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Do any of the following sound familiar?

  • It’s probably not going to happen, so why bother
  • I don’t know if I can do it
  • I just can’t take the risk
  • I can’t handle the disappointment if it doesn’t work out
  • What will people think?
  • I’m going to wait to see what happens before I do anything
  • Things like this just typically don’t work out for me

For busy, often perfectionist, accountants like us, it can be very challenging to do things outside of our comfort zone.  There are often, what appears to be, very valid reasons in our minds for not making a change, being vulnerable or believing that something big or new is possible.

It’s as if there’s a valve in our minds that allows just so much possibility to drip out, before the handle is quickly shut closed.  There seems to be this general resistance by women to accept that something great could happen, so instead we wind up psyching ourselves out, all in the name of protecting ourselves from disappointment.

We’re all so used to doing it, that we think we’re helping each other when we offer advice like, “Don’t get too far ahead of yourself, just in case”.  We are smart, capable women but unfortunately we tend to have such a collective fear when it comes to failure, that we actually wind up failing ahead of time.

The way this can show up is not going after the promotion, joining the dating website or exploring the idea of starting your own accounting practice because you are afraid of failing.  But the irony is that you are actually failing ahead of time when you don’t go after possibilities for yourself.

In essence, you fail before you even give yourself the chance to succeed, when you tell yourself it’s too hard, too confusing or too unknown.  You fail ahead of time when you stop yourself from pursuing something or believing in possibilities, convinced that you are protecting yourself from some future feeling of disappointment, sadness or shame. 

Failing ahead of time is really a sneaky way of avoiding being uncomfortable.  It’s much easier to just think about something you want, than it is to take action to get it, put yourself out there, try different things and discover your path to success.

This week I’m going to discuss why women have a tendency to fail ahead of time, why there’s no upside to it and some tips to help you stop.

Why women have a tendency to fail ahead of time

When was the last time you were totally psyched to take on a challenge, raring to take it head on, 100% committed to succeeding?  If you are like most women, the answer is probably “Not lately” or maybe “Never”.

Unfortunately, most women have difficulty achieving their goals because they are afraid to fail.  They psyche themselves out before they even get started, making success an impossibility.

Maybe you can relate to this – you have an opportunity or an offer for something and you immediately go to “This will never happen, so why bother” or “Don’t get too excited” in your mind.  It’s as if you want to prevent future disappointment, prevent yourself from getting hurt or prepare yourself just in case it doesn’t work out. 

Another way this might show up for you is waiting until you can do something perfectly before you’ll attempt it.  Preparing and practicing are great, except for those times when you never actually do anything, and keep hiding behind more preparation and practice.

Most women are so afraid of failure that they continuously sell themselves short.  They tell themselves a scary story to keep “safe” and not venture out into unknown or unfamiliar territory, hoping that they are then bubble-wrapped and protected.

The biggest way this showed up for me was after my divorce and getting back into the dating world at 40 years old.  In a perfect world, in my mind, someone that checked all the boxes for a future love interest would come knocking on my door one day and say “I’m here!”

Once I started to consider the idea of meeting someone, my brain was flooded with thoughts like “You already failed at one marriage; do you really think another one is a good idea?” and “You haven’t dated in 20 years.  You should just stay safe at home”.

With the onslaught of “why bother” thoughts, I began to believe that not risking discomfort and failure was the safest thing I could do.  Before I even gave myself a chance to succeed, I was failing ahead of time by telling myself all the reasons why I shouldn’t even attempt to go back into the dating world. 

Can you relate?  Think back over your life:

  • How many times did you assume you were going to fail, so you didn’t even try?
  • When have you spent a lot of time thinking about something, but never actually doing it?
  • How often have you not felt good enough, smart enough or worthy enough, so you let that stop you from pursuing something?
  • When was the last time something great was a possibility, but you psyched yourself out of being excited “just in case”?
  • How often has your age, gender, experience, intelligence or past, stopped you from going after something?

Now is the time to get real with yourself and look at whether you have a tendency to fail ahead of time and how often.  It can become such an insidious pattern, that you may not even realize you’re doing it.

It’s completely natural to have fear, but when those fears stop you from having the life you really want, it’s time to stop failing ahead of time and address what’s going on.  

Why there’s no upside to failing ahead of time

Before we lived in comfortable houses with running water and Wifi, our human existence and survival was predicated on staying safe in caves and not being eaten by a saber-toothed tiger.  If you lived during that early time, you would have needed to be fully present and onguard, looking for and protecting yourself against danger all day and night.

The primitive brain that those early humans used to survive is the same brain you and I have now.  That part of the brain has come along for the ride as humans evolved from cave dwellers to Wall Street executives.

