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S2 EP113 – Making it OK to Fail

Episode Summary

Failure! What do you feel when you think about failing? Inadequate? Unworthy? Unlovable? Have you learned to link failure to your value as a person? Does the fear of failure stop you from doing what you really want to do?


Hi everyone. This is Dr. Margaret Paul with the Inner Bonding podcast, and today I want to talk about why it’s so important to make it ok to fail. I will be talking about what failure means to you, and how we became so afraid of failure, and how to make it okay to fail.

Take a moment to think about what you believe about failure.

Our ego wounded self, the lower left-brain part of ourselves that has been programmed with many false beliefs, often believes that:

“If I fail, I am a failure.”
“If I fail, I am stupid.”
“If I fail, no one will like me or value me.”
“If I fail, then there is no point in ever trying again.”
“If I fail, it brands me for life as incompetent.”
“If I fail, then everyone who thought I was smart will now think I am stupid.”
“If I fail, I will have made a fool of myself.”

On the other hand, the loving adult part of us, the open, creative, and learning part of us, generally believes that:

“If I fail, then I just need to work harder, to put in more effort.”

“If I fail, I will have learned valuable lessons that will eventually lead to success.”

“Failure is a part of life. No one succeeds without some failure.”

“Failure does not at all reflect on my worth as a person. I am intrinsically worthy, regardless of success or failure.”

“Failure offers me incredible opportunities to think outside the box, to think creatively. Let’s get to work!”

“I love learning and I love challenges. What I do is not about success or failure – it is about the joy of creativity, learning and expressing who I am.”

Which way do you think? What are the consequences to you of allowing yourself to think from your wounded self instead of from your loving adult?

Mistakes and failure ARE a part of life. Instead of fearing them, why not make it okay to make mistakes and to fail? Why not take the onus off failure? Why not embrace the process of learning and growing instead of being focused on the outcome of your efforts? Why not focus on enjoying the process of learning and creating something that is important to you?

People who don’t worry about success or failure, who instead are excited about their creative, learning, and growing process, generally find their way to success. The reason for this is that they don’t let failure stop them. Instead, failure spurs them on to work harder, to put forth even more effort to learn what they need to learn to succeed.

On the other hand, even very smart people, who are dominated by their ego wounded self, generally allow failure to derail them. Believing they ARE a failure if they fail, they become too afraid to make more effort. They often believe that success or failure is not dependent on effort, but on ability. When this is their belief, they often give up at the first sign of failure, fearing that, if their natural intelligence and ability is not leading to success, then there is no point in trying harder.

Many successful people know that effort, creativity, openness to learning, and perseverance are what create success, not necessarily high intelligence, talent, or ability. Most truly successful people have not allowed failure to stop them from forging ahead with passion and purpose.

One of my favorite books is Mindset by Dr. Carol Dweck. In this book, she outlines how people got to be afraid of failure. One of the main ways is that children are taught that they’re worth and their lovability is attached to getting approval based on achievement rather than based on effort or based on who they are intrinsically. And when children are given attention and rewarded for achievement, they learn to attach their sense of worth as a human being to that achievement. Once your sense of worth is attached to your achievement, then, of course, you’re all set up for a fear of failure.

Dr. Dweck talks about the fact that there are two kinds of people – those who learn to focus on avoiding failure, and those who focus on learning and growth. That’s very similar to what we talk about in Inner Bonding, the intention to protect, to avoid, to control or the intention to learn about loving yourself. She describes those who are focused on avoiding failure as having a ‘fixed mindset,’ and those who don’t even think about the outcome as having a ‘growth mindset.’ These people are very involved in the process and not at all focused on the outcome. One of the things you might want to notice if you have a fear of making mistakes and failing is, are you attaching your very worth and your lovability to success or failure? Do you tell yourself that if you fail at something or make mistakes, it means that you’re unlovable or unworthy, or you’re not good enough or you’re flawed, or something is very wrong with you?

If mistakes and failure mean that you’re not good enough, then you will likely get stuck in not putting yourself out there and pursuing what you want. You’re going to be too worried about failure to take risks.

If you are stuck not pursuing what might bring you joy, it’s vitally important that you realize that failure doesn’t mean that you are a failure. It just means that you didn’t yet get where you wanted to go so there’s more to learn. It means that you need to learn to define yourself through your essence, which is part of what you learn to do when you practice Inner Bonding. When your worth isn’t attached to the outcome, then you become free to fail. When you learn to access your higher wisdom, your higher self, your spiritual guidance, whatever that is for you, when you learn to access that, then you learn to see yourself through the eyes of love, through the eyes of wisdom. You learn to define yourself as your true soul self, rather than through achievements or performance or how you look.

When you learn to see who you are on the inner level, your intrinsic worth, then you stop thinking about failure because you know that you’re intrinsically worthy, that you’re intrinsically good, that you’re intrinsically lovable. But you can’t just think that and say, oh yeah, I’m terrific. I’m a child of God. You can’t just say this from your mind. You need to feel the truth of this, and this comes from practicing Inner Bonding and learning to take loving action for yourself and learning to see yourself through the eyes of love. When you practice Inner Bonding long enough, then you eventually know on a deep level that who you are is absolutely wonderful, and that who you are has nothing to do with your achievements. Once you really know this, then you can pursue what you love for the joy of it, not for the outcome, not for the approval, but just for the joy of it.

