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.
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.