Breaking through fear of failure

“What would you attempt to do if you knew you could not fail?”

This question came into my life during a time in which I was stuck between a career as the CEO of my family household and an insatiable desire to rediscover my place and voice in the professional world. 

No matter how much I tried, I couldn’t figure out what to do next. I created endless plans, ranging from re-engaging in the workforce to going back to school to earn my PhD in psychology.

I flirted with plans for almost two years, but I couldn’t turn any of my ideas into action. I was confused and stuck. Then, one epic spring day on the ski slopes, my son demonstrated the liberation that comes from living a life free from the fear of failure. His example inspired me to take my first small step toward breaking down the limits that were restricting me from the fear of failure. His example inspired me to take my first small step toward breaking down the limits that were restricting me from living my life’s purpose.

What would my life look like if fear of failure was not so dominant? I came to realize that perfectionism was my main obstacle.

Alice Boyes, PhD says, ‘“The perfectionist takes the approach of ‘If I can’t do it perfectly, I won’t do it at all.’”

That’s exactly what was happening in my life. I had come to a point where – if I didn’t know with confidence that I could exceed the perceived expectations – I wouldn’t even try. 

I took the issue to my dad over coffee one day in my living room. We were both looking at the quote that now resides on my mantle (thank you to my thoughtful husband for that gift) and I was reflecting about how limiting my fear of failure had become. I told him that my perfectionism seemed to be the root of the issue.

His response was wise, honest and courageous. He acknowledged that this aspect of my nature likely came from a childhood that valued improvement, achievement and measurable success. He recognized in his own drive a similarity that was constantly striving for betterment and that by his example alone – not to mention my upbringing in the Catholic school system – perfectionism would have become ingrained in me.

Later, I had this realization that our parents plant seeds in us. It is inevitable, and we hope that they plant a lot of beautiful ones, but even those who grow up in the most idyllic situations have seeds planted that do not fit with their essence. The empowering part is that as we grow up and become more conscious. We have a choice!

With mindfulness, we can identify what seeds have grown, evaluate their usefulness in our lives, and adjust the water flow accordingly. 

I took the perfectionism seed and nurtured it until it grew into a giant overgrown plant. It did serve a purpose.

In graduate school, I slaved over papers until I knew they were exceptional – and I was rewarded with straight As.

As a leader in education, I drove my team to betterment at every opportunity. I was applauded for my dedication. As a mother, I devoted myself to raising my children in the most present way I possibly could. I was admired for my commitment.

This drive helped me achieve specific goals – but eventually, the perfectionism limited me from attempting new and unfamiliar possibilities. 

What my dad offered me that day was such a gift. He helped me understand where my perfectionism had come from, but more importantly, that I was in charge of its growth. Further, he helped ease the perfectionism I had put on myself around parenting.

He helped me see that as parents, all we can do is plant seeds with positive intention and love. As our children grow up, the choice is theirs as to how they want to cultivate their own gardens.

With the power of awareness and conscious reflection, we each have the ability to identify the seeds that have been planted in us. What we water will grow. The power of choice is ours.


What fears or obstacles limit your growth?  What conscious actions can you take to overcome them?

Take the time to really think about it. Take the time to nourish the plants that help you fulfill your purpose. Consciously cultivate your garden. And remember, you get to choose!

Need some guidance along the way? Check-out our Foundational Growth Experience.

TAGS: Personal, Professional