Remember when you were a kid and your parents told you anything was possible? The sky was the limit, they said, and you believed them. Being cut from the soccer team, setting fire to your chemistry set, getting turned down by your kindergarten crush — no setback was damning enough to shake your confidence or destroy your faith in the future.
But a funny thing happens as you get older. When faced with a big challenge, you can become paralyzed by self-doubt because you’re afraid of failing. And when you do try and things don’t work out, bouncing back from failure is harder than it used to be.
Asking out the cute girl (or guy) at the coffee shop feels more daunting after a few heartbreaks, and going after a big promotion seems like an embarrassment waiting to happen after being passed over once.
Our setbacks make us fearful. Some people plow through those fears, driving through doubt like a runaway train. Others become prisoners of their own anxieties and stop living their lives because of it.
This failure-to-launch cycle comes in varying degrees. Some have a hard time getting through simple tasks like calling someone on the phone; others are fully functioning in society, just not at the level they want to be.
If you’re caught in the failure-to-launch loop of self-doubt, fear, and low self-esteem, there’s a way out. You’ll have to put in some emotional work and be willing to step outside your comfort zone, but you can do it if you’re willing to try.
Prepare for Takeoff
Here are the steps for overcoming the failure to launch once and for all:
1. Create accountability. It doesn’t matter if it’s a friend, your mentor, or a romantic partner — choose someone who will push you to follow through on your goals and call you out when you don’t.
2. Exercise. A healthy, active body is directly linked to a healthy, happy mind. Start by taking the stairs instead of the elevator or biking to work. When you’re active, you’ll feel sexier, more alive, and more willing to challenge yourself.
3. Be honest. Own your strengths and your weaknesses, and don’t be afraid to set personal boundaries. The more straightforward you are with yourself, the more likely you are to cultivate honest, healthy relationships that enhance your life.
4. Socialize. We’re social creatures, and being around other people makes us feel needed, appreciated, and loved. If you decide to sit at home and watch TV on a Friday night, you know how that’s going to end: with you crying over “Downton Abbey” all by yourself. If your roommates or friends invite you to a party this weekend, go! If you prefer a less intense get-together, book clubs or lunch with a friend are also great, low-key ways to connect with people.
5. Practice mindfulness. Don’t let regrets about the past or worries about the future cast a shadow on the here and now. Being present helps you get more out of life and feel more positive in general.
6. Educate yourself. Developing a skill boosts your confidence and makes you happier in the long run. Take advantage of online resources to study an interest you’ve been toying with. You’ll boost your self-esteem and gain respect from others.
Everyone has their hang-ups. Take my friend, Vinny, for instance. He was a 22-year-old guy from a good family, but he struggled with depression, anxiety, and a lack of motivation. When I met him, he wasn’t even comfortable talking on the phone and would only communicate through email or text. Vinny was a talented guitar player, but no one knew how much he had to offer because he was too intimidated to perform.
Unwilling to spend the rest of his life on the sidelines, Vinny started putting in work to develop his confidence. A guy who was once too shy to pull out his guitar for a small audience now plays open-mic nights and has performed in front of hundreds of people.
There are a lot of Vinnys in the world — people who are holding themselves back because they’re scared but who actually have unlimited value to offer. If you’re one of them, listen up: Nothing will change until not achieving becomes more uncomfortable than putting yourself back in the game.
Taking risks is scary. But isn’t spending your life feeling trapped and unfulfilled even scarier? Channel your negative or anxious energy into exercising, learning a new skill, or just hanging out with a friend. Small steps make a huge difference in your self-perception, and that’s the key to reaching your greatest potential.
Matthew Arrington is the executive director and co-founder of Forte Strong, the world’s first failure-to-launch program for men who struggle to leave their parents’ home or find it difficult to become independent. Forte Strong uses a proprietary coaching model to help students find purpose and direction, guide parents and families in empowering their sons, and ultimately create a healthier family dynamic. Matthew currently resides in sunny St. George, Utah.