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Fear of failure

Recent Legatum Center workshop discusses fear, and examines ways to overcome it in entrepreneurial pursuits.
The typical MIT student has experienced high levels of success: In academic endeavors, MIT students excel in using methods that employ experimentation, logical reasoning and critical analyses measured by trial and error. However, in personal and professional endeavors, they sometimes lack experience with failure, which may make MIT students hesitant to take risks. This is particularly true when it comes to becoming an entrepreneur, entering an environment where the lines of the professional world are often intermixed with the founder's personal network and the measure of success is often tied to a willingness to take risks.

In a recent workshop conducted by Will Guyster, fellowship manager at the Legatum Center for Development and Entrepreneurship, students were asked to discuss their fear of failure. The students participating in the workshop were Legatum Fellows, who represent a growing sector of entrepreneurs who see opportunity in the explosive growth of low-income countries.

Legatum Fellows are preparing to work in emerging economies where they will need to overcome technical challenges, poor governance, limited infrastructure and pessimistic investors. Often, they will also need to convince their families, society and themselves that their investment in a non-corporate route to success will be well-spent. In doing so, they need to move forward with confidence. Will Guyster's workshop and subsequent brainstorming by the Legatum Fellows produced recommendations to help confront the fears that beset innovators and aspiring entrepreneurs. Their suggestions highlight the importance of three critical areas: networking, personal reflection and solid preparation.

  • Share. Share your plans, ideas and aspirations. Feedback is instructive and quells self-doubt;
  • Collaborate. Build a team. Share the work and avoid the loneliness that feeds fear of failure;
  • Stretch. Go beyond your established network. Create new connections to instill confidence.
  • Examine. Spend time understanding your aspirations. Then, focus on goals within your reach;
  • Admire. Study successful entrepreneurs. Understand the benefits of both success and failure;
  • Be humble. Leave pride aside. Ask for help. Be open to suggestions from myriad resources.
  • Outsource. No one excels in all areas. Doing everything yourself is unrealistic and worrisome;
  • Plan. Putting a plan in place will minimize risk and help you structure your steps to success;
  • Learn. Prepare to learn from both success and failure. If you fail, be prepared to start again.

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