Overcoming the fear of failure and embracing risk

Updated on December 30, 2020
Renee Jensen web copy

Lessons I learned from my dad

By Renee Jensen

When was the last time you evaluated your own risk tolerance?  In life there are all kinds of risks to consider: financial investments, adventures, personal relationships, professional decisions; the list could go on and on.

I am known to be a “risk tolerant” person, and as such I am often asked about the subject of risk. Most commonly people want to know how I personally evaluate risk in my life and professionally.  How do you know if a risk is worth taking?  How do you know how much risk to take on?  What process do I use to determine if the risk is worth the reward?  Often, these people are looking for someone to help them feel better about turning down the next risky decision they are faced with, but they are looking in the wrong direction.

If risk were a person, I would look it straight in the eyes and say, “Bring it on!”  That’s not to say that I carelessly take on any and all risk, but I do see risk as a challenge, and one that gives me energy and the drive to accomplish things that others may deem “risky.”  I love adventure and the unknown, the unscripted, surprises that come along with getting outside of normal.  I welcome these types of opportunities into my life. This description may leave you thinking I am a bit crazy and not grounded in reality, but actually I think it is just the opposite.  

Lessons from my dad

When I was 31, I lost my father to cancer.  He was my world, and I was a daddy’s girl through and through.  I grieved the loss of our nightly phone calls on my way home from work where I would tell him about my day and get unsolicited fatherly advice.  

I learned so much from my dad during the last years of his life, but the most important life lesson he ever taught me I learned after he passed away.  You see, my father never let cancer win.  No matter how sick or uncomfortable he was, he always made time for his family and doing the things he loved.  His motto was that as long as he was upright and alive, he was going to live life to its fullest and with no regrets.  He did this every day of his life including the last, where he took his final breath beside a beautiful campfire, at his favorite hunting camp, with his family at his side.  Even in his last moments he never let anything get in his way of embracing what life had to offer.

In the days following my father’s death, I realized I had been doing it all wrong!  There were so many things that I hadn’t experienced because it wasn’t safe, or it was too risky or I was just simply scared to do it.  I realized that my father had given me the gift of seeing life differently, a perspective where risk is not scary but something to be embraced, an exciting adventure story where you don’t always know how it will end.

Learn to embrace risk

In order to become comfortable expanding your risk tolerance, you must first overcome the fear of failure.  I love to create a culture of safety for my teams where it is okay to fail and failure is seen as an opportunity to do something different and quickly change course, all in the pursuit of the perfect results.

One of the commitments I made to myself after my father passed away was to learn to ride a motorcycle.  He loved to ride and I enjoyed riding with him, but I felt motorcycles were unsafe and honestly, I would have never taken the risk or even considered riding my own.  

Fast forward 12 years—not only do I ride my own motorcycles but I am an avid rider putting thousands of miles a year on my Harley Street Glide, occasionally showing up to work on my 1198 Ducati, and if it’s a really special day, you might even see me in full leathers on a race track!  If you are never even willing to take the risk of something new, how can you even know if it’s worth the risk?  Motorcycles have taught me the art of harnessing your fear and embracing those uncomfortable feelings.  At best, fear on a motorcycle will severely impact your ability to be a good rider; at the worst, fear could kill you.  

You cannot let fear be part of your decision-making process when evaluating risk.  Next time you are deliberating a decision that you deem risky here are a few thoughts to consider:

  • Is this situation really a risk or is it simply unpredictable?  Are you challenged by the idea that something is truly “risky,” or is it actually the unpredictability that has you taking a pause?  Do you always need to know how every adventure will end or should you embrace the process of the adventure and leave the ending to just be where you arrive at the end of the process?
  • Without the risk of failure, nothing new will ever be invented or created.  If you aren’t interested in change, don’t take risk.  If you are looking for something new and different, you will need to embrace the risk of failure.
  • Fear of failure will impede your ability to be successful.  You need to believe that what you are doing is worth taking a risk and the outcomes will surpass the fear.
  • Strive to embrace all life has to offer. Why are you waiting?  Make it a goal to go to bed every night and have no regrets.
  • Build a team that has the same spirit of adventure and risk that you do.  There is nothing worse than making courageous, creative decisions and realizing you are alone on the journey.  
  • Take time to share your lessons learned with young leaders and instill the courage to fail while taking risks that are aligned with their ability and experience. 

I reflect back on the exact moment I realized life had so much more to offer, and the only thing keeping me from embracing life beyond what I knew as comfortable, was myself and my own fears of the unknown or unpredictability.  I realize now that the younger in life you learn these lessons, the easier it is to embrace, implement, and execute.  I can’t change the fact that I was an adult before I learned to welcome risk as a challenge, but I can take time to share this lesson with the next generation of leaders and even with my own daughter. She is fortunate to have her parents by her side as she learns first-hand about taking risk, conquering fear and learning from her mistakes.

I challenge you to think like a kid again where fear is not a part of your decision-making equation.  Life is short. Why not embrace the adventure of unpredictability and live just a little more of what life has to offer than you did yesterday? 

About Renee Jensen

Renee Jensen is a healthcare executive leader with over 19 years of experience in public hospital district operations and integrated healthcare systems. She writes about leadership and building high-performing teams at jensen2solutions.com.

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