If You Want To Succeed You Cannot Be Afraid To Fail

Matt Singley at the 2010 Nautica Malibu Triathlon

I managed to put a smile on my face before the 2010 Nautica Malibu Triathlon, but on the inside I was truly scared about what was ahead.

“There is no failure except in no longer trying. “

~ Elbert Hubbard

Failure and success…the two really do go hand in hand.

In business, innovation rarely comes without taking risks. Risks rarely are taken if the thought of failure is too great an obstacle. Failure as an obstacle is usually the result of being told, either directly or indirectly, that to fail is to be weak, to be threatened, to be insecure.

I say that you cannot truly succeed if this is the environment that you exist in.

Sometimes the fear of failure is legitimate; perhaps you work for an employer that has a zero tolerance policy for failure. If that is the case, chances are you work for a business where innovation isn’t really necessary. It’s also likely that you often wonder about job security. I’ve been there too, working for organizations that say they want change but won’t accept failure.  To me, those two thoughts are diametrically opposed and cannot exist in the same space.  Innovate or die. Put less dramatically, innovate or become obsolete.

There is a big difference, however, between fear of failure and just fear, which is a healthy survival instinct. I recently finished the 2010 Nautica Malibu Triathlon. While this may not seem to be a big deal to some, for me it was quite significant. I’ve never done a triathlon, and I was scared to death. Honestly, if you know me in person you know that I’m built for fight, not for flight, so the idea of going through a couple of hours surrounded by people that are 6’6″ and 170 pounds was intimidating, to say the least. The morning of the triathlon I was anxious…really anxious. As I walked up to the staging area to start the swim the reality of what I was about to undertake really hit me. There was a good chance that I would finish dead last…or never finish at all! Of course I had the option to just walk away, or fake an ankle injury by tripping over a rock…but really, none of that was truly an option in my mind. If I let the fear prevent me from trying something that seemed beyond my reach, then I would never know the very sweet feeling of running across the finish line faster than half of the people there; and I can tell you as I type this, it was indeed a very sweet moment!

The same goes for business. Whether it is your personal career, a technological break through or a single project, you cannot let the fear of failure prevent you from pursuing excellence and innovation. Sure, it might be safer to not try something new. It might require less stress, preparation or even public ridicule. Taking the path of the mediocre can be comfortable and comforting, because mediocrity doesn’t often have to taste failure.

Then again, you can face the fear of failure and overcome it,  and in the process do something that you know is a little crazy, but quite excellent. You might not succeed…this time. But if you don’t try, how will you ever know?

By Matt Singley

Personal: husband to Alison, father to four amazing kids. I used to live a fast but enjoyable life in Los Angeles, now I have chickens on acreage in Charlotte, North Carolina. Just a bit different. I'm an advocate for cycling as much as you can and eating as cleanly as you can afford. Professional: I'm the CEO of Singley + Mackie, a creative digital agency that serves well-known lifestyle and entertainment companies around the world. Clients include Microsoft, Samsung, Hulu, YP and others. If you want to find the more-professional me, go to