Five Ways for INTJs to Conquer the Fear of Failure

Clinically Reviewed by Steven Melendy, PsyD. on March 21, 2017
Category: INTJ

Most of us, whatever our personality type, have a lousy voice in the back of our heads telling us that we will never quite be good enough. It plagues us to the point that we may be unwilling to take risks or attempt certain activities, in case we fall on our behinds. When the voice looms large, performance suffers, and we're prevented from realizing our full potential. Virtually everyone hears the voice to a greater or lesser degree. It even has its own name - atychiphobia, the morbid fear of failure.

Despite the prevalence of atychiphobia, INTJs aren't known for being especially fearful. On the contrary, we're often accused of being too forthright, too disciplined, and too self-assured. We make a habit of conquering tasks with grace and ease. We feel compelled to finish what we start and sound confident when we speak. None of these behaviors bear the hallmark of fearfulness, so people assume that we're somehow immune to these vulnerabilities.

But INTJs are perhaps one of the two personality types who are least likely to be who you think we are (the other is the INFJ). We don't see ourselves as being cold, distant, unforgiving, or disconnected but sometimes people use those words to describe us. That's because we're hard to see. We don't reveal the depths and range of our emotions, so most people don't realize that our superiority is often fear in disguise.

The truth is, we're just as likely as the next person to suffer from atychiphobia. And the fear of failure is especially painful for INTJs because we're hyper aware that such anxiety is irrational. So what's a fearful INTJ to do? Here are some tips for conquering the fear of failure and living to your maximum potential.

1. Accomplish something. Even if it's just the laundry.

INTJs feel an urgent need to achieve, and to keep achieving. Like all rationals, we are driven to prove to ourselves and others that we are competent, and that our competence is not a one-off behavior, but something that we demonstrate daily. When our self-esteem starts to degrade, it's usually because we've experienced a break in the chain of accomplishments. We haven't refuelled our sense of success.

I'm not talking about accomplishing big things like getting a promotion or earning a degree (although those accomplishments are incredibly nourishing). Small achievements, like reading a book you've been meaning to get around to, speaking up in the team meeting, or striking a few easy items from your to-do list, build self esteem. And people with good self esteem are far more likely to run with experiences, rather than fear them.

2. Fail big. Just don't do it in the presence of other people.

If you're anything like me, you have a marrow-deep "shame" vulnerability. You don't actually mind failing - you mind failing when you're in the presence of other people. Being put in a position where you might stumble and look bad, is simply not an option.We're perfectionists, and we won't allow ourselves to be observed at anything until we've become highly skilled at it.

To a non-shame driven personality, this probably doesn't make any sense. And logically, it doesn't make any sense. Avoiding the risky stuff deprives us of real learning (which we love). It also shuts down ambition, and can leave you feeling empty-handed.

The appropriate response to an "I'm not good enough" fear of failure is to directly face the thing you are afraid of. But fail quietly, when no one is watching. I wrote my first few articles under a pseudonym; I didn't tell a soul I was even writing. I went through the "bad" phase in secret until I became "good." I got to chance my hand at failure - and even learned to relish it! - without the risk of exposure. And that neutralized the fear.

3. Failure is a practical matter. Stop mistaking it for a character flaw.

Rationally, you know that failure has produced many successes. Albert Einstein's grades were so poor a teacher told him to quit school, saying; "Einstein, you will never amount to anything!" Walt Disney was fired by a newspaper editor because, "he lacked imagination and had no good ideas." Henry Ford went broke five times before his motor company succeeded. Would you call any of these men failures? Absolutely not. Why? Because logically, you understand that failing at something a few times is not the same as being a failure. We reserve that label for those who've quit attempting to succeed.

In this prescription for overcoming the fear of failure, you need to stop thinking about failure as a character flaw. Failing is a practical matter; it isn't an emotional one. So rewrite the story. Adopt the mindset of pronoia, not paranoia. You are resourceful, and determined, and spirited. You consider yourself to be very adaptable and you believe there's always something new to learn. These characteristics are primed to work in your favor. How much more confident do you feel when you imagine them helping you to try new things? How much easier is it to take action? How much more likely are you to succeed?

