Don’t sell yourself short

If you had no fear of failure, what would you try?* This famous self-improvement question bears pondering, because it brings to mind dreams and goals you may have set aside due to self-doubt and excessive realism. What would you try? Would you start a new business? Pursue your passion for art? Ask for a raise? Write a book? Run a marathon? Subtracting fear of failure opens up new possibilities for success and enjoyment in life.

Failure, will you be my friend?

Self-doubt — the fear of failure — is the enemy of achievement, but failure itself is not. Innovators in every field view failure as an opportunity to learn. From Thomas Edison, who gave us the light bulb after 10,000 failed attempts: “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” (1)  From Henry Ford, who took America from horse and buggy transportation to 15,000,000 of his cars on the road by 1925: “Failure is simply the opportunity to begin again, this time more intelligently.” (2)

As we view failure as a means to success, we don’t fear it any longer. We may not ever get to the point that we embrace failure, because really, who likes to fail? I doubt even Thomas Edison was enthusiastic around failed light bulb prototype number 9,900. But when the first carbonized bamboo filament light bulb was found to burn more than 1,200 hours, (3) failure had proved its useful qualities.

A word about healthy self-delusion

Hang with me here, while we talk about self-efficacy. And don’t start to doze off because it sounds like a psychology term. If they sold self-efficacy in bulk at Costco, you would want to buy them out … it is just that awesome.

Self-efficacy is a measure of your belief in your own power. If you have high self-efficacy, you believe you can achieve.You set high goals, because you think you can meet them. You are more likely to persist and overcome difficulties because you don’t doubt your capabilities. (4)

Interestingly enough, high self-efficacy is not related to high ability. In fact, folks with high self-efficacy tend to delude themselves more about their true capabilities! Never the realists, they overestimate their own skills and reach for the stars accordingly. The best thing is, despite this tendency to self-delusion, people who have high self-efficacy actually achieve more, because they aspire to more. (5)

So go ahead, delude yourself a little! Set your sights high, and you will perform at higher levels.

Don’t sell yourself short

  • Embrace self-efficacy by replacing “I can’t do that” with “why can’t I do that?” Dive in and do it!
  • Don’t qualify your ideas today. Instead of, “I’m not sure if this will work, but …” say, “Here’s an option to consider …”
  • Don’t sell yourself short at work. Embrace fear of failure and ask for that raise or promotion.
  • Don’t sell yourself short in relationships. Be bold in asking for what you need for sanity and happiness.
  • Value your own work. Charge what it is worth, even if it is at the higher end of the market.
  • Reach for the stars — aim higher and achieve more.

* “What goals would you be setting yourself if you knew you could not fail?” is attributed to Robert H. Schuller, a minister and self-improvement author and speaker. (6)


More on selling yourself short
Awesome TED talk on how removing the fear of failure makes the impossible possible



  1. BrainyQuote: Thomas A. Edison. Accessed Jan 31, 2017.
  2. BrainyQuote: Henry Ford. Accessed Jan 31, 2017
  3. Palermo E. Who invented the light bulb? LiveScience website. Feb 15, 2014. Accessed Jan 31, 2017.
  4. Schunk DH. Self-efficacy and academic motivation. Educational Psychologist. 1991;26:207-231.
  5. Bandura A. Self-efficacy. In V.S. Ramachaudran (Ed.) Encyclopedia of human behavior. 1994;4:71-81.
  6. What would you attempt if you knew you could not fail? Quote Investigator website. Accessed Jan 31, 2017.
Dana Vaughan

About Dana Vaughan

Dana completed a Master of Public Health (MPH) and a Master of Social Work (MSW) at San Diego State University, and has worked in family planning education, prenatal counseling, and child development. She loves her mountain bike, her husband, her kids, and her faith—although possibly not in that order.

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