Sunday, April 5, 2015

Are We Setting Up Ourselves To Fear Failure?

This past weekend, I was reading an article regarding the entrepreneur spirit of Elon Musk, who is CEO for SpaceX and Tesla which he shared some fascinating stories about how he started and enveloped his entrepreneur spirit during his early days. In the article, he shared about how he prepared and set himself up for the worst to happen when he first started out. To him, the most important thing is to be able to endure the hardship of having to live off only the basic necessities required, food and accommodation while the rest are sheer luxury to him. Should you be interested to read the full article, you can read them here.

I have always been fascinated by people who ventured on the entrepreneurship journey, the logic behind the thinking, the hardship that they endure, the ideas that they can come up with and the ability to face failure. Entrepreneurship is one of those professions I have most respect in. I used to think that people who embarked on an entrepreneur are idealistic and innovators in nature and you don't need to have much education with you as long as you have those traits. These are no longer the case these days as we've seen many people going against the flow.

Does Going To Schools Set You Up To Fear Failure?

Many of the families in my parent's generation are entrepreneurs. They are not entrepreneurs by choice but nature probably forces them to that direction. You see, back then education was extremely rare and only the wealthy can afford them. Our families started out really poor before my generation was born and my dad did not even completed primary school. There was only one way to go from here: Risk or Lose everything. They didn't even have an equal probability of choices given to make the decision, it was a decision made from nature and they just have to accept it. It turned out to be a very fruitful results in the end, and I was lucky to have the privilege to be born in the new generation where so much more was provided before my eyes.

Some people may argue that the new generations are losing the entrepreneurs spirit because the higher the education they received, the lower the likelihood that one is going to be an entrepreneur. There are some truth in that as we probably will see in a while.

Try thinking back the time while you were in school and the idealistic you were being taught. You would most probably have been trained to fear failure from an early age. In school, getting the "right" answer the first time is the only thing that is being rewarded in our society. Getting a wrong answer is equivalent to a punishment of  low grades, extra remedials and contempt from peers and teachers. I remember the days having to memorize the answers from a 10-year series and getting an A while forgetting everything once the exam was ended. I wonder if the education system to date are still being set up this way (will need teachers or tuition teachers bloggers to verify).

12 years of education, years after years of manipulation and all I need was upon graduation, I had lost total interest in entrepreneurship and fear of being "wrong" (failure). During adulthood, the more it becomes difficult to embark an acceptance of failure because failure does not reward you tangible stuff. Sure, you may heard some people say that failure makes you stronger over time but it is not easy to quantify this way. Failure kills you with lower pay, lower comfort and lower acceptance into the society. That's just how the way this society works, whether we like it or not.

The Most Optimistic Entrepreneurs In The World

Could you guess which country boasts the most optimistic entrepreneurs in the world? 

Note that this is not based on the actual entrepreneurs figure created but rather the people who are optimistic about the profession in general. Before someone asked regarding how the survey is conducted, I must confess that I do not know though I am more interested in reading the big picture than the small indicators.

If you look across, very few Asian countries made it into the list with the exception of countries like China, which make up a huge number of the population there. Having previously studied in the West for a while, I can really see the huge difference in the form of education that are being promoted between the East and West, not that either is not good, just somewhat different from the expectations they are trying to create.

Maybe the next time you met someone who is an entrepreneurs next to you, ask him or her the factors that drive them towards that direction. You might be in for a surprise.

Failure In Investing

Many people would advocate that failure cannot be taught directly in investing.

We can learn from the past history made and the likelihood is that history would repeat itself at least twice for one to rationalize that the mistakes are real.

I've made countless mistakes in my investing journey and I am learning as we move along. Given the choice, I'd rather picked up those mistakes as early as possible and try my best not to repeat them given that some mistakes are inevitable to avoid.

