Everyone lives with demons. Some are real, but most are imagined. It can be used as a weapon, but when the demon isn’t tamed, it becomes an enemy. The enemy haunts until confronted, gaining more power.  It’s difficult to perform with confidence in a weakened condition. Soon, insecurity can cause even the most confident personalities to become a victim of the demon. For most, the demon is fear of failure.

Fear of failure is the archenemy of winning personalities. Other than lack of talent, it’s the #1 thing that prevents a show from reaching its full potential.

Fear is defined as:

An unpleasant emotion caused by the belief that someone or something is dangerous, likely to cause pain, or a threat.

Fear Of Failure

Personalities face very real fears, every day. The radio industry hasn’t done much to build confidence in the last few years. Here are a few of the things that cause fear of failure:

  • What if I get fired?
  • Am I losing listeners to other media and can’t do anything to stop it?
  • There are too many bosses and they’re always criticizing me.
  • I need a ratings bonus and have no idea if the Nielsen gods will smile in my direction.
  • We get fewer phone calls than ever, but more complaints.
  • My PD is stressed about the ratings this quarter, and is pressuring the show to succeed now!
  • I think we need to do something fresh and new but what if it doesn’t work?
  • Is the radio business even going to be here in 5 years? What will I do then?

All of these concerns are very real. But behind each is the fear of failure.

The No-Fear Zone

Fear is normal. Everyone faces it, and in fact, it can inspire the best in each of us. But it can be crippling if it gets out of control. Fear can bring you to your knees, paralyzing you.

Fear of failure is the enemy of self-expression, creativity, and growth. It leads to despair and ultimately becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

The best approach is to confront it. Accept it. Acknowledge it. But do not allow it to defeat you. That’s easier with a coach that believes in you, supports you, and is helping you succeed. I hope you have that. If not, find someone to confide in and mentor you.

Stop Being Perfect

Then, give yourself permission to fail. Personality radio is a sloppy business. It’s filled with mistakes, errors and missteps. That’s not an excuse to be sloppy. But many shows work so hard to be perfect, the entertainment is polished out.

There are few perfect segments, let alone a perfect show. Yet radio managers usually focus on correcting negative behavior rather than encouraging positive growth.

Hey programmers: Neutralizing or eliminating bad habits does not result in excellence. Focusing on what we do wrong causes talent to prioritizing staying out of trouble when they should seek to delight the audience with amazing moments.

That’s when they stop taking risks. They perform to avoid mistakes, which makes them ordinary and disposable.

The radio dial is full of these shows. They are technically excellent. The PD likes it just fine because there’s little to criticize. But these sterile, ordinary, boring shows make no impact.

In an attempt to overcome fear, they create the very thing they should be afraid of: blending into the vast media landscape and becoming disposable.

Thomas Edison: Freedom to Fail

The fear of failure causes personalities to stop growing. They don’t stop caring, but they lose the inner drive to succeed because success requires risk.

But what is failure? It’s a matter of perspective. Just like fear.

Thomas Edison didn’t invent the light bulb, but he perfected it. When conducting experiments to find the best solution, he was asked if he didn’t become discouraged as failed experiments mounted.

Edison’s response:

Failure? That’s not a failure! I’ve eliminated another possibility that won’t work. Each time brings me closer to the solution.

Fear Motivates

Michael Jordan is considered the greatest basketball players in history. Yet, he was cut from his high school basketball team. The coach didn’t think he was good enough. It wasn’t failure. It was a short-term setback he used as motivation.

Consider billionaire investor Warren Buffet. Did you know he was rejected by Harvard? Yeah, and Richard Branson is a high school dropout.

And how about Major league slugger Duke Snider? He was a feared home run hitter. He also led the league in strikeouts. But he kept swinging for the fences.

His philosophy:

Swing hard, just in case you hit it.

Think of the opportunities you’ll miss if you let your failures stop you.

Change Your Attitude

Change is always uncomfortable. I’m working with a struggling show in a major market. Over the past few months, we’ve tried several approaches that had potential. None worked. It would be easy to become discouraged. But they haven’t. Instead, we’ve adjusted and are retrenching. We’re disappointed, but not discouraged. After all, like Edison, we’re that much closer to finding our perfect solution.

There’s always a chance of failure. The source of fear is usually the unknown. Remove that fear by considering the “what if’s”. I work with a show that executed virtually every topic the same way:

  • Introduce the topic
  • Discuss
  • Solicit phone calls
  • Record and edit calls
  • Play back calls in the next break (or two).

There were several problems:

  • It took too long to advance the storyline.
  • They had to re-introduce the topic in the next break because it didn’t move forward in the first segment.
  • Good phone calls inspire more calls, but recorded can’t respond until the third break. By then, the topic was often over.

So I asked:

What if we took live calls instead of recording and editing them? And what if we pre-recorded the first call or two with a ringer so it could be on in the first segment?

This scared them. But we decided to try it. After all, what could happen? What is the downside? And what is the potential gain? So what if it’s sloppy for a day or two? It could lead to a breakthrough. And it did.

Almost immediately, the show sounded more spontaneous and lively. Performing “without a net” added adrenaline and that produced contagious energy.

Be Positive

Positive thinking neutralizes fear. When something goes wrong (and it will go wrong), evaluate the impact. Chances are it’s not not that big a deal. Turn the page and move on. Reduce the amount of time spent on problems and increase the time spent building strength.

Working with a veteran show for the first time, it was obvious that they were stuck in a rut. Their topics were generic and the show came off as self-absorbed. They had a bad case of IMEWEUS. It would be easy to criticize the show but that wouldn’t inspire them. It would probably cause them to focus on reducing the negative so they could avoid meeting with us.

The program director and I took a different approach.

We praised them for:

  • Great topic selection.
  • A willingness to be vulnerable and share personal stories.

Instead of criticizing, we focused on building strengths and showed them how to be even better with a few simple adjustments that caused their characters to pop.

Here’s one of the examples:

I never cross the street against a red light. I think it’s dangerous and careless.

This is not as powerful as:

Are you kidding? Don’t cross the street against a red light. There are crazy drivers that hunt people like that.

The difference: eliminating “I, me, we and us” made them more powerful. It was a positive adjustment rather than a confrontation that could have made them think nobody cared about their stories. Because that feeds the demon that causes fear.

Baby Steps

So, what can you do to increase the chances of success and overcome fear of failure?

  • Set small goals and make small changes. Challenge your comfort zone but don’t set a goal that will be overwhelming.
  • Earn fast, early wins to help boost confidence. For example, if the goal is to tell better personal stories, try it just once per day and spend show prep time in developing that one break. Then listen to it back and critique it, focusing on signs of growth and areas for improvement.
  • When you nail it, celebrate it.

Take one step at a time to build confidence and keep moving forward.


Are you afraid of failing? If you’re an air personality, find a coach or mentor that inspires confidence. If you’re a programmer or coach, be that mentor. If you need a coach, we’re here for you.

Most of all, don’t let fear stop you from moving forward. That’s when failure is insured.

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