Fear of Failure: Is It Real? Musk and Jobs on How to Own Fear

Fareeha Arshad

Photo by Austin Distel on Unsplash
I don’t remember the number of times I have been told to ‘not fear failure’ or ‘fear fear itself’ or the most cliche of all ‘fear is for people who don’t succeed’. I agree failure is the stepping stone for success, but that isn’t it. Fear of failure does exist and that makes things more difficult for most of us.

Sometimes, the fear is so over gripping that many can’t find the courage to take their next steps and always dwell on the ‘what ifs’. However, just because we are hardwired to fear failure, it doesn’t mean that we can’t ever get out of it. Fear, after all, is subjective. It’ll be how you perceive it. There are many simple and actionable pieces of advice from the most iconic figures who how to get ahead of fear. Let’s see what Elon Musk and Steve Jobs have to say about it.

Elon Musk

“Failure is an option here. If things are not failing, you are not innovating enough.”

No matter how hard I try, I cannot even begin to wrap my head around Musk’s plans and vision for people and the future. Dreams like electrifying cars and colonizing the space — who would have thought of that being a possibility? If fear of stocks crashing is real and scary, then goals like these are downright terrifying.

In an interview with the entrepreneur Jared Friedman, Musk confessed,

“I feel fear quite strongly.”

Musk for sure isn’t immune to fear of failure. But how does he keep going then? In the same interview, he further added,

“Something that can be helpful is fatalism, to some degree. If you just accept the probabilities, then that diminishes fear. When starting SpaceX, I thought the odds of success were less than 10 per cent and I just accepted that actually probably I would just lose everything. But that maybe we would make some progress.”

If there is anything that pushes Musk forward despite the fear of failure, it is his passion and ‘fatalism’ as he calls it. He is a living embodiment of passion — time and again the Tesla creator proves how passion drives success. Additionally, his mindset reveals that if you are passionate enough, you can simply accept the odds of failure.

Once you internalize the negative thoughts and make peace with them, then there is no stopping for you. Like Tim Ferriss advises visualize the worst-case scenario and then imagine what would happen if you do not try at all. By critically analyzing the worst fears mentally, you will realize that: you have it in your to survive even the worst outcomes.

Steve Jobs

“Sometimes life hits you on the head with a brick. Don’t lose faith.”

In2005, the former CEO of Apple Computer and of Pixar Animation Studios, Steve Jobs, gave the annual commencement address to the new graduates of Standford University in which he highlighted three stories from his life — each concluding with three hard-earned lessons of his life.

One, Jobs talked about connecting dots. He explained,

“You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something — your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever.”

It’s easy getting frustrated at the first sign of downfall or at every step of failure. But things start making sense only when you come several steps ahead from where you started. The key is to keep moving despite failures.

If you move a step ahead only to find yourself back at it again, doesn’t mean you have failed. It simply means you have had the experience of moving forward despite returning back to where you started from. This still gives you an upper hand compared to somebody who never moved forward at all.

Two, Jobs like Musk, talked about pursuing what you are most passionate about. In the same speech he said,

“You’ve got to find what you love. And that is as true for your work as it is for your lovers. Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. Don’t settle.”

Finally, Jobs talked about remembering death, being original and following the inner voice. He said:

“Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma — which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.”

It’s challenging to stand out especially when we have been taught to fit in since the start of our educational endeavour — uniform at schools, conform to the school rules, and if you are a South Asian by any chance then choose between Medicine or Engineering. This is where the FOMO creeps inside of us and builds slowly. We fear being laughed at, appearing stupid, or left out. Maybe this is why we are scared of failure: because our definition of ‘failure’ is so twisted. As Jobs puts it, there is no harm in being original — because only then you will find the courage to follow your heart and intuition to move ahead in your life.

Quick Takeaway

There is a difference between simple and easy. Just because something is simple, it doesn’t mean that it’s easy and vice versa. Dreams are always simple. The fact that you dreamt of it in the first place, itself makes it simple.

You just have to be crazy enough to be relentless in your pursuit. Nobody ever said it is going to be an easy ride. But once you get there — as Jobs and Musk did — it’ll be worth the efforts. Remember, they are normal people like you and me. The only difference is that they have accepted failure as a part of success and not apart from success.

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I am a scientist by profession and a historian by passion. I mostly write about history and science.

Texas State

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