Fear of looking stupid is the #1 killer of dreams.
The worst part? The people who make you feel stupid are usually the ones least qualified to judge someone else’s life. Their own lives are falling apart, yet they constantly tear down others around them.
I was talking with my friend the other day, and he told me about an incident in 1st grade that would shape his life for the next 20 years.
There were several large rocks outside my friend’s classroom. The “cool kid” of the class was showing off, hopping from rock to rock with grace and agility.
My friend saw his classmates’ admiration and awe, and wanted that for himself. So, he tried to hop from one rock to another. However, he slipped and fell in the dirt. When he got up, his entire bottom was covered in mud.
My friend told me that to this day, he could still remember the sound of their jeering and laughter at his failure.
He also told me he’s been deathly afraid of trying new, potentially-embarrassing things ever since that day in 1st grade.
Most people are living on someone else’s terms. They live to avoid fear, risk, and embarrassment. In most cases, this mindset comes from early memories or childhood. It’s crazy how much power these little memories have over us; how much power we’ve given to others, just so they wouldn’t laugh at us.
But you don’t have to be afraid anymore. You don’t have to live in fear, living reactively in a way that avoids embarrassment.
I lived in fear my whole life, always playing by the rules. I did that, so you don’t have to — that route has no happiness, fulfillment, or joy.
Now, I do what I want. I work for myself. I write whatever I want to write about, and I’m not afraid of looking stupid anymore.
Here’s how to stop being afraid of looking stupid and consistently live the life you want.
The other day, I went to a park to go shoot some hoops.
There were 2 little boys there. One was trying to teach the other how to shoot a basketball, correcting his form and telling him what he was doing wrong.
Then, the teacher-kid saw me in all my glory — new Nikes, fancy knee brace, facial hair, and confidence. I started warming up. “Watch how he shoots!” the teacher-kid hissed to his younger friend.
I shot the ball.
And promptly missed the entire freaking basket.
*(Cue fart noise)
Before, this embarrassing moment would’ve killed me. I would’ve taken it home with me and played it over and over in my mind as I fell asleep, deep in self-loathing and how stupid I looked!
But not anymore.
There’s no reason to get afraid or embarrassed. All that matters is getting a little better, every single day. You don’t get better without failing; anyone who’s reached the top of their game has failed far more than their lesser competitors.
When this becomes your attitude, a funny thing happened — you actually start getting better.
Back at the park: I warmed up a little more. After a few shots, I started making them. The little kids were watching me again, trying to copy my form.
In the end, it’s not about them — it’s not about looking good, or not looking bad. It’s not about praise or admiration. It’s not about looking cool.
It’s about doing what you love, on your terms, without worrying what anyone else thinks.
That’s freedom. That’s power.
Failure isn’t something to be avoided — it’s something to be prized.
Failure is direct feedback. Failure is knowledge. Failure is progress.
Just because you fail doesn’t make you a failure. So much of this life is process — getting a little better/smarter every day.
Most people focus on the outcome — getting what they want (and getting angry when they don’t get it). This is a recipe for stress, anxiety, and fear.
In his autobiography, Bryan Cranston (Walter White from Breaking Bad) described his early acting days, and how stressed/anxious he was at auditions. He was always focused on “getting” the role. But his fear and anxiety always shone through his performance, and after many years, he was still a below-average actor.
Finally, he decided to focus on the process — “giving” a performance, “doing” a job. He stopped worrying about failing, or getting the role, or what the casting directors thought; he just focused on giving a great performance.
That changed everything. He was landing roles left and right. He was becoming incredibly successful. But more importantly, he wasn’t afraid of failing anymore.
Cranston went on to say after he made this mindset shift, he felt much more relaxed and free. There was no longer any pressure, because the outcome was irrelevant. “Once I made the switch, I had power in any room I walked into,” he wrote. “Which meant I could relax. I was free.”
Just because you fail doesn’t make you a failure. Don’t focus on the outcome; focus on the process. That way, you feel less anxious and less scared, and you can redirect that nervous energy into being better.
Embarrassment is part of the process — trying and failing, asking questions it seems like everyone else already knows. Few people are willing to embrace that, though.
Most people would rather look good in mediocrity than look stupid on the road to success.
Some of your strongest motivation and resiliency are built on a chip on your shoulder — succeeding where others have declared you’re a total failure.
Years ago, I was just starting to see some success in writing. A famous blogger — one of my role models — began publicly making fun of me, accusing me of copying his style and making jokes about me to his fans. He said people like me “would be gone in 6 months.”
I never forgot that. I used it as fuel, motivation to show the world that no, I wasn’t going away — I was the real deal, and I was here to stay.
That embarrassment and rejection gave me the fuel I needed to keep going. I focused on always improving, never settling for mediocre content.
Sure, I looked stupid sometimes. I didn’t always write well. I’d still write content that basically nobody read.
But I still had a lot of fuel. That criticism kept me going.
Now, I’m as successful as I’ve ever been. I have a signed book deal. Hundreds of thousands of people read my content. I’ve gained tens of thousands of subscribers and followers. Readers email me every week telling me how my content has helped them.
Getting successful at anything is hard. Embarrassment gives you the fuel to keep going. And you don’t just want fuel — you need it to get where you want to go.
Those who don’t take risks usually don’t lead big lives.
The world teaches you to “play it safe.” Risks, they tell you, are scary and usually not worth it — what if you mess up? What if you look stupid? Better to keep your head down and play it safe.
But your life will shrink if you never take risks.
On the other hand, your life will expand with your willingness to take risks.
After reading a dozen autobiographies of some of the world’s most successful people, I’ve realized:
The world’s most successful people take big risks.
They do things others don’t — as a result, they have things others don’t have.
Wrote Darren Hardy, former editor of SUCCESS Magazine:
“Successful people do what unsuccessful people are unwilling to do.”
The braver you are, the more your life will expand.
But as long as you’re acting out of fear and pain-avoidance, your life will probably stay the same.
Make the unsafe choice. Take some risks.
Most people’s biggest goal can basically be summed up in 3 words:
“Don’t look stupid.”
This is small-minded thinking. This mindset ensures you’ll stay on a path that leads to mediocrity and small prizes.
Once in a while, it really hits people that they don’t have to live the life everyone is telling them to live. Once you make this realization, your life starts expanding in proportion to the risks you take.
Don’t be afraid of looking stupid.
Be afraid of remaining in the mediocre majority.