Becoming free from the fear of failure
he Fear of Failure is one of the most common restraints that holds people back from pursuing great ideas. Imagine if we could become totally free from the fear of failure. Imagine what we could then manifest and create. In this interview series, we are talking to leaders who can share stories and insights from their experience about “Becoming Free From the Fear of Failure.” As a part of this series, I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Nick Prefontaine.
Nick Prefontaine was named a top motivational speaker of 2022 in Yahoo Finance. He’s a Speaker, Founder and CEO of Common Goal a company that inspires and leads motivated people to their common goal. Their Mission is to provide people with the support and tools to achieve their limitless potential. Nick’s been featured in Brainz Media, Swaay and Authority Magazine.
Thank you so much for joining us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’?
I’m originally from Shrewsbury, MA which is a town about 70 miles west of Boston. I have 1 younger sister. I can’t remember ever being associated with a particular group or “cliche” when I was growing up. I was kind of friends with everyone. I grew up in a great neighborhood where everyone was roughly the same age. I was outside every time that I wasn’t at school or in sports. I had just come off a run of doing a lot of club team soccer. I needed a break. It was training and at practice all the time. So much so that when I got to my 8th grade year, I told my parents that I wanted to take a season off and focus on spending time with my friends and snowboarding. I absolutely loved snowboarding and couldn’t wait to give it 100% of my focus. Fast forward to February 5th of that season and I was at ski club with my friends. On the first run of the day the chairlift went right over the terrain park where all the jumps were. I knew as soon as I saw it that I had to hit the biggest jump in the terrain park. There wasn’t even a moment of thinking, “Should I do it or maybe I shouldn’t.” I knew that I was going to hit that jump. I buckled into my snowboard, took a breath of that crisp, winter air and confidently charged towards that jump with all my speed. Going up to the jump I caught the edge of my snowboard and that was the last thing that I remember. The doctors told my parents that I probably wouldn’t walk, talk or eat on my own ever again. It was my goal from as early as I could communicate that I was going to run out of the hospital. We made sure that all of my doctors and therapists were aware of my goal. We had weekly meetings with all of them to set individual goals to keep me pulling toward our common goal of running out of the hospital. Less than 3 months after I had gotten into my accident I realized my goal of running out of the hospital. I had to go to outpatient therapy for another 6 months along with being tutored all summer long in order to graduate 8th grade. After I graduated high school I got my real estate license in March of 2008 (I know a great time to be in real estate). I’ve been involved in real estate in one form or fashion my entire life. Part of that is speaking at our annual events that we hold and telling my story. The last time that we had a live in person event was 3 years ago in September of 2019. Someone came up to me after I spoke and said that she can point me in the right direction if I ever wanted to focus on motivational speaking. She introduced me to my mentor Tricia Brouk in May of 2021 and I have been working with her ever since. Without Tricia I wouldn’t have been able to deconstruct my internal process that I’ve used to overcome and succeed throughout my entire life. We’re so grateful at Common Goal to be able to share that with the world.
Can you share with us the most interesting story from your career? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take aways’ you learned from that?
2 years after my accident I picked up a book off of the shelf in my Dad’s library, Cashflow Quadrant by Robert Kiyosaki. This really started to get my wheels turning. I previously had a mobile car washing business where I would drive around to neighbors houses and detail their cars. So you could say that I was already entrepreneurial. I got the idea from that book to get involved in real estate. That was all that I knew growing up. My Dad was a real estate investor at the time. His company was having someone knock on people’s doors that had received a “Notice of Default,” or N.O.D. letter from the bank. This letter stated that they had defaulted on their loan and that the bank was going to foreclose on a date in the future and take their property back. I was just 16 and getting my driver’s license. I thought this would be the perfect way to start. I was given a script, a list of homes and a pamphlet that I was to leave with the homeowners. Trying it on my own with no training I had very little success on a good day. I got a lot of doors slammed in my face. Then my cousin and I flew out to San Diego, CA to shadow the #1 person in the country. He was doing so many different things then I was. He was having success where as I wasn’t. I made adjustments when I got back home from observing him. That is a strategy to help these people that were clearly in a distressed situation having missed payments on their loans. It was a great illustration that we all have walls up when we’re dealing with something that is new or foreign to us. It also really helped me to learn about people. How you can’t fully expect to help them until they realize that you’re on their side.