This part of the brain has helped you to be leary of strangers when you were young, and it’s also helped you to lock the doors of your home at night before you go to bed.  It wants you, and everything you care about, to stay safe and sound for a very long time.

The issue is that in modern times this protective part of your brain equates going for a job promotion as just as dangerous as it did when a mountain lion was outside the cave.  It’s doing its instinctive job, but it doesn’t have the advanced awareness to delineate between something challenging but beneficial, and something that might eat you.

When you aren’t aware of your brain’s natural tendency for avoidance, you might believe that it’s protecting you from making a mistake.  You might believe that not changing things up, going after a dream or exploring a possibility, just makes sense.  

The problem is that when you don’t allow yourself to believe in possibilities, you stay small.  When you don’t override the default thinking in the overly protective part of your brain, you live your life by default, running on a hamster wheel that doesn’t go anywhere.

The reason there is no upside to failing ahead of time is because unwarranted fear only stops you from believing in yourself, from having confidence and from making a dream a reality.  When you are armed with the realization that your primitive brain interprets most things in modern day life as a possible threat, you can now begin to override its unnecessary warnings.

I didn’t understand this when I was newly single, but I can look back now and see that I was failing ahead of time by allowing fear to keep me from entering the post-divorce dating world.  I was so afraid of the possibility of being uncomfortable, being rejected, being humiliated and failing, that I initially stopped myself from believing I could find love again.

I was believing my fearful thoughts about possibly failing, so strongly, that I resisted the idea that I could and would find someone to spend my life with.  I didn’t initially see that there was no upside to not taking action; I was just allowing the protective part of my brain to believe that failure was inevitable, so why bother.

The problem was that I was so afraid of failing, that I really just stopped living.  In the beginning I didn’t realize that I wasn’t going to get the result I wanted (love, laughter, connection, partnership, fun) by expecting to not succeed at it.    

Of course I had no way of knowing what would happen in the future, but if I didn’t override the fearful part of my brain, I was never going to get the result I really wanted.  Ironically, I was going to fail by virtue of not wanting to fail. 

Now that you know what’s happening in your brain when you are faced with something challenging or the possibility of something good in the future, you can get to work on catching yourself before you fall into the pattern of failing ahead of time.

Tips to help you stop failing ahead of time

Maybe you’ve experienced it in the past, or perhaps you are in the middle of it now, but failing ahead of time is a tricky way of not believing in yourself.  If you don’t take the leap, do the thing or believe in the possibility, who cares, right?

It’s pretty easy to gloss over the opportunities that you may have chosen to ignore, but when you continually stop yourself from growing and expanding yourself and your life, you begin to grow resentful of others and their successes.  You fail ahead of time, each time you refuse to try.

We all experience the fear of failure in different ways, but we also all have a choice – you can choose to psyche yourself up or psyche yourself out.  You can choose to believe in possibilities, or you can doubt them.

Whichever path you choose, just know that how you think and feel will dictate what you do or don’t do.  In essence, you will prove your belief true by your actions or inactions, so it’s important that you check in with what you believe and how you feel. 

If you are feeling doubtful because you are thinking “It’s probably not going to happen, so why bother”, you’re not going to be motivated to do anything.  To stop failing ahead of time you need to change the story you’re telling yourself.

When I believed that I wasn’t going to meet someone and find love the second time around, I basically  guaranteed that I wouldn’t meet someone or find love, because I didn’t put myself out there.  I had already decided that it wasn’t in the cards for me, so why even bother.

Thankfully it wasn’t too long into being newly single that I could see the connection between my beliefs about what was possible, and how I was failing ahead of time.  If I wanted something to change, I needed to start with my beliefs.

Once I changed the story from “It’s not going to happen” to “It’s possible it could happen”, I began to feel hopeful, envisioning the person I would meet, the fun we would have and the partnership we would build.  I chose to see each unsuccessful date or relationship as getting me closer to my success.

In time, I met the man that I gave myself permission to believe in.  I believed that I deserved my happily ever after, and that’s what I created for myself.

If you have realized that you’ve been failing ahead of time, it’s time to stop.  Change the stories in your mind from “It won’t” to “It’s possible it could” and see how all the possibilities open up for you and your family.  

Summary  

  • We are smart, capable women but unfortunately we tend to have such a collective fear when it comes to failure, that we actually wind up failing ahead of time.
  • Preparing and practicing are great, except for those times when you never actually do anything, and keep hiding behind more preparation and practice.
  • Now is the time to get real with yourself and look at whether you have a tendency to fail ahead of time and how often.
  • When you aren’t aware of your brain’s natural tendency for avoidance, you might believe that it’s protecting you from making a mistake.
  • You fail ahead of time, each time you refuse to try.
  • To stop failing ahead of time you need to change the story you’re telling yourself.