When you pursue what you love for the joy of it, that, along with being able to share your love, is what life’s all about. If what you do comes out great, fine, and if it doesn’t, it’s also fine. You will have learned a lot. All truly successful people fail, and they learn from it. They don’t let it stop them. They don’t say, “Oh my God, I failed. I can’t go on.” They fall down, they get up, and they try again. It’s not a big deal. If you look at every successful person, you’ll see that they had many, many failures and all they did is learn from them.

Here’s an example from Dr. Carol Dweck’s book. I love this example. She tells the story of a young man named George Dantzig.

He was a graduate math student at Berkeley, and like a lot of math students, he was often late for class. So he came in late one Friday afternoon and on the board were two math problems. And because this young man was late, he missed the explanation, so he assumed that the problems were the homework for the weekend. When he got home and tried to solve the problems, he discovered that they were really, really hard, but this was a young man with a growth mindset, so he didn’t get discouraged and quit. A person with a fixed mindset who was afraid of failure would have said, “Oh, this is too hard. I can’t do this.” And he would’ve given up. But this young man had a growth mindset, and he loved a challenge.

And so he got down to work and within a few days, he solved the problems. But when he came to the class, he discovered that the problems were not homework. They were famous examples of two problems that had never been solved! Amazing! Two problems that had never been solved! And because this young man, George Dantzig had a growth mindset, a deep intention to learn and loved the challenge, he ended up solving these problems and he became famous. For people like him, failure is not a blip on their screen. His thinking is not about protecting against failure, but about the challenge of learning. And that’s what needs to shift for people to move beyond a fear of failure. They need to deeply embrace the challenge of learning.

There are a lot of famous people who have talked about failure, and one of them is Thomas Edison.

As you know, he is the inventor of the electric bulb and he’s often quoted regarding failure. Here’s a few of his quotes.

He said, just before inventing the light bulb, “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” Think about that. He didn’t think of it in terms of 10,000 failures, just 10,000 ways that didn’t work. He also said, “I’m not discouraged because every wrong attempt discarded is another step forward.” Now think about that. Every mistake is a step forward. He never looked at failure and mistakes as defining his worth, but just as a learning process. He said, “Many of life failures are men who did not realize how close they were to success when they gave up.”

This has been true for a lot of people when they were close to success, but they gave up because they were so afraid of failure. Another quote of his that I like is, “Show me a thoroughly satisfied man, and I will show you a failure.” And I think that’s a very interesting quote because people who are afraid of failure, often get stuck in their lives and they just accept and get satisfied with what is. They’re not seekers, they’re not learners. They’re not explorers, they don’t go for it. But going for it is the aliveness of life. And what Edison was talking about is people who don’t go for the aliveness of life. That’s what he’s calling a failure. Not because they tried to achieve something and didn’t make it, but because they’re not trying, they’re not even trying because they’re so afraid of the failure.

I really want to encourage those of you who are listening to rethink the whole concept of failure, to rethink what it means to fail. And I can assure you that as you practice Inner Bonding, and as you learn to define your own worth, you’re going to stop thinking about failure. It isn’t even going to be a blip on your screen. Like it wasn’t for this young man, George Dantzig, it wasn’t a blip on his screen. He didn’t think about failure. That’s what we want to get to. We don’t want to start something and say, “Oh my God, what if I fail?” We want to start something and say, “Wow, this is a challenge! That’s really great!”

One of the experiments that Carol Dweck talked about in her book was where they took these 10-year-old kids, and they gave them puzzles. And at first the puzzles were really easy, and then they got harder and harder. Of course, everybody enjoyed the easy ones, but then as they started to get harder, about half the kids just kind of wandered off. They weren’t going to challenge themselves. These are the kids with the fixed mindset. These are the kids who say, “I don’t want to try because what if I try and I fail? Then people will think I’m stupid. I don’t want to take the risk of people thinking I’m stupid. So I’m not even going to try.” These are the kids that were so concerned about how people would see them, that they didn’t even want to try. But then the other half of the kids were typified by one little boy who looked at the puzzle, rubbed his hands in glee, and said, “Oh boy, I love a challenge!”

See the difference? He wasn’t concerned with whether or not he could succeed. He wasn’t concerned with whether or not people would think he was smart or stupid. He just wanted to be in the process. He just wanted to make the effort. And that’s what Dr. Dweck stresses throughout the book – the difference between basing your worth on the outcome or on the effort. When we let ourselves really go for something and we don’t think about the outcome, that’s when we can experience lot of joy from what we’re doing.

My client, Liz, told me that, “I like to believe I want to learn, that I’m very curious, and I want to do things, but when I need to face things that are really valuable for me, like work or relationships, I see myself not going for what I want, not really putting myself out there to take some risk, because I’m so scared to fail. And my fear is to be punished. If sometimes I make a mistake, I’m just expecting something really bad to happen because I made the mistake. And it’s always that feeling that I’m going to do this work that I love but I might make mistakes and I’m going to be punished.”

