Mary Deming Barber

What You Can Learn from a PR Pro’s Fear of Failure

By: Mary Deming Barber | March 13, 2018 | 

PR pro fear of failureTrue confession: I am a 40-year PR pro, and I have a fear of failure.

You read that correctly.

Even after doing this for nearly 40 years and winning more local and national awards than I could have ever dreamed.

Even after spending years working successfully on exciting and challenging programs.

Even after receiving national recognition as a senior PR pro.

Even after all of that, I have rediscovered fear. The fear of failure, more accurately.

More to the point, fear has kept me from taking on a new venture which I should be able to do in my sleep.

When I mentioned this to Gini Dietrich, she thought I was being silly, but asked me to write about it because she hears this regularly.

And the intellectual part of me agrees. It’s almost laughable. I’ve done this before.

I started to investigate more and talk with others.

Traditionally, we think of young professionals as being afraid rather than seasoned pros.

I do a lot of mentoring and have had numerous conversations with students about their fears as they get closer to graduation, or are moving from a first job to a second job.

I expect that.

But when talking with peers, we aren’t as open about what keeps us awake at night professionally.

My theory is this: new or younger professionals are afraid of the unknown, while seasoned professionals (I refuse to call us “old”) are afraid of what we know.

We’ve been through a lot and know what can go wrong.

We understand the risks and the obstacles.

Fear of Failure Comes from the Unknown

Recent graduates are afraid they won’t measure up to other’s expectations.

It’s understandable. Remember when we were in their shoes?

One particular protégé was afraid she wouldn’t be able to learn everything she needed to know before graduation.

What would she do if she got a job she didn’t know how to do?

This over-achiever is now excelling in her first job because she’s permitted herself to accept that she doesn’t know everything.

I regularly coach students and new professionals to keep learning and never be afraid to ask questions.

I encourage them to get out and meet people, to build relationships, and to grow a circle of people who will support them.

Continuing education is critical for everyone, but especially this age group.

And From the Known

But what about experienced professionals?

How can we deal with this irrational (most likely) fear routed in so much experience?

I started looking at how to get myself beyond this quandary and to the point where I can push the start button.

Not surprisingly when I think about it, my process takes the same path I take with my clients: research and planning, strategy, and tactics.

I also am doing some reading and networking, as well as, reminding (aka-encouraging) and reinforcing what I know and have learned.

Finally,…push that button.

Do Your Research and Don’t Fail to Plan

Every new venture needs a plan.

And we wouldn’t let our clients do anything without one, so that’s where I’m starting, too.

For me, the Spin Sucks 30-Day Communications Challenge provides the perfect framework for putting together a plan.

True confession: I’m not done yet, but this 30-step program is broken into small bites of decisions about your business (or client).

Those who participated last year told me that if you stick to your plan, it works. I can already see it will.

It’s a good balance of research, planning, digital and traditional tactical exercises, and lots of solid information.

There are other ways to create a plan for your business, but this critical step is needed before you start.

Or simply, if you don’t know where you’re going.

Read for Success

Regardless of where you are in your career, you’re likely inundated with the changes happening daily in our profession.

It’s important to continually read trade publications, blogs, and social sites that can help you stay abreast of these changes.

At the same time, realize you won’t know how to do everything and cultivate a list of people who can help.

Some sources I enjoy reading and learning from are:

There are lots of people out there providing good advice.

Find the ones that resonate with you and give you the insights you need.

I’ve found I can’t regularly read more than four or five without falling behind. So don’t be afraid to unsubscribe.

Prepare a list of reading in your specialty or niche as well, so you are aware of trends and activity happening there, too.

Networking is Critical

As I flesh out my plan, I’m making decisions on the types of people I want to have on my virtual team.

They’ll be a big part of my success.

And it’s important I understand how they’ll fit in, and that they are aware of my expectations.

I am also reaching out to people I know in my niche to ask for their help.

Because I have spent 40 years building relationships, I know it’s not the same as creating new relationships, and we’ve all helped each other over the years.

It’s another reminder of the power of well-maintained relationships.

Genuine care and feeding results in long-term professional and personal friendships.

Although I’m an agency of one, I do remind myself I’m not alone.

Alone in my office or alone in my fears and concerns.

Joining conversations in the Spin Sucks community and the private Solo PR Facebook group, these are two places where I get great information.

Because it takes a village these days to do just about anything!

Reminders and Reinforcement are Key

I have a playlist in my head of all the supportive reinforcement many of my colleagues, friends, and spouse have given me.

My colleagues and their replayed messages help remind me I can do this.

As I get close to pushing that publish button, I play them more regularly in my head.

A PR Pro Can’t Be Afraid to Just Do it

Nothing more really needs to be said here. At a certain point…soon…I must move forward and do this.

Finally, I may be alone in admitting my fear of failure this publicly, but I know I’m not the only one afraid of failure.

About Mary Deming Barber

Mary Deming Barber is a strategic communications/PR professional who understands how to integrate new media into traditional communication programs. Mary has worked with a variety of commodity boards, companies, and agencies during her nearly 40 years in the industry. After 23 years in Alaska, she returned to Washington state where she's enjoying the area and especially being closer to family.