The Greatest Threat to Your Success: And Why It’s Not What You Think

Brian Johnson
5 min readApr 15, 2021

There are often many threats to our success in life, but they aren’t all equal in their actual impact on our lives. That’s because there is one threat that is, from every objective measure, a deadly killer to your success.

In fact, this threat left untreated is one that over time, has killed more dreams and more careers than any other combination of threats combined.

Over the years I’ve identified many threats and obstacles to success that need to be overcome. Anyone who’s ever done a decent SWAT analysis can easily identify most of them. Except when it comes to this deadly threat, it often goes unnoticed, unmentioned, and unrecognized for years in our lives.

The uncomfortable truth is that even if we suspect it, we won’t even talk about it, let alone address it. In fact, it is often a distraction from dealing with the more common threats we face like the economy, competition, a status quo attitude, and lack of focus. None of which comes even close to the negative impact that this killer threat has on. Our lives.

I’m speaking of course of the threat known as The Fear of Failure. Doesn’t seem so bad if I just lay it out there in a sentence, does it?

But make no mistake, this simple little threat is to your career what smoking is to your life; Deadly! Not at first, of course, but over time, in ways big and small, this threat kills your success and your career and anything else you hold dear.

So why is it that this one ‘little’ fear is so deadly, so pernicious and so destructive? The fear of failure is insidious because it’s largely in your imagination. And as a result, it more often than not prevents you from even trying in the first place, which guarantees failure, ad infinitum.

One thing that may be interesting to note is that small children have no real concept of failure. They couldn’t care less if they fail to do something. They just try again. There are no negative thoughts or emotions involved. They just keep on going.

I recall years ago I was teaching small children in a local community center basic computer skills. Looking back, it was literally the easiest possible thing to do. Basically, I’d give them instructions and they’d just bang out on the keyboard all sorts of different commands and click on wrong buttons and then somehow figure out how to get back to the beginning and start all over again.

It was as if they were trying not to do things “the right way.” But in doing it their way, they learned so many different things trying to fix their ‘mistakes.’ I actually envied their attitude. They learned so fast because they weren’t afraid to push buttons.

Now, on the other hand, when I taught adults who weren’t previously exposed to computers as children it was totally different. Adults were often frozen at the keyboard desperately afraid of hitting the wrong button which they imagined would somehow blow up the hard drive.

They’d actually nervously wait for me to come by their desk just to make sure they were clicking on the right button with their mouse.

I used to think about how crazy that was until I realized how often I exhibited that exact same behavior in many other aspects of my life and career. How many times had I sat frozen at the keyboard of life afraid to take the next step because of the fear of making a mistake, the fear of doing something wrong, the fear of not knowing the outcome… the fear of failure.

Very often I’ve contemplated to myself, when did I start to fear failure so much? Why is it such a small thing but then also the biggest threat?

I don’t know that I’ve ever discovered a satisfactory answer to those meditative questions, but I do know that when necessary, I have been able, at times, to adopt the fearlessly wonderful attitude of a small child and discern the difference between fear and danger.

I’ve discovered that it might not be possible to go recapture the mentality of a toddler, but you can definitely come close.

Ultimately, what I’ve learned is that the fear of failure doesn’t have to impact your life significantly.

Consider these facts:

  1. Failure is temporary — unless you quit. Failure isn’t final unless you give up. All the most successful people have experienced a lot of failures. But they ended up being successful precisely because they didn’t quit. Failure is just a temporary state that means nothing because it’s only temporary.
  2. Failure is common. You’ve failed thousands of times and managed to survive. Consider how many times you failed to walk or to talk well. Babies have constant failure.

Successful people fail all of the time. It’s a huge part of how human beings learn. We realize that our approach didn’t work, we adjust, and we try again.

  1. Failure is educational. You can learn something from every single one of your failures. Failure makes you more knowledgeable and capable. The more you fail, the stronger you become.
  2. Others are far less concerned about your failure than you think. A few people might notice your failure, but they quickly turn their attention back on themselves and their own challenges.

● There’s nothing to worry about. Feel free to fail as much as necessary. Fail enough and you’ll quickly see that no one relevant cares.

  1. Focus on how great it will be when you succeed. Instead of worrying about possible failure, consider possible success. Make yourself feel excited and positive about taking action.

● With high enough expectations, you’ll do just about anything without worrying about failure.

  1. Redirect your thoughts. Put your attention on what you’re doing. If a negative outcome isn’t going to cause any real harm, forget about the outcome. Stay focused on your actions or something positive. Thinking about failing will freeze you in your tracks.
  2. Consider the cost of doing nothing. Taking action might be a little scary, but what will happen if you do nothing?

● What will you feel about failing to take action?

● What if you’re stuck in your current life for the next decade or more?

● Maybe taking a risk is far more attractive than remaining where you are.

What would you do if you weren’t afraid of failing? Probably a lot more than you’re currently doing! How much has the fear of failure limited your life?

We’ve all allowed the fear of failure to influence our decisions. We’ve allowed this fear to stop us from trying new things or taking risks. We all have smaller lives than we could because we’re too concerned with what others think.

Rejecting the fear of failure is one of the greatest things you can do for your future!

And the best part is that you can start today.

What are you going to do today that you’ve been afraid to try?

To your success!



Brian Johnson

Technology Innovation Strategist & Change Manager: Influencing and helping others to reach their full potential through intentional improvement.