Do First. Think Later. Learn By Doing. When I was a kid; I wanted to learn how to ride a bike. But I am stubborn and didn’t want anyone to help me. Regardless, my brother instructed me to just straddle the bike at the top of a hill, lift my feet up, and then coast down the hill…all I had to do was balance. Little did I know if I started at the top of a hill, I would be going very fast by the time I got to the bottom. And I didn’t know how to brake.
The 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 Karen Koenig.
Karen Koenig is a speaker on the topics of money types and money mindset. She is the author of “Woman on Top: How to Win in a Woman’s Way”. She is the founder of KK Financial Solutions and is a seasoned Financial Advisor/Planner who helps individuals, business owners and divorcees understand how to create a financial future that is right for them and their businesses.
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 was originally born and raised in the Midwest, but in 2012 I moved to the Pacific Northwest and currently live on a little island North and West of Seattle, called Whidbey Island. Through my careers, I have accumulated over 30 years’ experience in male-dominated fields. I spent 26 years in the military, 6 years in aerospace and then changed careers entirely and went into financial services in 2015. I love being an entrepreneur, where I can work with individuals, small businesses, and divorced people to help them plan and grow their financial future.
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?
When I was in Officer Candidate School (OCS) I was the guidon for our flight. Meaning I took care of our flight’s flag and carried it during our marching sessions. On one occasion our flight got in trouble, and we had to do push-ups as punishment. I had no idea at the time what to do with the guidon (flag), or how I was supposed to do push-ups while holding it, and I was downright scared to do the wrong thing. So, without thinking, I proceeded to do a one-handed push up, while still holding the guidon in the upright position. My Drill Instructor was impressed to say the least but scolded me later and stated I needed to find a better way. Later I found out I was supposed to wait for the flight to do their pushups, then hand the guidon to the person behind me, then do a two-armed pushup just like everyone else.
What I learned from this experience was to prepare for certain situations that might happen while in the process of doing a particular task, then store the knowledge in my databank for later use. Knowing at some point I would l have to do push-ups while carrying the guidon, I should have watched what another guidon did with their flag when their flight had to do push-ups. Had I prepared ahead of time and observed how to do this task correctly, I could have taken the fear out of the situation and applied the correct procedure from the start.
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?
I believe the three character traits that were most instrumental to my success, were the core values I learned in the military. Integrity first, service before self and excellence in all we do. Integrity is the willingness to do what is right even when no one is watching. It’s the moral compass or the inner voice. Service before self is the new assignment or new job which we take that isn’t in the ideal location, or the need to retrain to do something else even if you are happy with where you are at. Excellence in all we do is a mindset of giving your best, striving to continually improve yourself, and expecting the same from others.
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?
I believe people are afraid of failure because of a couple of reasons. They either don’t know exactly what to do at every step of the journey or they hit a roadblock and quit. People get so caught up in trying to figure out how or the right way to do something, they get into ‘analysis paralysis’, and never start. Or, when they hit a roadblock, instead of moving past the issue, they just stop because it’s the easiest thing to do. Failure is so frightening to us because there might be the perceived negative judgement of us by others, or a sense of shame or disappointment. In essence, we don’t want to let ourselves or others down.
What are the downsides of being afraid of failure? How can it limit people?
Failure causes stress and stress causes the release of cortisol, which can lead to many issues to include limiting people from succeeding at goals, on how to be productive, or it may even impair your relationships. Therefore, the downside of being afraid of failure is never accomplishing what you set out to do in the first place. The fear grips you to the point you do not act on things which could change your business and/or life.
In contrast, can you help articulate a few ways how becoming free from the fear of failure can help improve our lives?
Becoming free from failure can improve your life in many ways. Success releases dopamine, which helps regulate unconditioned fear in the brain. In essence dopamine can help you accomplish a goal. When you feel good this then helps in productivity. The more you succeed, the more you want to accomplish. And, last, when you feel good, and are productive, naturally your relationships become better.
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?
Of course. I experienced true failure in recent years when I was studying to become a financial advisor. The Series 7 test was very long and was an ardent task to study for. The test itself was 135 questions and they allot 3 hours and 45 minutes to complete the test. After studying for months, working with an advisor, and taking many practice quizzes, I sat for the test and failed it the first time by 5 points. Once you fail, you must wait 30 days to retake the Series 7 again. After 30 days, I sat for the test again and failed the second time by 1 point. Then, after another 30- day wait, I was allowed to sit for the test again and I passed!
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?
I recovered slowly. I was embarrassed the first time I failed, but I knew I could take the test again, so I did. But after failing the test a second time, I was not only embarrassed, but I felt I was a complete failure and I wanted to quit. Quit my goal of becoming a financial advisor.
