How to Move Past Our Fear of Failure

Imagine this. You realize you want to do this one thing, you have a dream, but instead of pursuing it, you do other things. Maybe it’s related. Maybe you procrastinate. You dream of writing a book, but you don’t think you’re ‘literary enough’ so you stick to writing marketing copy. You want to create a line of toys, but you think it will upset your parents so you remain in the family business. You want to launch a new product, but stick to the tried-and-tested because you’re certain that at least those will sell. Each one of us, to a certain degree, is afraid of failing. Some choose to be brave and do it even if they’re scared. Others need a bit more prodding. 

Fear of failure, when it’s this “constant, overwhelming feeling of dread” every time we pursue a goal or undertake a project is called atychiphobia. We can also call it the cause of death of creativity or the voice of our perfectionist self telling us we might not succeed in it, so why make the effort at all? 

Does it have to be perfect?

“Most of us are conditioned to be perfectionists,” says Marvz Conti of Studio Habil, who makes moss wall art pieces and bespoke moss terrariums. “Society can sometimes tell us that you need to do something perfect in order for people to like it. There is that fear of failure [that] can hinder us from starting something.” 

For Studio Haebi’s Hannah Armada, who makes cute enamel pins, her greatest hurdle came in the “in-between phase.” She admits that having a perfectionist trait or fear of failure made her hesitate a lot in releasing new products. “I had the mentality of ‘if I make this, I want it to succeed as much as my other products.’ I wanted to maintain where I was and wasn’t as eager to take risks compared to how I was at the start.”

Both Marvz and Hannah, and most other creatives would tell you that the fear and the apprehension will always be there in any creative journey. As Elizabeth Gilbert writes in Big Magic, fear marches right alongside creativity. How do we move forward in spite of it? Common Room makers share with us what they’ve done, what they still do to continue to create even when perfectionism and fear tell them otherwise.

1. A little soul searching.

In a previous interview with Hannah over the rebranding of Studio Haebi that left her hurt, she had to take time to go back to her why and was advised to create a new collection. She did her homework. And then she stalled. She already had an idea but she couldn’t start on them. She realized that the greater problem was she was too afraid of it not being perfect and that she had to work on that. 

“I’m still struggling with it. But I took some time to do a bit of soul searching. I took a short course related to music and worship—church related things—and took a break to grow as a person,” Hannah shares.

“As makers and creatives, it is very important for us to feel our feelings,” Marvz says. “As much as possible, I would try to pinpoint specific words that describe how I feel at a particular moment.”

2. Changing your mindset.

Being able to articulate what you’re feeling—and not denying it—helps to make that shift in terms of how you think. 

After she took a break to do some soul searching, Hannah realized that she wanted to keep her business, she wanted to keep creating. “I needed a better mindset, which is to go back to making things I myself would love and finding contentment in that. That’s the first step forward I’m taking.”

She had to let go of the crazy expectations she had always set for herself. While she reminded herself that the fear and uncertainty would still be there, Hannah realized she had to face the challenge before her in a different way. “That if I try the idea instead of not even trying because of fear, that’s already better than where I was. And I can take another step forward from there.”

3. There are people you can count on.

Stationery artist Jamaica Verceles of Paperaica Shop used to be afraid that her new designs would not be good enough and she’d disappoint customers. One of the ways she overcame her fears was by reaching out to her loyal supporters and other makers for advice. “I also tell my family and close friends beforehand and let them test my products.”

For Daniel Ubas and Viktoria Laguyo of Krete Manila, recognizing the power of the audience and community you’ve built around your products is essential. “Amidst fears of not selling our new product or having to close shop, we must remember that we have a loyal and supportive customer base.” 

For the two industrial designers, trusting their audience meant acknowledging that there will always be people who believe in their vision and their craftsmanship. “Having trust in our audience empowers us to overcome our fears and reminds us that we are not alone in our journey as makers.”

4. Show up every day. Create.

The fear of failing is real, because failure is real. “Fear cannot be removed,” says Popjunklove’s Maan Agsalud when talk about starting your own venture comes up. 

“Failure is an inevitable part of the creative process,” adds Marvz. So what do you do? “Show up every day and do something, even the small mundane tasks. I would remind myself to create because I love doing it. This will take failure or success out of the equation because the goal was simply to create.”  

The main goal is not for the piece you want to create to make you famous, rich, or earn the respect of your family or peers. You strip away all that to remove all those expectations and you’re left with the act of creating. The act that—we sometimes have to remind ourselves amidst the fear and perfectionism—gives us joy and delight. Maan reminds us of the words in the lightbox of a Common Room store, words from an impressionist artist. “‘What if I fall? Oh but my darling, what if you fly?’ What if your idea flies right?” 


Words by Mabel David-Pilar 
Mabel has been a writer and editor for many publications, including shelter and food titles and a book on the most endangered Philippine trees. She spends most of her time writing, illustrating, stalking Common Room’s online shop, and making ferments. Together with her sisters, she co-created to celebrate fermenting in the Philippines.