. You cannot get to success, repeatable success, without experiencing failure. You’re going to have failure on the path. Now, what holds you back from getting there is two things, right? It’s the fear of failure so you never put yourself in the situation where you could fail, and it’s not experiencing accepting the failure, experiencing enough of those failures to get down that path.
You really have to change your mindset and you have to realize that whatever you’re doing, you’re going to have failure before you have success. Maybe you’re going to get lucky. Maybe you’re going to knock one out of the park. When you get up to bat tomorrow, you’re not going to knock one out of the park again. You’re not going to get lucky twice unless you have built up your skills, unless you’ve built up from a bunch of failures a winning attitude, a winning spirit, the skills that you need to succeed.
It doesn’t matter if we’re talking about baseball or if we’re talking about your career programming, if we’re talking about fitness and diet. I failed so many, many times. In fact, I still fail, right? I do not have the exact perfect body and discipline that I would like to have. I still have a higher goal for myself than where I'm at right now. I do recognize this fact, that the more that I fail and the more that I accept those failures and analyze those failures, and see where I went wrong, the more that I am on the path to reaching where I want to go.
Now, I know I'm not getting there as fast as I want and a lot of people want to just have the prize. They don’t want to put in the work. When I say work the work a failure. That’s what really it is. They don’t want to go down that path. They just want to have the end result. I know from personal experience that all these failures that I’ve had I’ve learned a lot. I’ve had a lot of hard knocks, not just in the fitness and diet side but in a lot of areas of life that have taken me step by step forward.
There’s a long time where I deny these failures where I didn’t learn from the failures because I didn’t admit and I was afraid of the failures. We all have these fears. I'm still working to overcome them to some capacity, but I’ve really gone beyond that in many ways and I’ve had a lot of success because I no longer see failure as a bad thing. That’s the thing. If you get anything from this podcast today, I’d encourage you to get which is that failure is not necessarily bad. Failure is a necessary step.
Here’s what I want you to do. This is how we’re going to beat failure or beat this fear of failure. You’re going to go out and you’re going to put yourself in situations where you’re going to fail. Now, this can be as simple as learning something totally new, right? Something that you are not associated with. Maybe you’re not musical at all, right? Go out and get an instrument and learn to play it by failing your way to it. Go and pick something that makes you uncomfortable that you intrinsically are “bad at” and go fail at that thing. It might be you could go to the mall and start talking to people. Are you afraid to talk to people? Go ahead. If you’re single, go out there and talk to girls out there.
See what happens. Let’s analyze this for a minute, right? Because I think this is so critical. If you can develop the skill of facing failures head on, there is literally nothing you can’t do. Forget this podcast, right, because you’re going to succeed at your fitness goals. I don’t even need to give you advice. You don’t even need to listen here because you’re just going to naturally hone in on the way that you need to go to be able to get there if you can learn this one skill. Just dissecting this a bit here.
If you could do that, if you could go up and talk to anyone, if that’s your fear, if you could face all these failures and rejections head on, how powerful would you be, right? This is a key thing. It might not seem like a big deal. Think about that block. Can you go out there right now? I’ll just keep on using this example because I know that this is one that impacts a lot of developers out there. Can you go and talk to people? Can you go if you’re a single guy or a single girl too could you go out there and talk to someone of the opposite sex and strike up a conversation and face the rejection and failure? If you can’t do that then that’s something you need to work on, not because you need to learn how to pick up chicks, right? Not because of that but because if you can get to that point or you can face those failures head on, again, like I said, you’re just going to be able to excel in every single area of your life.
You won’t have a limit on what you can become. You want to lose a hundred pounds you will do it because you will be able to face those failures. Now, let’s get in to the second part of this. This is another reason why, especially why in the fitness and diet side that failure ends up being something that’s so dangerous, and it affects us so much, this fear of failure.
I talked a little bit about identity and this is another thing that might be hurting you, that’s keeping you in your chair, keeping you eating those Doritos instead of becoming the person that you’re supposed to become, that you know that you’re capable of, which is that when you go into something, do you go all in? Because here’s the thing, right? We put our identities into certain things. We all do this. I’ll give you a great example here.
When I was at the peak of my strength, I want to say about pretty close to 300 pounds. I'm 6’3” and I wasn’t like totally ripped, but I was strong. I could have done Strong Man competitions. I was benching 4 plates for those of you that bench. I was benching over 400 pounds basically, 4 plates on each side of the barbell. I was doing just crazy weight. That was my whole identity, was wrapped up and being the strongest guy that I knew, that was my identity.
