Fear of failure

22 September 2017Matt Hilton

I've spoken before about struggles with procrastination, and how striving for perfection often leads to paralysis and inaction. This struggle was all the more pronounced during my stint in tech recruiting - what I didn't realise before I started: recruiting is in some ways very much like sales.

The thought of cold outreach to potential candidates struck fear into my heart when I was first getting started. I hated it. Having been on the other side of the fence, being assaulted weekly with unsolicited InMails offering jobs that didn't really align to my skills, I was terrified of becoming what I loathed. This fear was compounded by my love of Readify's culture, resulting in a paralysing fear of failure in outreach efforts. I was so worried that I would say the wrong thing and forever mess up a candidate's view of Readify, that I chose instead to do nothing at all.

I avoided these outreach efforts like the plague. The little that I did do, I spent so long trying to craft the most perfect, personalised, infallible outreach text, that every communication I sent took literally hours to write. If I even got it done at all.

The problem I've discovered however, is this:

If you take action to move towards a goal, there's a very real chance you'll mess it up and not achieve the desired outcome. But, there's also the chance that you'll succeed. If you take no action, you're guaranteed not to achieve it.

Now, there's a caveat here. In this mode of thinking, I'm referring to proactive strategic action, where you want to change the equilibrium of your existing system. For example:

  • You want to start a new consulting practice
  • You currently have no clients
  • You have nothing in place to tell your clients about the value you can provide

The existing equilibrium of your marketing system brings in zero leads, and that's not likely to change on its own. Doing nothing in this situation is a guarantee that you'll fail, because you need to take proactive action to change the equilibrium point of your sales leads system.

This is vastly different to a conscious choice not to take reactive tactical action responding to a disruption to an existing system. For example:

  • You have an existing consulting practice with many happy clients
  • Word of mouth and a successful content marketing strategy usually bring 5 leads in each month
  • In November, no leads come in :(

You could reactively spam your whole client list to try to drum up more business, but chances are you'll just piss a whole bunch of people off without achieving too much. In all likelihood, it's just a quiet month, and your existing systems will come back to equilibrium on their own.

Proactive, strategic action is very different to reactive, tactical action. Do the first one.

The experience I had as a recruiter is currently helping me to push through the paralysing fear I'm currently having of reaching out to people in my network to ask for referrals for work. I'm so terrified that all I'll do is piss a bunch of people off. However, I know that my current system will not change without proactive strategic action. By being thoughtful about who I reach out to, how I phrase my messages, confidently communicating the value I hope to provide (vs perception of money gouging), and taking the time to personalise the message, there's a strong chance that taking this kind of action will lead to a positive result.

I don't think that cold outreach is the best (or only) way to sell: word-of-mouth is so much stronger. And it still gives me a jolt of fear thinking about the prospect of sending those messages/emails. But, the laws of the universe dictate that if I do nothing, nothing's going to change. It's uncomfortable as hell. But I'm going to stop procrastinating and do it anyway :)