4. Plan. Plan again. Then make a contingency plan.

Nobody loves a stereotype, especially those that have INTJs down as pathologically objective automatons who can't connect with people and don't know how to have fun. But stereotypes, like cliches, exist because they're often true. I don't think it's wildly out of order to suggest that INTJs know their way around a spreadsheet, or that we must look at all available data before embracing an idea.

If there's a specific action you're avoiding, one way to give yourself a reality check is by considering all the potential outcomes of your actions. Write down the things that are making you anxious or uncomfortable, however irrational those fears may be. Use these items as your data points. Because that's all they are - data for running a risk/benefit analysis, and for checking your fears against reality, that can ultimately lead to a plan of action. You might even identify opportunities that you hadn't previously noticed.

After all that analyzing, if you're still afraid of failing at something, having a Plan B, C and D in place can help you feel more confident about moving forward.

5. Never, ever lower the bar for yourself.

The painful consequence of a fear of failure is that it stops you taking risks. So you take pressure off yourself by pretending that you didn't want to do the thing in the first place. "I'm already so busy," you might say to yourself, or "I can't do that because I'm not great with people." Giving yourself an 'out' is a self-defeating cycle. You'll end up setting the bar lower and lower for yourself until you're just shooting for the middle instead of shooting for the top.

A better approach is to raise the bar, and add a little crisis to the situation. Challenge yourself to take action within a superhuman deadline. Make it do or die that you succeed against the odds. Most INTJs are great in a crisis since detachment sets in. Pressure helps us tackle problems with a rational, non-emotional frame of mind, in order to decide the best course of action. There's no precedent to follow in such situations. There's no time for fear!

If you fail in your endeavors, it won't undermine your self-esteem because you were taking a hundred-to-one shot. If you succeed, you'll feel empowered because you did it against the odds.

Wrapping up

For INTJs looking to achieve goals and get out of their comfort zone, the enemy is very likely to be within. You're a perfectionist, and set ridiculously high standards for yourself and others. You're going to take failure personally because it means something to you. Anyone who works hard to present the quality of competence knows this well.

As you've probably figured out, getting what you want in life means taking risks. And risk is mostly about perspective. To reach success, you must quantify the risks, figure out whether you're willing to take them, then move forward without worrying about the consequences. The tips in this article will help you along that path.

I'll be honest. I'm still afraid of failure. The difference is that I'm no longer afraid of trying, and that makes all the difference.

Jayne Thompson

Jayne is a B2B tech copywriter and the editorial director here at Truity. When she’s not writing to a deadline, she’s geeking out about personality psychology and conspiracy theories. Jayne is a true ambivert, barely an INTJ, and an Enneagram One. She lives with her husband and daughters in the UK. Find Jayne at White Rose Copywriting.

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About the Clinical Reviewer

Steven Melendy, PsyD., is a Clinical Psychologist who received his doctorate from The Wright Institute in Berkeley, California. He specializes in using evidence-based approaches in his work with individuals and groups. Steve has worked with diverse populations and in variety of a settings, from community clinics to SF General Hospital. He believes strongly in the importance of self-care, good friendships, and humor whenever possible.


Oyd (not verified) says...

Hi Jayne...

My wife nicknamed me Oyd... She loved nicknames for everyone.

She recently passed away, and this has been a rather emotional experience for me.  

I read your article and what you say is very true to the INTJ.  

I experienced that fear of failure not long ago.  But, after much consideration on what direction I need take next, I realized that in the area that I had been persuing, thanks to my wife... I realized that that direction wasn't my gift to the outside world.  Now, it's a matter of discovering my gift again, you know, that place where you feel the most comfortable and "natural".

Sometimes, reality strikes, and sets you on another path. It's back to the "white board", and anylizing every detail, with some help from good friend's, etc.

