Delusions of an Untarnished Image

Across much of today’s business and personal growth literature there is the idea that confidence and boldness are key factors to success and climbing the ranks.

We are told to fake it till we make it; that we just need to learn the subtle art of not giving a f*ck. Or that if we could just stop doubting our greatness and awaken the giant within, we could be living our best life.

And it’s not that the advice is necessarily wrong or even bad; confidence and boldness almost certainly will help you accelerate your career.

The problem is with the resulting image that we believe we must construct and protect at all costs: The image of a person who has it all together, who never doubts or fears, and who always has the right answer to a question or solution to a problem. A person who never fails.

Of course there is no such thing as a person who never fails. But in all the raving and cheering about not doubting ourselves, we delude ourselves into thinking we have the ability to maintain an untarnished image.

And when we fear allowing any weakness or failure to show through, we stop asking for help. We stick to what is safe, and what will show us only at our best. We cease to try new things and push the boundaries of what is currently accepted or familiar.

There is a book by David Bayles called Art & Fear, which dives into the struggles that artists face while creating. In the book, the author tells of a ceramics class in which students were divided into two groups: One half of the class would be graded on the quantity of pots they created, and the other half only had to produce a single pot—the quality of which would determine their final grade. The results are telling:

[A] curious fact emerged: the works of highest quality were all produced by the group being graded for quantity. It seems that while the “quantity” group was busily churning out piles of work - and learning from their mistakes - the “quality” group had sat theorizing about perfection, and in the end had little more to show for their efforts than grandiose theories and a pile of dead clay.

The most powerful thing you can do to accelerate your personal or professional growth is to overcome your fear of failure. The best way to overcome fear of failure is to face it frequently.

When we are crippled by fear, we close ourselves off to instruction and experimentation. When you stop learning and practicing, you begin a slow-but-inevitable slide into irrelevance.