Disrupting the fear of failure

Failure is a universal experience that we don't talk about openly. F*ckup Nights is trying to change that.
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We all lose races, suffer rejection on dates, over-bake cakes, quit jobs, and let go of friendships. We stumble. We trip. We fail.

But in spite of all our missteps and misfortunes, both big and small, that happen every single day, most of us still live with an intensely innate fear of failure.

An estimated 90 percent of startup businesses fail. Eighty-two percent crash and burn due to cash flow problems.

Failure is a universal experience, yet the stigma attached to it undermines our willingness and ability to talk about it openly and honestly.

The only entrepreneurs we hear about and celebrate are those that finally succeeded. The problem with this is that if no one ever talks about their failures, everyone misses out on the opportunity to learn from past mistakes.

One provocatively named organization, F*ckup Nights, is hoping to turn the tide. F*ckup Nights encourages people around the world to have more candid conversations about their failures.

They believe doing so will unlock our ability to transform failure into a productive, rather than destructive, force in our future personal and professional endeavors. 

How a Fear of Failure Inhibits Success

We don’t talk about failures because they’re embarrassing. On a personal level, these reactions to failure almost always ring true, but negative feelings associated with failure are also reinforced on a broader, societal level.

No one wants to fail, and everyone fears failure to some extent because failing doesn’t feel good. It brings about the pangs of confusion, disappointment, frustration, regret, and guilt. A fear of failure is essentially a fear of all these emotions.

For those who actually have atychiphobia, an extreme “fear of failure” phobia, feeling like a failure triggers all of these emotions in addition to shame. The significant difference between shame and other emotions like regret and guilt, is that shame makes a person feel badly about themselves.

Whether due to having unrealistically high standards for themselves, or to living in a society that has set high standards for them, those who feel shame as a result of failure begin to avoid taking any risks – they prohibit themselves from trying anything.

And, in essence, they prohibit themselves from achieving anything because when you never take risks, you ultimately limit your potential for success. 

F*ckup Nights – Changing the Conversation Around Failure

The goal of F*ckup Nights is to strip away fear of failure in the business world by helping to remove the societal stigma – and subsequent shame – from our defeats.

They’ve created a traveling venue that goes across the country, hosting events where people are encouraged to share their stories of failure (tales of the times they’ve f*cked up). Sharing these stories, and listening to them, lifts the stigma so that the learning and healing process can begin.

F*ckup Nights isn’t about celebrating failure; it’s about acknowledging it in a healthy way. In doing so, people can embrace failure as a necessary step on the path to success. They figure out how to learn from past failures so they can take smarter risks in the future.

At F*ckup Nights, many participants find out that their failures weren’t as detrimental as they could have been. They may learn that they’ve made the same mistakes as other participants. They might even encounter the opportunity to help someone else avoid a similar failure.

Most importantly, participants make themselves vulnerable by sharing their stories with the other attendees. This vulnerability earns empathy from the audience, breaks down barriers, removes the and negativity associated with failing, and fosters the development of fast friendships and new networking opportunities. 

How to Deal with Failure, When It Happens to You

According to a recent study from Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management, the 90 percent small business failure rate might actually be something to celebrate. The study evaluated failure and success using big data.

So big that the study’s data set included nearly 800,000 grant applications submitted to the National Institutes of Health and venture capital investment data from a period spanning almost 50 years.

When you feel like a failure, remember this: the study’s primary finding was that failure is unquestionably a prerequisite for success. Dashun Wang, who led the study, pointed out that every successful endeavor starts out with failure, but not everyone who fails becomes successful.

Surprisingly, the differentiating factor between successful people and unsuccessful people isn’t persistence. It’s actually the individual’s ability to learn from mistakes and the amount of time they wait before taking another risk. According to the study’s results, the better a person recovers from failing, the better chance they have of eventually achieving success.

How to overcome fear of failure? When we fail, we should never give up, but objectively consider why we failed. Learning from failure, identifying and correcting mistakes, is essential to eventually being successful.

Thanks to F*ckup Nights, we can find solace by sharing our own intimately personal failure stories with others who’ve failed, learned, tried again, and failed again. We can shake the stigma, wear our failures proudly, and move onward to the next big adventure in life.

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