Thank you,



Jayne Thompson says...

I’m so sorry for your loss, Oyd. I think that, for INTJs in particular, distressing or unexpected events can act as an 'awakening,' where we open our eyes and really see the big picture. We spend so much time trying to fit in to a world we can’t quite connect with, and planning small details that really don’t matter so much. Having the courage to embrace our intuition and do what feels right, in this very moment, can really help us to reclaim our lives as a total person and look optimistically toward the future.

Ron Decker (not verified) says...

Thank you Jayne... 

It takes time to heal a big wound. So many variables, you know. It's exhausting at times.  

The best part of all...  She's still guiding me.  

I really believe INTJ's feel the pain the deepest.  Their independence drives them away from all the noise so they can ponder.  I love my peace...


Rahul111 (not verified) says...

Nice article. Some points really connected. Thanks. Keep writing for us.

Chris81 (not verified) says...

Dear Jayne,

I loved this article.
Being an INTJ myself, I can totally relate to what you posted.
In fact I was beginning to 'lower the bar' cause at times I doubt that I can overcome my fear of disappointing others, fear of rejection, fear of the unknown, etc.
Your article has 'enlightened' and motivated me to keep on pushing the boundaries further and to keep facing my fears despite of the outcomes.

On a personal note, what do you think is it that 'burns' the INTJs in the 'rat race' / cubicle lifestyle?


Jayne Thompson says...

Hi Chris,

I’m so pleased that you enjoyed the article.

As for burning out in the corporate rat race, I think the major problem for me was feeling so distant from myself. I wanted to dip my fingers into lots of interesting, make-work-a-better-place pies but all the firm cared about was the number of hours I was billing and – by extension – the amount of money the firm was making. This didn’t sit well with me when we were missing clear opportunities for improvement. And I hated that the conformist, self-promoting fakers always won the accolades, and not the truly talented people who weren’t out to exploit a situation for their own personal gain. I had an irrational desire to stamp out this injustice, but karma wasn’t winning out!

This is a great idea for a blog post, though. INTJs do really well in corporate America/Europe, yet many of us hate the experience.  It would be fascinating to explore the disconnect.

Brandon T K (not verified) says...

wow for me, I theorized that the way you described corporate rat race was, I acted in accordance and won accolades but when I got there I realized it was almost not worth it. I realized integrity didn’t go far, at least the place I was in.

Jack K (not verified) says...

Hi Jane

I loved your article, I just found out that I'm an INTJ about 2 month ago and your article sounds like me exactly.  I was a Federal Agent for 18 years and also finally gave it up as I was too tired with the work (60-80 hour weeks).

I have many ambitions but find that I stop myself from persuing them because of the fear of failure.  Instead of going for it, all I think about is the risk of failure.  Your tips are certainly helping me to get over the fear of persuing new career choices. 

JPSI (not verified) says...

This is a fascinating analysis and I definitely appreciate the recommendations made.  I probably would not have fully recognized the wisdom as a young INTJ but with a few decades of professional experience now, it seems absolutely spot on.

Eric Sr 44 says...

I just learned that I’m an INTJ about a year and a half ago. Mind blowing to say the least. Anyway, I found your article to be very helpful because I also have a an issue with failing. It’s not the failure of the project or idea but the other people involved with it who are following my lead that hurts the most. I feel like I let everyone down but of course they don’t think so. For some reason (now I know why) I keep coming up with ideas and projects at my job that no one has ever tried before. I never have this key piece of information ahead of time. I like Tackling the impossible and making meaningful cultural changes but I’m not in a position to make them happen. I’m told that my company isn’t ready for my innovative (simple to me) ideas. When I fail it really takes a toll on me and I just want to be a mountain hermit for a few days but I can’t, so I store it in my many mental boxes. I physically move on but it takes days for my depression to wear off. Funny, that no one notices that I’m depressed except those (very few) that are close to me.  I will use your tips and advice to continue my journey and not be afraid of failure so much. Thank you for sharing. 