Now, what happened to me one day at the gym, I was lifting. I had some—I think it was 135-pound dumbbells and I was doing flat presses with them. Some guy came up and he said, “Oh, I’ll give you a spot.” I said, “Nah, nah. I'm all right,” and then he insisted. I let him spot me. He grabbed my wrist, pulled it out. If you’ve listened to this podcast, you’ve heard this story before. Basically, what happened was a big rubber band snapped, popped and my entire pec basically tore from my bicep from the insertion there. And my arm just fell flat to the ground.
My whole bicep was all purple from internal bleeding. I went, unfortunately, to a doc in the box. I didn’t go to a real hospital. I went to one of those little Rite Aid things. They said, “Oh, yeah. You’re fine. If you tore your pec you’d be in a lot of pain. You wouldn’t even be able to move.” I left it at that. It took me weeks to even be able to really move my arm, to be able to drive or anything like that. During that period of time, I lost my entire identity. I had myself wrapped up into this.
This was a failure for me. Everything was a failure now. I was a failure, right? I wasn’t taking this the right way because my strength had failed me, essentially. That’s what had happened, but I said, “No. I have failed.”
What did I do? I was lost. I was in despair, this whole thing that was my life that I now associated myself with failure, and I lost my motivation. I started eating junk. This is where I gained a lot of weight and I ended up, first, I lost weight, of course, because I couldn’t lift or anything. After a couple of months, I started to gain weight and I got fat. Now, I got to the point where I was like 285, 290 fat like not strong. I couldn’t bench the bar at this point. I was fat and I was used to be in fit for most of my life.
The point of that story is just that the identity is so important. When we put our identity into something and then that thing fails, we fail at that thing we sometimes can’t separate ourselves from that failure. We tend to say that we, as a person, have failed. That is such a powerful and scary thing that it causes us to avoid a lot of situations or not necessarily avoid those situations but to not go all in to those situations. Let me take this back now to you to some examples.
In your life, are you afraid of failure so you’re only going halfway into something? Let’s look at something low stakes. Are you afraid to play Monopoly and lose or to fail at it? Probably not unless you consider yourself that best expert in Monopoly player, then you might actually be afraid. If you’re just a regular Joe Monopoly player, you’re probably not afraid of that. There are a lot of things that you are afraid of because you would have to go all in on that. If you were the pro Monopoly player and you lost, right, if you consider yourself the best and you lost to some amateur, you would be really upset by that failure. That failure would really strike you to the core.
Here’s the thing. It’s a lot of things that we do in life we don’t go all in. If you’re sitting there on the fence right now, okay, you’re going to get in shape, right? You’re going to do some diet. You’re going to start lifting weights and gain muscle. If you imagine the scale out here, on the scale of the left side being, “I'm not investing myself into this,” and on the right side being, “I'm all in. I will not fail at this because failure is not an option. This is me. I'm putting everything I’ve got into this effort,” where are you at?
Most people fail. When I use the term fail here, I mean perpetually fail. They never reach success because they fail and they give up. That’s the only way to really fail, right? Most people fail in that sense, failing and giving up, because they’re all the way on the left of the scale. They don’t have any skin in the game. They are so afraid of experiencing a failure that strikes them to the core, a failure where you put everything into it, that they basically don’t invest enough. They don’t care. When they fail they just give up. They’re not invested in that thing.
Let me give you an example of how that might work, right? Maybe you’re going to start a new fitness program, a new diet. You’re going to try to get in shape, but you, in the back of your mind, say, “Well, I'm going to try this.” You use the word try. You don’t say, “I'm going to do this.” If you’ve listened to a lot of the episodes of Get Up and Code where we’ve had people that have been really, really successful, you’ll notice that what they say is they say, “I'm going to do this. I'm going to run this marathon. I'm going to do this.” They don’t say, “I'm going to try to do this.” They say, “I'm going to do.” They’re all in. They’re invested in this thing.
If you are starting out and you’re saying, “I'm going to try to do this,” well, you’re probably going to fail and you’re going to fail with the capital F. You’re going to fail and give up. But let me paint another scenario for you. If you say, “I am going to do this,” if you get off your butt right now and you say, “I'm not starting tomorrow, I'm starting today and I am going to get in shape, I am going to reach my goal, I am going to lift weights, I am going to stick to a diet, and I am going to lose X number of pound, I'm going to lose 50 pounds, I'm going to lose a hundred pounds,” and you put everything that you’ve got into that, you might hit a setback. You might have a day when you skip the gym. You might have a day when you overeat.
