The Blog

by Mike Hayward

5 reasons I’m happily afraid to fail.

The prevailing wisdom goes something like this: If you’re afraid to fail you’ll never succeed.

This looks great on a book jacket in the self-help section. So no successful person has ever been afraid to fail? Good for them.

When it comes to advertising, I’m afraid to fail. It’s not a paralyzing fear, but a slow burn, a voice in the back of my head that says, “What if you’re out of good ideas? What if this campaign bombs?” It’s a decent-sized list of fears actually.

Granted, this is advertising. My failure isn’t going to cause a plane to crash. Still, the fear is there every day. And I love it.

Here are five reasons why:

1)     It pushes me.
With every new assignment, I feel pressure to succeed. I know the only way to avoid failure is to work really hard until I come up with something good. Hopefully great. Without any fear, it’d be easy to kick back and think “I’ve done this before, I’ll do it again, no problem.” Then give half the effort.

2)     It makes me scrutinize my work.
This is a dicey one. I know I have to ask myself the right questions, like “Is this REALLY the best it can be?” or “Will this strike a chord with the audience?” or even “Is it kind of funny or very funny?” The wrong question is “Is it possible somebody might not like it?” (ads that go unnoticed never get hate mail.) But taking a long, hard, objective look at my own work forces me to find the flaws and hopefully fix them before I produce something I’m not completely proud of.

3)     Fear encourages me to share my ideas.
We have talented people here whom I trust. When I have an idea I think might be pretty good, I ask them what they think. If it is pretty good, there’s a good chance they’ll make it better. If it’s bad, they’ll tell me that too. If I’m supremely confident in my work all the time, there’s no need to get anyone’s opinion on anything, right?

4)     It keeps me focused on every single client.
Our job is to help each one of our clients build a brand, sell products, and put butts in the seats. And as most of us know, an advertising failure tends to hang around longer than a success. So that tinge of fear makes me want to do everything in my power to ensure success for each and every one of our clients—for them and us. And that happens one assignment at a time.

5)     It makes me an eternal student.
I know I absolutely have to keep up with emerging and popular technologies. How do I know? My small nagging fear of falling behind is there to remind me, morning, noon and night. Which is why I try to study and use every potentially useful social media and mobile tool I can, and I’m constantly looking for the next big thing that might translate to the next big advertising thing.

I don’t confuse being afraid to fail with a lack of courage or aversion to risk.  I also have a fear of doing humdrum work that’s invisible. I have to channel fear to drive me to do better. So here’s a quote about fear that I prefer:

“To fear is one thing.  To let fear grab you by the tail and swing you around is another.”

And I’ll certainly always learn something from my failures too. But that slightly frightened voice in my head will make sure I do everything possible to succeed first.

I wouldn’t have it any other way.