StephanB (not verified) says...

I think the article is only partially true. Because we INTJs have such an abstracted, realistic point of view, we know if what we do is acceptable or not. And for small, unimportant things it is true that I avoid going public with something I know to be deficient. On the other hand, if I know something is above average, why holding it back? You may going to be rejected, but that is because those who decide aren't really qualified to judge. And that happened a lot for me.

And while under pressure, it doesn't matter. Unlike other types, INTJ knows when to act and if not acting is not an option because the situation deteriorates, we pick an option and simply do. Preferably an option which allows the most flexibility for later changes, because we can be wrong and that reduces the damage if we fail. So speaking, INTJs aren't really for burning the bridges behind them, only if they are really, really sure to be right.

As a conclusion: I think INTJs plan ahead and don't have a phobia for failing, because they already have a Plan B when Plan A fails. We don't want to shame intentionally - but under pressure, even that doesn't matter. The downside is: If an INTJ really fails and all emergency plans fail in a cascade too, that means a really catastrophic fail and you don't want to be anywhere near it.

More INTJ on (older posts with english translation)

Roel (not verified) says...

Thank you for sharing this Jayne, it's very helpful. As an intj, I have set high bars for achieving dreams many times, but once pressure builds up, I'll try to find ways out to avoid risk. This results in passive behaviour, which is very destructive. Currently, I recognize that I'm repeating the pattern, which is helpful and provides me with the possibility to challenge myself and change the feeling into something actionable and positive. The Risk/benefit analysis exercise and your words will help for sure.

Thank you.



Just an INTJ (not verified) says...

Amazing helped a lot thanks

Stephanie2020 (not verified) says...

Amazing article. Truly amazing tips for those of us INTJs that suffer from so much anxiety. I will take these tips. I want to be better. :) Thank you.

Tazneen (not verified) says...

I am an INTJ (turbulent). I am struggling with this fear of failure problem extremely. Due to this, I keep procrastinating. I don't want to attempt until I become sure that I will be successful in one attempt. Thus I get stuck in the planning and preparation stage. But that doesn't mean I seek safety and security. I can take big challenges and risks. This may sound contradictory. I fear failing in relatively simpler tasks that many other people can do easily. Because I consider it very shameful and can't forgive myself. It is like I am trying to protect my image in front of me. I am not afraid of the penalty of failing, I am afraid of seeing myself as a failure. My risk-taking adventure-loving side and self-conscious side are always in a clash. Is it abnormal for an INTJ? How to overcome this struggle?

J-j (not verified) says...

Thank you for a great article. I'm an INTJ myself and do have a lot of anxiety. I do seldom speak about it, it's hard. It's hard to be vulnerable infort of other people. Even infort of my family and girlfriend. I don't want emotional support/consolation, that dosen't solve (or answer) why I feel as I do. I feel like I'm better off to be quiet about it and take my responsibility to make myself feel better. I don't want to pass that burden off on them. 

I'm working on it though. 

I do try to take risks as much as possible. I'm currently having my own business. Although we have happy customers who praise the products and the company itself (A clothing company), I'm still anxious that some customer will have a defect product delivered, have some issues with the product, blame us for being a bad company etc. I know it's sound silly but I'm really overthinking stuff which brings the anxiety to life. 

Unfortunately that sometimes makes it hard to marketing the company as well as take some risks as I overthink the outcome. The anxiety lowers my confidence which in turns makes me skip or procrastinate. Or just remain silent instead of sharing my idea with among new people/group of people I'm not confident with.  

I think my biggest obstacle is the fear of handle emotions (humans...). I overthink how people will react and respond to different situations, often with negative outcome. Of course, almost everything turns out great and the negative thoughts remain just thoughts. However, it dosen't change the way I feel about it. 

It feels good to write about it in a forum with likeminded people. Few people really understands us and the solutions they suggests are often crap. Thank you for reading.

Have a great day and make sure to live the life you want to live, even if it not that easy everyday. 



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