My new leadership book SHE Rises is available!

Seven Steps to Overcome ANY Fear.

Enjoyed this article?  Please consider sharing it below.

We all have that list. You know the one. The list of amazing things you’ll accomplish someday when you’re ready. Maybe you dream of starting your own company, or managing a department, or building a new product – eventually. Once you get all your ducks in a row. You want to make sure everything is just right before you try.

That sounds practical enough. Being prepared isn’t a bad thing. But, after coaching hundreds of women, I believe that holding off on attempting – and ultimately achieving – all the incredible things you’re capable of isn’t about not being ready.  It’s about being afraid. 

So many of us, women especially, get caught up in the fear of failure. We want everything to be just right before we make our move. We tell ourselves that it’s better to wait for the perfect moment than to risk not being perfect. We’re afraid that we might be wasting our precious time, that failing will hurt our reputations, that our teams will think less of us if we don’t succeed. We don’t want to look weak or flawed or unworthy. Because if we try and fail, it’s all over, right? 

Of course not. 

This fear of failure, this addiction to perfectionism causes us to engage in all or nothing thinking: we’re either successes or we’re failures. We either suck or we rock.  But the truth is, when we just get out there and try, we open up new possibilities for ourselves, possibilities otherwise not available. Stepping out of this narrow view takes practice. And it can be really uncomfortable.  But making this shift is not only possible, it’s essential for our growth.    

What you need is the right mindset, an openness to learning, and a willingness to experiment. 

Developing an Experimental Mindset

I’m in no way suggesting that you should run out and start a new company the moment you finish reading this (although if you’re ready, go for it!). Most of us will feel much more comfortable if we start small and build from there. So, start with curiosity. Get playful. Keep the stakes low. Remember, we’re just experimenting here.

Identify your Goal 

This can take lots of different forms. You might start with a small, approachable goal, a minor challenge, or a story you keep telling yourself. Perhaps you’d like to be recognized as a trusted advisor to the executive team or maybe you’d like to land a spot on the steering committee. .  Whatever you decide to start with, remember that it doesn’t have to be anything huge. Not yet.

The key is to start with a smaller goal so that you can design a simple experiment. You can work your way up to taking on bigger, bolder goals as you get more comfortable. 

Formulate a Hypothesis 

Say the goal you’ve identified is to gain more respect and recognition from your colleagues on the executive team. With this goal in mind, your hypothesis might be that these executives aren’t aware of your leadership capabilities because of your limited exposure to the team. If your hypothesis proves to be correct, then building relationships with your colleagues and proactively interacting with the executive team would help you to achieve your goal. Now, it’s time to put this to the test!

Design an Experiment

There are lots of ways you might go about testing your hypothesis. You might start showing up to more executive meetings, getting proactive about speaking up in meetings, or taking leaders out for coffee or to lunch to talk strategy.  The goal here is very simple: identify your options and choosing one to act on. Not so scary right?

Test it Out!

This is where things get real. Executing the experiment is an essential part of the process.. I know it might feel daunting, but therein lies the power.  To expand your comfort zone And GROW. 

As you test your hypothesis, remember that nothing is really at risk, here. You’re simply testing whether or not a belief you hold is actually true. Remember that this is simply an opportunity to learn.

Assess the Results

How did it go? Were you surprised by the outcome? Disappointed? Confused? What did you learn? Whatever happened, the great news is that you now have more information. You might be able to prove or disprove your hypothesis with a single experiment or it might take several more tries. Either way, you’re on the right path. 

Refine and Try Again

Let’s say you started by attending the weekly executive meeting. How did it go? Did you feel comfortable speaking up? Have any of the leaders you’ve interacted with reached out to you for your input? Let’s say that after sitting in on a few meetings, you’ve established a friendly rapport with the executive team, but you don’t get the sense that they have a grasp of your true value yet. Your next step might be to ask an executive or two to coffee or to be more proactive about sharing your thoughts at the next meeting. Remember, you don’t need to go all-in all at once, take it one step at a time, and allow each experiment to build on the one that came before it until you get you reach a conclusion.

There’s no right or wrong way to experiment. Make the process work for you.  Whatever you decide to do, the key is to take action and repeat the process over and over again until you have your answer. 

Here’s a little cheat sheet to keep you on track: 

  1. Identify a Goal
  2. Formulate a Hypothesis
  3. Design an Experiment
  4. Test it Out!
  5. Assess the Results
  6. Make Adjustments
  7. Try Again!

Why it Works

It might seem simple or straight-up terrifying at first, but I promise you, the more you experiment the more comfortable you’ll get with challenging yourself, your fear of failure, and the status quo that just isn’t working for you. You’ll start to feel braver, too. Here’s why.

  1. You’ll Gain New Information
    We’re all fabulous at letting our imaginations run wild and writing stories in our heads – that our boss hates us, that our team doesn’t respect us, that we just aren’t good enough. Most of the time, those stories are completely false. And if they are true, it’s probably best that you find that out as soon as possible anyway. Knowing the truth is so much better than dreaming up unsettling conspiracy theories about our futures, our employers, or our abilities. 

  2. You’ll Gain Confidence
    The more you play with these experiments, the more confident you’ll become. You’ll surely experience successes, failures, and everything in between. And that’s OK! These experiments are ultimately trust exercises with yourself. And trusting yourself to get through these playful, awkward, unconventional experiences is what self-confidence is really all about.

  3. You’ll Get More Comfortable Failing
    Or at least more familiar with it. The best part? You’ll learn that failure isn’t fatal. In fact, it’s useful and necessary to grow.  And the more often you experience failure, the less scary it’ll be.

  4. You’ll Become More Innovative
    Experimenting, evaluating, and adjusting your approach will force you to flex your creative muscles. This exercise invites you to innovate and adjust, which is such an important skill to have. If you know you can adapt to whatever the world throws at you, there’s not much reason to be fearful of trying new things.


And all these shifts make you braver, less afraid of failure, and more resistant to the pull of perfectionism.  In other words, you become unstoppable.

If you’re tired of waiting for just the right moment, over trying to be perfect, or sick of being stuck in an all or nothing binary thinking pattern, it’s time to start experimenting. When we turn away from an all-or-nothing mindset and simply get curious, the stakes feel much smaller.  And that frees up space for new information, new possibilities, and a lot more creativity in how we grow as leaders.

Pooja Dang is a Women’s Executive Leadership Coach based in the San Francisco Bay Area, serving clients globally at companies such as Google, GoPro, Dropbox, and more. With over 15 years of experience in coaching, advising, and propelling women towards rapid career advancement and promotion, she specializes in high-impact workshops and dynamic 1:1 coaching, delivering breakthrough outcomes and accelerated change. Pooja has a proven track record of coaching women into the C-suite and is a trusted expert in growing executive presence, expanding influence, high-stakes negotiations, and leadership development. Using proven scientific strategies, transformative behavior tools, and a no-BS approach, Pooja is on a mission to empower more women to live confidently at the top of their game. Book your free consultation today. #ExecutiveCoach #LeadershipDevelopment #WomenInLeadership #BehaviorChange #CsuiteCoaching


Get actionable executive coaching insights to help you level up your career delivered right to your inbox.