You are a successful leader. Which three character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success? Can you please share a story or example for each?
- Being Cooperative. You have to work well with others. Anything that I’ve accomplished in my life I have been cooperative and this has allowed me to work well with others. The way that I approach anything is with having a sense of humor. This makes being cooperative fun and easy.
- Being Coachable. The way that you can be coachable is by having blind faith and being in integrity. I had blind faith in my therapists that what they were telling me to do was going to work. When I agreed to any exercise they told me to do I was following it through to completion.
- Being persistent. After getting Botox injections into my throat for over 6 years I was a little frustrated that I still needed to get them. After only 3 months from getting my previous injection it was already wearing out and my voice was tightening again. I was persistent in that I scheduled another treatment even though I had typically been able to go 6 months between injections. That Botox injection turned out to be my last one because I was persistent.
Ok, thank you for all that. Now let’s shift to the main focus of this interview. We would like to explore and flesh out the concept of becoming free from failure. Let’s zoom in a bit. From your experience, why exactly are people so afraid of failure? Why is failure so frightening to us?
Fear of failure can become all that we think about and can rob us from living a fulfilling life. It’s not a good feeling. No one likes to be afraid of anything.
What are the downsides of being afraid of failure? How can it limit people?
Being afraid of failure can steal away the limited time that we all have. It limits you by always having you in your head worrying when you should be devoted to dealing with what is in front of you. Being present and in the moment. If you’re always in your head worrying about failure you are not able to show up and be your best self. Whether that is at work, home or even on vacation. If you’re afraid of failure chances are that even though you are “home” from “work,” you’ll still be there in your head (or on your phone). It robs your friends and family of experiencing the full “you,” 100% of you.
In contrast, can you help articulate a few ways how becoming free from the fear of failure can help improve our lives?
When you are free from the fear of failure you get to focus on what you want to bring into your life. Your friends and family also get 100% of your attention when you’re with them. This is a big one and I think that it has the potential to save a lot of relationships where people drift apart. Becoming free of the fear of failure can also bring more health and abundance into our lives.
We would love to hear your story about your experience dealing with failure. Would you be able to share a story about that with us?
I can go back to what was a very tumultuous time for me and that was the end of 2012. I was a Realtor and had just had my best year to date. Truth be told it was due to the fear of failure. I would prospect on the phone for new business for 2–4 hours/day. I was willing to do what most agents wouldn’t because I knew that it would result in more business. In April of 2012 I had the idea that I should be yelling my scripts before I got on the phone to prospect for new business. Looking back on it the whole reason that I received this idea was because I was afraid of failure. I was pushing myself to do this because I was afraid of failure. As time went on the yelling became screaming and after 6 months of this my body said, “No more.” I started to look everywhere for answers. I got strategies for dealing with the problem but nothing that I ever did was fixing it. After exhausting all of my options I was finally referred to a voice specialist in Boston in 2013.
I was blown away when the voice specialist walked in the room, heard me speak, and right away nonchalantly said, “Oh that. Ya we deal with that all the time. We will get it fixed in no time. Go see the front desk and schedule a Botox injection in a couple weeks.” Shocked. I was sold. Hook, line and sinker. I got scheduled and for the next 7 years I received Botox injections. Working with his voice therapists allowed me to retrain my throat muscles back to how they were before I developed any issues. You see, those 6 months that I was SCREAMING through my scripts had annihilated the muscles in my throat. New muscles had grown back over the course of a year as my body’s response to deal with that. I now had to work with Dr. Song’s team to break down those layers of muscle and retrain myself to grow the right ones and speak (again).
If anyone had told me, “you have to do something for seven years”, this would have been completely overwhelming. And because I took one step at a time, I have my voice back. For the second time.
Did “failure” at getting my voice back ever cross my mind? I’m human of course so I’m sure there were a few points between August of 2012 and August of 2013 that the thought of failure crossed my mind. Now that I’m on the other side I am not going to pretend that it didn’t exist. I just didn’t acknowledge it. I know for sure that there were times when I tried to pin the speech therapist down for confirmation that I would get my voice back exactly like I had before I developed any issues. She wouldn’t give me the answer that I was looking for. For liability reasons she couldn’t. As frustrated as I was, that made me realize that the belief that I would regain my perfect speaking voice had to come from inside of me. No one else was going to give that to me. That can be a lesson for all of us in all matters of life. No one is going to do it for you and no one is going to believe in you like yourself.
