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Fear of failure

In Business and Environment, Business, Coaching and Success by Craig Fallshaw1 Comment

For me, apart from learned fears such as spiders and dentists, and I think quite rational ones, my biggest issue has always been fear of failure.


Isn’t it all in your head (literally)?

An amazing thing really. ‘It’s all in your head’, they say.

At the risk of sounding a bit obvious, isn’t it all in your head?

I mean this in a literal way, without getting all Freudian. Ultimately how you feel is up to you and the way you react (fear, love, excitement, happiness) to external things, the things that happen outside you.

One practitioner in my Odyssey suggests that we are not our thoughts and feelings – but I find I am, most of the time.

Fear is defined as an unpleasant emotion caused by the threat of danger, pain, or harm.

Is your fear an ‘away from’ or ‘towards’ driver?

The other thing it is – something that can hold you back; something my old kinesiologist would have said is an ‘away from’ driver rather than a ‘towards’ driver. That is to say, you are motivated to do something or behave a certain way to avoid something happening.

An ‘away from’ driver is reactive (Aaah! There is a tiger. I should run.) and probably something with a negative consequence; and the towards is a premeditated, frontal lobe, higher thinking kind (I know if I work hard I can get that new car I want in six months).

For me, apart from spiders and dentists (learned fears) – and I think quite rational ones – my biggest issue has always been fear of failure.

Fear of failure is definitely an ‘away from’, and I would suggest that I have spent most of my life operating in such a way as to avoid failure, which probably stems back to somewhere in my childhood as the little fat kid who thought he wasn’t good enough, could not run as fast and was absolute rubbish at sport in general. Let’s face it, when you are a kid, with your peers, these are the yardsticks by which you are measured.

I think it all comes back as well to self-confidence, the lack of which again probably stems from childhood incidents – if I fail, they will know I’m really no good, etc.

The spectacular side of failure

So here is where the story gets really, really interesting. As I sit here heading rapidly towards my 50s, the great irony occurs to me – it is when I have failed that cool things happen. It’s usually when the big learnings happen and its usually when I have the most fun.

I think I’m doing okay now – successful business, second marriage is going well, and golden child seems well adjusted.

But I have had some spectacular failures over the years.


At 21, landed my dream job – executive chef on a resort island. Lasted a little over a year; then got island fever and the sack.

Landed back on the mainland, broke and a bit down about it all, with only enough cash for about two tanks of fuel in my 1968 Landrover (what a car), but ended up in Cairns, got a job flying round Cape York selling catering equipment (best job ever) and met my first wife. One door closes and another opens.

Years later (and some more failures along the way) I was sacked by the new partner in the family business, which at the time, having just got married again and bought a new house, seemed like the worst kind of failure.

12 months on saw me launching my current business, which today employs 12 people and turns over millions of dollars in the complementary medicines game.


The best kind of learning

Craig in Tasmania in 2013 working on commercialising the production of human grade Omega 3 from the heads and frames (waste) from the local salmon fisheries.

And still the learning continues. Thousands of dollars and lots of time in trying to make therapeutic grade salmon oil out of heads and bones in Tasmania. It fell over at the eleventh hour after two years of work. Or the coconut oil project two years ago in Namatanai, a small village in Papua New Guinea. It was going to change the world, improve the lives of villagers and make a great new product.

Both of these projects failed, horribly, financially and practically, but I got to go somewhere in the world and see something I would have never seen, and learnt so much more than I knew before about both kinds of oil… and the best kind of learning, learning about people.

As part of my job today I get to travel the country seeing customers.

A few months ago I had the pleasure of doing a tour de force around the country with what seemed like the United Nations of Vitamins.

On the way I was trying to think of a joke that involved a Norwegian, an American and an Australian who walked into a bar, but the Norwegian told me he didn’t think that was very funny…

It was a good solid week on the road, lots of crappy airport food (really Sydney airport, can that even be called food?), early mornings, late nights and some good meetings. In other words, it seemed like a typical trip. It wasn’t though. I began to notice that, in the wake of the recent changes in the complementary health industry, there was an aura of fear. This is coming from an industry that I am proud to say has been among the most innovative in the world, even in the face of tighter regulations. It’s a bit of a concern.

On the cacao plantation outside Namatanai , New Ireland Province, Papua New Guinea in 2015 , working on a coconut oil project.

The right dose of fear

There is a famous phrase from FDR’s (I mean, Franklin D Roosevelt… is it okay to abbreviate the name of a president?) inaugural speech, which I quote here:

“So, first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is… fear itself.” (This was actually originally adapted from an essay by Sir Francis Bacon, but I digress.)

The reason I was so concerned is that the fear I saw was the fear of change, of risk and of doing something new, which is uncharacteristic of our industry. We’re taking a defensive position. I’m worried that once those neural pathways become well worn, we won’t be encouraging the same out-of-the-box thinking that has driven the industry so far. If you keep doing the same thing, the outcome will be the same.

But, before I get into a general rant about the vitamin industry – which not everyone will get, and I will get all passionate, and to lose you at this point, dear reader, would be tragedy – let me get back on topic.

Fear is okay and, in the case of the tiger example above, probably sometimes a good thing. The trick is to not let it debilitate you or drive you.

Like everything I suppose, you need just the right dose.

About the Author
Craig Fallshaw

Craig Fallshaw

Craig Fallshaw, founder of Complementary Medicines Group, comes from a long line of Australian natural products manufacturers. His industry career, spanning more than 25 years, began in the family business, a contract manufacturer founded by his grandfather in 1972. Craig, from Sydney’s Northern Beaches, is a keen photographer and loves employing his drone to photograph otherwise inaccessible places. Email Craig at




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  1. Great Article Craig.

    My thoughts are that fear can be so paralysing – perhaps its when we think too much the more “reactive” thoughts start – the “what ifs” can take-over dangerously.

    Case in point – 17 years ago I quit what some would have thought of as a dream job in pharma to start my own business in design which I had become passionate about (and felt “on purpose” with). Concurrent to a business start up I completed a Diploma in Multimedia at college. I believe if I had analysed it TOO much I would have been stuck doing what I was doing. All these years later I am still grateful for that leap of faith.

    So now, I just need to remember how brave I am !! Good to know I am not alone !

    Go well.

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