'Die Empty' Excerpt: How to Fight Your Fear of Failure

In his new book Die Empty, author Todd Henry argues that clinging to your comfort zone chokes creativity, impedes innovation and leads to malaise and mediocrity.

If you're terrified of the unknown or continually let your fear of failure keep you from pursuing a new job or freelance career, Henry wants you to consider the risks of not taking action. Sick and tired of playing it totally safe? Go out on a limb and read this Die Empty excerpt:

Redefining Success (and Failure)

Winston Churchill said, "Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts." When was the last time you failed at something? How did you know?

A lot of discussion takes place in entrepreneurial/creative circles around the subject of failure. There are some who argue that failure is a critical part of growth. Others argue that failure is overcelebrated and the cultural obsession with "failing fast and failing often" is encouraging the wrong kind of focus.

I was recently watching a fascinating interview with Sara Blakely, the founder of Spanx and a newbie on the Forbes list of richest people. In the interview (and in the Forbes article) she says that when she was a child her father made it a habit to ask on a regular basis, "What did you fail at this week?" When she replied, "Nothing," he would retort, "Oh ... that's too bad."

Of this ritual she says, "My definition of failure became 'not trying,' not the outcome."

Our definition of failure defines us more than we may realize, because fear of failure is one of the most frequent sources of paralysis. When the perceived threat of potential consequence outweighs the perceived benefits of success, we stop acting.

Notice the word "perceived." These consequences are often illusory, but in our mind they are as real as a tiger staring us down. The problem is that we can go for days, weeks, months, years, lifetimes without ever really getting to the bottom of this fear. The result is that we forfeit our best work.

Two things will paralyze our creativity faster than anything else:

1. We haven't defined success.

2. We haven't defined failure.

If we don't have a clear definition of what we're trying to do, we will spin out. Simultaneously, if we don't have a clear definition of "missing the mark" we will experience paralysis. The simple act of clarifying these two concepts can immediately yield courage for your work.

So I ask again: What did you fail at this week? How did you know?

Reprinted from DIE EMPTY: Unleash Your Best Work Every Day by Todd Henry with permission of Portfolio, a member of Penguin Group (USA) LLC, A Penguin Random House Company. Copyright (c) Todd Henry, 2013.

ea ahaven't defined success.


We haven't defined failure.