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Face your fears head-on

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Accept that fear is part of you and you can navigate through it to become successful

“Failure is not an option,” said the actor playing Gene Kranz, flight director for Mission Control in Apollo 13, the 1995 movie dramatising

the near-disaster of the third Apollo mission to the moon. But he was wrong. It was an option.

Had he said “failure is almost certain, but let’s have a go anyway” his team would have remained focused on their personal fears, as well as the potential humiliation of suggesting a daft idea.

As Mr Kranz well knew, fear of failure changes our behaviour in ways that render failure a near certainty. Fear paralyses our decision making, throws our judgement and destroys our creativity. Yet, as mental conditions go, fear of failure is not only one of the most common - with millions of sufferers in the UK alone - it is also one of the least acknowledged or acted upon.

Of course, some may express their fears through depression or anger without even realising what lies behind such symptoms - making them hostage to behaviour that further destroys their potential for progress.

Five items for our personal map

● The values and principles we hold dear
● A 10-year visualisation of our future. This is the point we sail towards
● Some milestones to help us navigate: must-reach points for years five, two and one
● A checklist of actions for reaching our first milestone
● A list of our strengths and weaknesses, and a plan for leveraging or overcoming them

And while the actor playing Kranz unlocked the potential of his team with one powerful phrase, we’re unlikely to be so lucky. Even if we acknowledge our fears and seek to overcome them, we may find ourselves bewildered by the hundreds of self-help books offering more confidence, higher self-esteem, greater success and even “unlimited power”.

But a health warning is required. Promising the chance to be born again as a new, more confident person is a false promise made to the afflicted desperate for a cure. Our fears are innate. Once and however inflicted, they’re here to stay.

That’s the bad news. The good news is that we can accept this and make strong progress anyway. In my opinion, sustainable progress is only possible once we’ve accepted that our fears are part of us. We can learn to live with who we are - including our insecurities. We don’t have to banish them forever to move forward. We can achieve our goals. As long as they are the right goals - our goals, not false goals potentially fed to us by external influences or our own faulty thinking.

Yet people with fear of failure need a map. Not one handed to them by others, but one they draw themselves. Of course, such a map will be fuzzy at the edges and need details added as they progress. It’s a map nonetheless: something to grasp and regard as they navigate their fears.

● This is an edited extract from What’s Stopping You? Why Smart People Don’t Always Reach Their Potential and How You Can by

Robert Kelsey (published by Capstone, £10.99).


Robert Kelsey runs a financial PR agency in London and lives with his wife and two boys in London and Suffolk. Having overcome his phobia of public speaking, he also gives the occasional talk

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