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Seth Godin Explains How to Overcome the Fear of Failure

by Suchi Rudra
money & life

If you haven’t read any blog posts or books from Seth Godin, watching this clip from Godin’s interview on 30 Days of Genius will have you chomping at the bit to do so.

In his interview, Godin, a best-selling author of 18 books, entrepreneur, marketer, public speaker and all-round influential thinker, talks about the difficulty of extracting the genius we all carry within us.

“It’s a challenge to draw out our genius because we know it ‘might not work.’ To finally come to terms with this possibility of failure is to confront our fear as creatives,” Godin explains.

Maybe it comes across as counter-intuitive, but Godin’s insistence that “you have to dance with the fear” becomes more clear the longer you consider it—and once you actually try it for yourself.

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For better or for worse, fear is a partner in your daily routine, but it doesn’t need to live with you.

You aren’t bound together, but you do need fear to feel the wall in your face, to see where you get stopped, where the limits of your mind are. And only in this way can you conquer that wall, expand those limits, find a new way to dance.

Your partner might be leading first, but that’s only until you learn to take over, until you learn to lead.

As you dance, you realize that fear is in fact “a compass, it’s giving me a hint that I’m onto something…something that might not work,” Godin says. But even though there is that possibility of failure, the fear-as-compass pushes you to “persistently, consistently, generously bring [your creative work] forward.”

However, as you move forward and use all those tools and skills and experiences you’ve intentionally (and unintentionally) collected throughout your life, in pursuit of extracting your genius, there is no guarantee of success. A degree in art does not an artist make.

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Godin puts it this way: “Anyone who thinks of themselves as a creative has to acknowledge that if you’re asking for a guarantee, you’re in the wrong line.”

As you’ve probably figured out by this point in your career, being a creative entrepreneur means taking risks.

Timelines, deadlines and goals are all important, but that does not help you avoid the inevitable obstacles that may entirely change your plans and your focus. You may come out on the other side of those obstacles with a whole new perspective or idea that will take you in a different direction that you had never before considered.

And why not? Being a creative entrepreneur also inherently means exploring new frontiers, and in this kind of endeavor, nothing is certain—except that there will be lessons learned.

You don’t do what you do to replicate someone else’s work, to mimic what you’ve seen before.

Instead, you’re introducing a unique artistic expression (you are a snowflake!) into the world, and because it is new, there is no precedent to follow. Who wants precedent anyways?

There will certainly be artists you admire and who have shaped your style, mentors whose wise words you heed. But even if you tried, you wouldn’t be able to do exactly what they have done—and you wouldn’t want to anyways.

As you continue on your adventure and do your dance with fear, people will ask you about your purpose, your goals, and of course, why do you do what you do.

Sometimes you get tired of the questions, even from prospective partners or clients—but mainly because you don’t really know all the answers. Because the only thing you are sure about is that you have to keep moving forward.

So, to better prepare yourself for the next time you get cornered into a spontaneous Q&A session about your creative work, take some time to interview yourself and get to the bottom of, well, yourself.

Here are some questions to ask yourself about your own fear of failure, that’ll help guide you toward learning to dance with that fear.

1. Do you feel anxious to get to the end of each project you have and move on to something else? Why or why not?

2. What if you had all the time in the world? More money, resources, support? What would you do differently?

3. Why do you want to share your work? What does this say about the purpose of your work?

4. What do you want your Wikipedia entry to say about you?

As you analyze your creative self, remember that fear is “hard-wired into us, for good reason,” as Godin says. Instead of trying to escape it, seek out what that fear is teaching you about yourself and your creative pursuits, and you’ll already be way ahead of the game.

For more with Seth Godin on failure, permission marketing, and how to become truly remarkable, watch the hour-long interview over on 30 Days of Genius on CreativeLive.

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Suchi Rudra

Suchi Rudra is a nomadic writer of articles, stories and songs, taking inspiration from her travels. Follow her wanderings at Tread Lightly, Travel Naturally.