There is a story that is read to many children all over the world – some of you may have had a deprived childhood not having this classic read to you when you were young (tongue in cheek), but here it is – a railroad story, the story of a train carrying toys. Now, the train could not get over the mountain to the children on the other side and so they tried to get the big engine and the shiny new engine and the old experienced engine to assist and none of them could make it. When suddenly, along comes a little blue engine and no-one thinks the little blue engine will ever make it to the other side, but it is at this point that we link up with the story – here is the thrilling conclusion: “The little blue engine looked up and saw the tears in the doll’s eyes and it thought of the good little boys and girls on the other side of the mountain who had not had any toys or good food. Then it said: ‘I think I can, I can, I can’ and it hitched itself to the little train. It pulled and tugged and tugged and slowly, slowly, slowly, they started off. The toys of the town jumped on board and all the toys and dolls and animals began smiling and cheering. Then, the little blue engine panted: ‘I think I can, I think I can, I can, I can, I can … I think I can, I think I can, I can, I can, I can’ and up, up, up and faster and faster, the little blue engine climbed until they reached the top and brought joy to the children on the other side of the mountain”.

Isn’t that exciting? That’s called ‘The little engine that could’ – some may need to catch up on a “deprived childhood” and get themselves copies of the book? Actually, the funny thing about this little blue engine is that it is a good story to read to children – it gives them this “I think I can” spirit. The problem is, however, that there is something about the teenager and older person that cause them to start acquiring an “I think I can’t” attitude. Something seems to happen to confidence, to the drive to succeed and instead of feeling like the little engine that could, one starts feeling like the other engines that couldn’t or wouldn’t! The fear of failure and a seeming heightened awareness of what others may think of one if one does fail seem to immobilise one’s best possible efforts – we end up not realising our full potential. These same fears seem to block initiative and creativity, preventing growth and new heights being achieved.

Overcoming a fear of failure needs consideration and possible action on the following:

  • Identifying and solving the root cause of the fear – negative beliefs and deficient or inaccurate interpretation of past events shape one’s life. These thoughts and feelings need to be processed and resolved.
  • The possible costs associated with missed opportunities – without taking some risks, one cannot exploit real opportunities. The greatest rewards may be realised if one is willing to take some high risks.
  • Researching the alternatives – the unknown is a major source of fear. Take the power out of one’s fear by understanding all the options – risks and benefits.
  • Simplify all the steps to possible success – creating a list of all the tasks that will need completion helps clarify what you are up against. Actionable pieces of a project are easier and less daunting to handle than always looking at the project in its magnitude.
  • Identify all available resources – based on the quality of one’s network and relationships, many resourceful others may be willing to offer assistance with one’s project.
  • Setting reachable milestones – achievable goals should be identified, with timelines for task completion – be realistic.
  • Taking action and rewarding achievement – combine action with guidance from others and learn from mistakes that are made. Ask for feedback from others – this helps with evaluating progress and possibly tweaking direction. Reward yourself when significant milestones are reached.
  • Keep the “big picture” in mind always – imagine a future state of success – what it will look like, feel like and the impact it will have.

We all have fears, many of which revolve around a fear of failure and an associated fear of what others will think of us if we do fail. These fears can be overcome, however, as they are understood, simplified and resolved. Reaching our best potential will largely be dependent on how we process them, get feedback from a variety of reliable sources and take action to thrust ourselves into a reachable and desirable future.

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