Fear Regret More Than Failure

Your ability to do things well could keep you from taking risks.

High-achievers may appear bold but they are not necessarily courageous. While they love success and recognition, they have little experience with failure. What looks like bold moves to others are in truth, calculated steps to avoid making mistakes to achievers. This fear of falling off the ladder creates a psychological barrier where they may talk themselves out of taking risks and use their intelligence to rationalize their limiting choices.

The truth is that the barriers you create for yourself are the obstacles you have the most control over. Rarely is a decision or risk an “all or nothing” venture. More likely, the move you are contemplating is just a step that can be adjusted or fixed. Or it is the step that leads to the next, probably better step in your career or project.

Risk-avoidance behavior affects more than career choices. If you are a leader, you are promoting mediocrity when you don’t support making mistakes in the pursuit of innovation and improvement. You silence ideas. You kill imagination. You restrain passion as you force people into a narrow band of behavior.

Selena Rezvani, author of The Next Generation of Women Leaders, suggests we “Fear regret more than failure.” She interviewed 30 female executives across industries to discover what habits and behaviors took them to the top. A consistent message she heard was, “I regret the things I did not do more than the things I did.”

Fear that you will be sorry for not making the choice your gut said was the right thing to do, for not jumping on the opportunity, or for letting someone else take the position that should have been yours.  Fear these regrets before you make them real.

To increase your courage and comfort with risk:

Trust yourself more. Identify your talents and recount your lists of achievements to date. Then when faced with an opportunity that could be risky, review your list. Give yourself the evidence you need to prove to yourself you will succeed even if mistakes are made.

Identify your resources. Determine how you can access the resources you will need to facilitate your success. Can you find a coach or mentor to help you work through new problems and decisions you might face? Can you research best practices or case studies that will provide you with fresh ideas? With the Internet, real time learning is eminently accessible.

Choose to misbehave. Most thought leaders are not well-behaved men and women. If you are courageous enough to speak up and move forward without knowing if you will succeed, you have the chance to experience the extreme joy of success. And yes, you might experience disappointment, embarrassment and frustration if you stumble, but you can bounce back with the wisdom and perspective that will take you further in your career. Commit to bringing your whole self to work which includes experiencing all your emotions in pursuit of ultimate success.

Develop an optimistic viewpoint. Don’t focus on the worst that can happen. Stay focused on what is possible. Rezvani quotes Mei Xu, CEO of Chesapeake Bay Candle, “Optimism isn’t about blind faith. It’s about overcoming obstacles.” Instead of asking, “How can I be successful?” ask, “How can I move mountains so I can see beyond what is known now?” This is how you both increase your tolerance for risk and cultivate a competitive advantage.

The world is changing anyway, why not step out and take risks? Why not encourage, even celebrate, when the people who work for you excitedly share new ideas? Go beyond bold to being courageous. Even if you lose this round, you win in the long run.

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