I had Eric Smith on this show and he had talked about how he had gone on a binge and messed up his diet, but he got back on it, right? That’s the thing. It’s like you might have those kinds of mistakes, but you’re going to get up the next morning. You’re going to get back to the gym. You’re going to go back to eating healthy. You’re going to keep on trying because you are going to lose those 50 pounds. You are going to get in shape.
That’s a totally different mindset. It’s one that recognizes that failures are going to happen along the way, but those failures are not something to be afraid of. Those are necessary steps to get where you are going to go. That’s the thing. You can think of it this way. It’s like burning the boats, right? There’s this whole thing where—I forget the general, I think Cortez actually did this in Mexico, probably a bad example because that thing was a little extreme. I want to say Alexander the Great.
Anyway, let’s go to the Cortez example. When he sailed up there he told his men, they got out of the boats and he said, “Burn the boats.” Why did he do that? Because they don’t have any retreat, because they can’t go anywhere but forward. They have to succeed or they’ll die. That’s the thing, right? It’s not that they didn’t ever have any battles that they didn’t lose. Of course, they lost some battles perhaps but they won the war. They had to win the war or they’re going to diet, right?
That’s the position you have to put yourself in if you really want to succeed. You can’t be afraid of failure. You have to be afraid of failure with a capital F. You have to be afraid of giving up. You can get knocked down as many times as you want, but as long as you get back up on your feet and you keep on going you haven't failed. Those small failures, those are battles, but you’re still waging that war and you’re going to win that war eventually. Because those kinds of failures, the ones that knock you down but then you get back up, those are the kinds that you learn from. Those are the kinds that make you stronger. Those are the kinds that move you forward. Maybe you’re only moving forward an inch. Maybe you’re only moving forward a millimeter at a time but you’ve got to be able to face those things.
You can’t live your life thinking that you’re never going to go out there and try to do anything because you’re afraid that you’re going to fail, that you’re afraid that if you put yourself all in to the game and then you screw up, that’s going to mean that you, as a person, has failed. You have to be willing to burn those boats to throw it all on the line, to throw yourself into it, and to realize that there’s no going back. You’re going to go forward. You’re going to hit boulders. You’re going to have maybe an arrow in your arm, in your shoulder. Maybe you’re going to get shot at, but it doesn’t matter because you’re going to keep on going forward and that there is no path backwards.
That’s the all of it for this episode. Hopefully, I’ve helped inspire you. Just remember to not let failure stop you. Don’t think of failure as a bad thing. It’s a great thing. It’s a necessary thing. If you’re afraid of failure you’re never going to do anything. You’re never going to put yourself all in to something because you’re too afraid of what does it mean. You have to separate your actions from yourself as a person and realize that failing, the temporary failure, the small F failure, does not mean that you, as a person, are a failure.
Hopefully, that’s been helpful. Let me know what you think of this kind of episode. It’s a little bit out there but I wanted to give you some real practical advice that you could apply to your life that I think is going to help you more than the fitness and diet. It’s just something that I’ve learned here. If you’re wondering about my release of How to Market Yourself as a Software Developer, it did not fail. I had a real good launch, a lot of strong sales. Sales are going definitely above my expectations at this point.
Things are great but if I did fail, if I did, I was prepared. I was going to say, “Hey, look. If this flops I'm going to do my next product that’s going to be better. I'm going to learn from those mistakes because I'm all in on this one, I'm all in on the next one, and I'm all in.” There’s some thunder there but I'm all in for life for doing this because this is the path I'm going. I’ve burned the boats. I don’t have another job. This is the way I'm going.
Let me just wrap this up by telling you about our wonderful sponsor, SignalLeaf. If you are looking to start your own podcast, then definitely check out signalleaf.com. They’re an excellent service for hosting your podcast, really easy to get started, just a great service. You get great hands-on customer experience. My buddy, Derek, who runs the show over there is a great guy and he would love to help you to get your podcast going. Just check it out if you’re interested.
All right, well, that’s it for this episode. Coming up next, I’ve got some nice interviews that are scheduled here, some things I'm excited about here. Have a good week. Don’t be afraid of failure. Go out there and do something that is going to scare you this week, something that’s going to make you fail, so you can just get over that fear of failure. All right, until next time. Take care.