How did you rebound and recover after that? What did you learn from this whole episode? What advice would you give to others based on that story?
Wow, that is a super interesting question. There is so much growth that took place between 2012 and my last treatment of 2020. Prior to this setback I can’t say that I was a good writer. I was always a good communicator and that was always by spoken word. Either in person or on the phone. Written communication was just never a focus for me, because it didn’t have to be. Now I can say that I’m an excellent all-around communicator and enjoy all mediums because I know that I can effectively communicate my message. Secondly it made me learn how exactly the voice works and how to use the breath to properly support the voice. When my voice was at its worst and I was really struggling with a lot of effort to get the words out, I knew that I needed to be sharing my message with the world. That is exactly what I’m doing with our work at Common Goal.
Fantastic. Here is the main question of our interview. In your opinion, what are 5 steps that everyone can take to become free from the fear of failure”? Please share a story or an example for each.
- It’s difficult to be worrying about the fear of failure when you are always on the lookout for humor. Regardless of what I am doing, I am always looking for how I can inject humor into any and all situations. I feel like it is a part of my DNA. It’s who I am. When you are always on the lookout for “what is funny about this situation,” it eliminates fear of failure. It also will allow you to overcome any setback or challenge. Humor not only helped me to run out of the hospital but it’s also what helped me to overcome a voice challenge 10 years later.
S.T.E.P. is an acronym that I unknowingly used throughout my life to overcome any challenge or setback and I’d like to share that with you today. Since we created it at Common Goal I can view ANYTHING through that lens and it helps to see it clearly.
- Support. Make sure that you have the support of your family and friends. This frees up so much of your mental energy to focus on accomplishing your objective. It might sound overly simplistic but this very act of getting everyone on board at the start can save you hours and hours of actual time, worry and frustration in the future. When you line up your support early on in any endeavor it allows you to be free from the fear of failure.
- Trust. Trust that the next step will make itself available to you once you take your first step. This also starts by trusting yourself. Trust that there is a reason that you have this desire or calling inside of you. And follow it. The mind can only focus on one thing at a time so when you trust that next step will ALWAYS make itself available to you, you become free from the fear of failure.
- Energy. In order to show up in the world and be fully present and available for others you need to have your energy. If you don’t take care of “you,” (health, diet, exercise) how can you take care of and affect others? The time that we are not operating at our best is usually the times when we are not taking care of our energy. It also becomes very easy for the fear of failure to sneak in when our energy is down. Take care of yourself and your energy and keep the fear of failure out of your head.
- Persistence. Once you’ve taken that first step, keep getting up every day and taking the next step. No matter how small. By continuing to move forward every day you are building an unstoppable momentum. When I was doing the minimal work that was required of me, I was making progress and then became addicted to the feedback of improving. This made being persistent easy and attainable. It is something that we all need to cultivate.
The famous Greek philosopher Aristotle once said, “It is possible to fail in many ways…while to succeed is possible only in one way.” Based on your experience, have you found this quote to be true? What do you think Aristotle really meant?
Certainly when he said this was a different time and place. I realize that a lot of quotes from philosophers are timeless and I just think that this one must have been misinterpreted. I would love to know the context of what he was talking about. I think that would really clear it up for me. This question seems like a lose-lose proposition. On one hand if I disagree I am disagreeing with a great ancient Greek philosopher. There has to be bad juju with that! On the other hand, saying there is only one answer makes me sound like an unreasonable school teacher. In life there is always more than one correct answer and more than one way to get there. In the classroom there is not more than 1 answer.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the greatest amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)
One Step at a time.
The only step that is more important than the next step is your first step. Take the first step, no matter how small, and your next step will always become available to you.
We are blessed that some very prominent leaders read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US, with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them :-)
All people, regardless of how prominent a leader they are, have flaws. Don’t put anyone up on a pedestal because you don’t know the whole story of what is going on in their lives, only what they want you to see.
For that reason I can’t say that I have a craving to meet anyone. I follow the energy, if I’m meant to meet that person then I will.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
You can find me on LinkedIn.com/NickPrefontaine
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for the time you spent on this. We wish you only continued success.
About This Contributor
Moving through any life crisis by taking the first step
CEO and Founder of Common Goal