Do you ever tell yourself that you simply want to excel, and high standards are essential to achieving your goal? By setting unrealistic standards, you could be shutting yourself off from potential success, opportunity and growth – before it’s even born. Here’s how.


The (non)linear path

Imagine being primed throughout school and university to believe that:

  • The key to success was to master subjects in a linear way;
  • We need to obtain qualifications symbolising our domain knowledge;
  • We then obtain a job in our area of expertise;
  • We practice our skills until we are able to train other to follow in our footsteps;
  • We will be rewarded for our toil with titles, wealth and comfortable retirement.

Only to learn that there is no linear path, you never arrive at a “destination” and change is constant.

You probably don’t have to imagine. Like me, you have probably lived this reality.

The (flawed) pursuit of excellence

I grew up valuing the pursuit of excellence. I’m sure you did too. I firmly believed that applying for a role I wasn’t qualified for was ‘overreaching’. Changing jobs, let alone careers, signalled a lack of commitment to one domain – rather than a passion to cultivate diverse skills. For the record: I have worked at four firms in 10 years, had three career evolutions and in the last firm performed four completely different roles, two of which I held at the same time – linear, this was not!

We are told that promotions are given to those who are “already operating at that level”. The very concept of promotion is, by definition, linear, and yet growth, innovation, success and life are not.

The idea that we can be ‘ready’ for anything is a false paradigm. It assumes that people can predict the future, and unless you’re a soothsayer, you can’t.

Identifying your fear of failure

Instead of a springboard, I turned my pursuit of excellence into a prison. I trapped myself into believing that indulging my entrepreneurial and creative instincts as a trained lawyer meant I was departing from One True Path of Linear Mastery; and was therefore failing by my own standards of success. Standards that I built under a false paradigm designed in working conditions long since outdated.

Fear of failure remained undetected... by masquerading as a desire to excel.

Fear of failure remained undetected in my belief system by masquerading as a noble desire to excel – and avoid anything that might reveal me to be a novice. Is that wisdom or cowardice?

To find out what drives your behaviour, ask yourself if your concerns genuinely protect you from peril – or are you afraid you won’t live up to your own impossibly high standards, even if you grow in the process?

We are all guilty of mistaking fear of failure for quality control. At the height of this mistaken belief, fear will function to kill opportunity and innovation before it is born.

What is worse – a possible mistake if you act, or the definite loss of a probable success if you don’t?


To explore how fear of failure could be holding you back, join us on 1st February at the Fear of Failure Forum. Tickets on sale now.

Founder, F-OFF And Corporate Leader Turned Social-Entrepreneur