Chosing to Fail

Some wear failure like a badge of honour. Using it to show their bounce-back-ability and media-worthy credentials.

Some don’t see plans going awry as failure. Prefering instead to see it as the ups and downs of life and a chance to learn.

And some have a real, and personally challenging, fear of failure.

Author Robert Kelsey openly admits to his life-long fear of failure and the impact it has had on the choices he has made.

It has caused him to constantly doubt his ability to succeed.

It took him on a self-help trail; leading to self-discovery and publishing his book, What’s Stopping You.

My personal motivation to read his book stems from a desire to better understand those with a high fear of failure. And the implications to their career adventure.

And there are plenty of useful insights.

The top insight for me came out of work by John W Atkinson who, while exploring the differences between Achievement Motivation (AM) and Fear of Failure (FF), found interesting links to making choices.

The Choices We Make

High achievement motivation

For High AM’s, choices are driven by the expectation of a payoff and are focused on the rewards of success. This means making choices which are challenging and have a reasonable chance of success.

Their need for stimulation means that the level of challenge or risk in high AM’s choices will generally require some degree of improvement or learning on their part.

Looking silly or worrying if things go awry is low priority compared to the buzz of achievement or growth.

High fear of failure

High FF’s may, on the other hand, avoid making choices or chose the easiest options; those which seem to guarentee less chance of failure.

Assuming the worst, concerns about looking foolish often coming in to play.

In addition, and a surprise to me, was that some high FF individuals will make the highest risk, most difficult, even impossible choice because the likelihood of failure is so great.


The price of failure is much lower because… “at least they tried!”

So What?!


To thrive in our modern 21st century career landscape, understanding yourself from a standpoint of honesty and kindness is a must. This is even more important if you are high FF.

Knowing you fear failure, recognising it is part of you and then kindly finding your own ways to manage it mean you will have a healthier perspective.

A healthier perspective on what you are experiencing means you are more likely to maker better choices for yourself.


Dynamic change, technological acceleration, ever-evolving life patterns mean stepping into the unknown, newness and ambiguity are here to stay.

Consequently, the chances of finding yourself in scenarios that are new and require learning to occur are much more likely.

This may be fuel to high AM’s. If you are high FF, however, this can be very stressful as it may feel like you are in fear of failure overdrive. Bombarded by choices that you feel you cannot make or that are pointless because you have already decided on a negative outcome.

Giving yourself extra time to make important choices, using logical sorting techniques to separate fact from fiction and gaining impartial feedback can help you…

… yes, you’ve guessed it…

…get a healthier perspective on the decisions you must make.

A healthier perspective which will help you make better choices for yourself.

Tips from Robert

The following three tips are directly quoted from Robert’s book…

  1. Personal: “Your insecurities are part of your chemistry. They cannot be removed through instant cures. Yet strong progress is possible once you realise who you are and take this into account.”
  2. Past:Fear conditioning triggers neural hijackings that generate fearful responses. Such conditioning may be developed from early-life traumas. To make progress, you must accept this and take total responsibility for your responses when triggered.”
  3. Positive: “You may have a tendency to interpret temporary setbacks as a final condemnation. Yet failure is only final if you judge it so. Most failures are in fact positive learning experiences that can lead to strong progress. Depersonalisation is an important tool for helping you realise this.”

Whatever your personal perspective on failure, Robert Kelsey’s book is worth a look. Whether to help you help yourself or to take steps to helping others.

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