January/February 2020

The Thriving Lawyer

How to Prevent the Fear of Failure from Derailing Success

Anne E. Collier

It’s no surprise that successful lawyers tend to be high achievers. They are perfectionists who drive results; they ensure that every detail is correct, no stone is left unturned, and every “i” is dotted and “t” is crossed. They often become technical experts in their particular field.  

Getting Caught in the "Shadow Side" of Positive Attributes

The flip side of perfectionism is the fear of failure. In fact, it’s often the fear of failure that drives perfectionism and the willingness to do what it takes to win. That’s the upside of fear of failure. The downside is that in its extreme, the unmitigated fear of failure causes failure. This is the concept called “paradoxical intent,” which posits that the more one fears something, the more likely one is to experience it. 

Stressful circumstances can trigger this unintended consequence by transforming the very attributes that are necessary for a lawyer’s success into negative “dark” manifestations of those same attributes. These dark manifestations are referred to as “shadow behaviors” and are set forth in the table below. The shadow behavior is the amped-up negative version of a positive attribute that provides a strength. 

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