My advice to others is reach out for help! I finally reached out to another advisor and told them I wanted to quit, but they encouraged me to try another time. I am glad I listened. What did I learn? If I had quit after the second time I failed, I wouldn’t be the successful financial advisor I am today. Never quit because it could be the day before you become successful!
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.
I have 5 steps that are principles in my book:
- Do First. Think Later. Learn by Doing.
- Perfection is not Progress
- Find the Truth and ask for help
- A Target only you can hit
- There is Power in Failure
Do First. Think Later. Learn By Doing. When I was a kid; I wanted to learn how to ride a bike. But I am stubborn and didn’t want anyone to help me. Regardless, my brother instructed me to just straddle the bike at the top of a hill, lift my feet up, and then coast down the hill…all I had to do was balance. Little did I know if I started at the top of a hill, I would be going very fast by the time I got to the bottom. And I didn’t know how to brake. By the way, I was riding a bike which had a braking system controlled by reversing the pedals…of which my feet were NOT on because I had lifted them to let the pedals spin. Half-way down the hill, I was screaming at my brother, “How do I stop?!” And low and behold, I hit a lifted piece of sidewalk and wiped out. I ended up cracking my head on the cement and getting a big goose egg, but you know what? I learned how to ride a bike! I did it first, thought about consequences later, and then I learned how to do it better.
Perfection is not Progress. Perfection is defined as everything must be 100% accurate or in place. Perfection paralysis is when everything must be 100% to move forward, where progress is going from 50 to 60%. If you are improving that is progress. The primary focus is starting somewhere and improving on where you are. Because when people think they need to be perfect, they often don’t get started at all.
Find the truth and ask for help. When I was married, I wasn’t happy towards the end. We had gone to counseling three times over a period of three years. Things would get better for about six months; then we would go back to the same behaviors that had gotten our relationship in trouble. I was avoiding the reality that divorce was the solution, but we had two small children. Long story short, I reached out to my pastor and asked what I should do. I asked for help, and he guided me to the solution that I should not stay in an unhappy marriage just for the kids. He made me realize I was teaching my children it was okay to always be unhappy. I found the truth in my situation, and I asked for help.
A Target only you can hit. My parents taught me at a young age to set goals. They were the ‘set it and you will achieve it’ type people. My father was an EMT in the Air Force and then went to school, after I was born, to be an engineer. My mother went to college to be a nurse, through the ROTC program, and then served four years in the Air Force to pay back her college tuition. My goals were to be the first sibling in my family to go to college, to join the Air Force and eventually get commissioned as an officer. I defined my goals by looking at what I wanted to do in life, then I looked at my family and how those goals might affect them, and then I set out to achieve them. I wrote the goal down, I mapped out the preliminary steps and then I envisioned the goal daily, keeping only the end in mind without getting caught up in the “how’s.” I now do a 5-year vision board to help my process of goal setting.
There is Power in Failure. In the process of writing my book, “Woman on Top: How to Win in a Woman’s Way” I met a huge stumbling block along the way. The publisher and I talked through the steps, and I followed his successful process for publication. I was going along great, figuring out my content; coming up with examples and fleshing out what I wanted to say, and just when I was close to finishing, I got stopped by compliance. I had received permission to write my book but was never told I had to produce the manuscript before I started to promote it. I paid for a URL and had a website set up but was never told the website had to be approved. Therefore, I had to shut it down right when I was getting started. I let this one event define how and when I was to move forward. The publisher I was using had a proven process, and I was not able to follow it, so I thought I had to quit everything, including writing the book! Even though I had a failure in the process, I was able to meet with my publisher and get back on track using a modified process to fit my needs, and still get my book done.
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?
I certainly have found that quote to be true. I think Aristotle meant it takes multiple failures to meet our personal definition of success. In my case, as you have seen, I have failed several times at my goals, but like in all the examples, I succeeded in then end, in one way or another.
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. 🙂
I would inspire a movement to change what is currently being taught in the school systems. I believe it would be more beneficial to teach young people practical skills on how to be successful in life. For example, how to open a bank account, how to file their taxes, how to buy a house, how to apply for a job, when/how to invest, etc.
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 🙂
I would love to sit and chat with Jamie Kern Lima, author of “Believe It” and founder of IT cosmetics. I admire her tenacity, her grit, and her authenticity. She was met with many failures in her rise to the top, yet look at where she is at now…what a blessing and a gift to see her success in a highly competitive industry.
About The Interviewer: Savio P. Clemente coaches cancer survivors to overcome the confusion and gain the clarity needed to get busy living in mind, body, and spirit. He inspires health and wellness seekers to find meaning in the “why” and to cultivate resilience in their mindset. Savio is a Board Certified wellness coach (NBC-HWC, ACC), stage 3 cancer survivor, podcaster, writer, and founder of The Human Resolve LLC.