Of course Liz was fearful of being punished if she made mistakes, because she was consistently punished by her mother for whatever her mother considered to be a mistake. So there was a deep belief in her wounded self that kept telling her that this is the truth now. While she knew intellectually that this was not true, it felt true in her body due the belief of her wounded self and the trauma of the past. One of the things that’s really hard in terms of overcoming a deep fear like that is if there is continued self-abandonment, which there was with Liz, it continues to traumatize her.  Liz had tried many trauma therapies, which only worked short term due to her continued self-abandonment. Trauma therapies along with Inner Bonding is very healing.

In order for Liz to heal, she would need to have the courage to do the things she’s afraid of because that’s the only way her belief will change and the trauma will heal. We have to do the things we’re afraid of to move beyond fear. I remember when I first started to ski and I went up to the top of a ski slope, just a bunny hill, and I looked down and I said, “Oh my God, I’m going to die.” I didn’t know how to ski, but I went down and I didn’t die. And I learned, and then eventually the fear went away and I loved skiing. But I never would have known that if I hadn’t had the courage to go down that first bunny hill.

Same with public speaking. I was terrified, but I did it anyway and now it’s easy. But before I speak, I always give my inner child permission to make mistakes, to fail, to make a fool of myself, to fall on my face, and I let my inner child know that I will love her no matter the outcome – that my love for myself isn’t dependent on my performance – that I know who I am intrinsically, on my soul level, and failing or making mistakes doesn’t change that.

Liz said, “I keep avoiding going for what I want, because I think I need to be ready for that.” I told her, “There’s no getting ready. We need to have the courage to just plunge in and do the things that scare us in order to find out that the bad thing isn’t going to happen. The bad thing isn’t going to happen because the rest of the world is not like your mother.”

I often have clients tell me that something creative starts out to be fun, like writing or drawing, but then they stop doing it because they start to feel pressured, and the fun goes away. The pressure is from what their wounded self is telling them things like, “This isn’t good enough,” or “This better sound good or look good.” So then of course it stops being fun. It’s not fun to write or draw or do something else creative if you’ve got some outcome in mind. It’s only fun if you get thoroughly into the process and let go of the outcome. If this happens to you and you get stuck in your creativity, you might want to start noticing what you’re telling yourself that sucking the fun out of creative projects.

Is the fear of failure stopping you from doing what you really want to do?

Most people who are successful in their work and their relationships have experienced many failures along their road to success.

If Edison has been afraid of failure, or believed that failure meant he was inadequate, he would never have invented the light bulb!

In order to achieve success in any area of your life, you need to redefine failure. Instead of seeing failure as an indication of your inadequacy or lack of worth, you need to see failure as a stepping-stone to success.

Some of the most financially successful people experienced repeated failures.

Walt Disney was a high school dropout who suffered bankruptcy and repeated financial and business disasters.

Milton Hershey, the chocolate maker, found success only after filing for bankruptcy for his first four candy companies.

Henry Ford filed for bankruptcy for the first car company he started. He didn’t succeed until he started his third company, Ford Motor Company.

After P.T. Barnum, the American showman, went bankrupt, he joined forces with circus operator James A. Bailey to found Barnum and Bailey’s Greatest Show on Earth.

Albert Einstein did poorly in elementary school, and he failed his first college entrance exam at Zurich Polytechnic.

Winston Churchill had a lifetime of defeats and setbacks before becoming prime minister of England at age 62.  All of his greatest accomplishments and contributions came when he was a senior citizen.

Sir Laurence Olivier, one of the greatest actors of the 20th century, tripped over the door sill and fell headfirst into the floodlights the very first time he had ever set foot on the professional stage!

Woody Allen flunked motion picture production at New York University and the City College of New York and failed English at N.Y.U.

Astronaut Ed Gibson flunked first and fourth grades.

Lucille Ball was once dismissed from drama school for being too quiet and shy.  

If these successful people had been afraid of failure, they would never have offered the world their talents. They were able to go on to success because they saw failure as a learning opportunity rather than as an indication of their inadequacy.

Are you ready to change your concept of failure?

Are you ready to let go of worrying about what failure says about you and just learn from it? Are you ready to free your soul to do what you really want to do?

If the fear of failure is stopping you from doing what you really want to do, I want to encourage you to change your concept of failure. I want to encourage you to let go of your old way of seeing failure and start to envision failures as learning opportunities on the way to success. Just as Thomas Edison did, I encourage you to see every failure as a step forward!

I encourage you to tell yourself that it is okay to make mistakes and okay to fail. I encourage you to see mistakes and failures as wonderful learning opportunities for growth. I encourage you to let go of the outcome and allow yourself to become fully excited about the process learning, growth, and creation. Being fully present and excited for the process is what life is all about!

I hope you join me for my 30-Day at-home Course: “Love Yourself: An Inner Bonding Experience to Heal Anxiety, Depression, Shame, Addictions and Relationships.”

And you can learn so much about loving yourself and creating loving relationships from my recent books:

And, of course, we have much to offer you at our website at

I’m sending you my love and my blessings.

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