I've recently had a fear I didn't dare to tell anyone. My fear is now real. The last computed portfolio for the month of Mar is standing at $291,530 and as the size becomes bigger each day, the higher the fear is likely to grow in size. Although I have been through the same fear scenario when my portfolio size was much smaller when I first started out, it is an entirely different scenario right now. I am stepping on a whole new territory and as much as I've tried to understand this fear, I will never know until it really stepped on my toes. I've done a couple of things such as balancing my asset allocation to mitigate some of those fears but there's never going to be a perfect scenarios where everything is patched up nicely.

Maybe I'm just setting up myself to face failure this time or maybe I might underestimate the depth of those fears. I'll never know and neither can you. And maybe once I have experienced the depth of this fear factor, I might just be ready to face an entrepreneurships' role.


  1. Hi B,

    Understanding and acknowledging your fear is the first right step into conquering it!

    1. Hi Aceirus

      Thanks for your advise.

      I spoke to one of the seasoned blogger investor and he said the same thing to me. At least that becomes a known factor to me.

  2. B,
    Another great article!

    Being an entrepreneur, I would like to share my thoughts to the other readers on fear of failure.

    I do fear failure. But you know what I fear more? The FEAR OF REGRET. The Fear of Regret is the biggest when you are on your deathbed and you realise your whole life has passed you by, and you have spent a bulk of it doing things you dread.

    This fear is so strong that when I was a kid, every time I had fever, I would dream of being stuck in a factory full of machines and being forced to do factory work. That same dream would always plague me. It was only when I grew older then I realised the significance of that dream.

    There are many ways in which people become entrepreneurs. Some come from hardships, some from desperation, some from inspiration, some from passion. For me, it is a CALLING and a LIFE MISSION. Just like how some people have an inexplicable desire to join the army since young, or how some people want to serve as pastors or priests...There is no other option. All ways point to this path.

    Being in the tuition/education industry, I don't think education has much to blame for the lack of entrepreneurship in Singapore, though it may be partly responsible. I feel the biggest culprit is COMFORT. Comfort draws you away from the uncertainty of entrepreneurship. It is comfort which makes the opportunity costs of failure so great. Comfort is a great demotivating factor.

    Again, you must fear regret more than comfort or failure. This has been confirmed by internal monologues throughout my life. Whenever the rollercoaster plunges, I ask myself, "What do I want out of this life?" I give myself and answer, and remember it. Then, I get myself pissed drunk, and I ask myself the same question, and compare the answer which I have given when I was sober. (Because drunk men tell no lies!) Either ways, the answer is always the same. And has always been the same throughout my life.

    I could go on much longer on this topic but I will cut it short!

    Fear of Regret is 1000X more scary than the Fear of Failure.

    Money lost can always be replaced. After all - just like Elon Musk says, how much do you really need to survive?

    But Time Lost can NEVER be replaced.

    To all readers, this doesn't just apply to entrepreneurship, it applies to your Life's Calling.

    1. Hi BfGf

      Many thanks for your detailed reply and sharing.

      I learned a lot from it and I'm sure this will benefit the other readers as well. Appreciate it.

      It's interesting that I have not come to a stage where I am in the fear of regret motion when we are talking about setting up my own career. Maybe the push factor isn't as strong as what you've experienced or maybe my whole plain corporate career has been going on rather well for me to complain too much on it. In any case, I'm sure there will be moments when my feelings towards it will change for either better or worse so I'll take your words in mind by then.

      I agree comfort is not a motivational thing in this whole idea of being ambitious or pushing for something. Maybe the above scenario I described about myself would fall under this comfort category which is perhaps the reason why myself and the others are not complaining as much as we should be. But great point out on that, didn't realize that when I was writing the article.

  3. I was seriously well prepared with my four bank accounts approach - physically and emotionally separated. I only invest/trade with those money in my Cash Investment Account and CPF Investment Account .

    But, towards the end of 2008, the constant stream of more and more depressed news of Great Depression 2.0 which would last at least 10 years.

    I also began to get very nervous with too much of my net worth falling each day in the stock market.

    Then I kept blaming myself for being too greedy in 2007.

    When my daughter read in the blog posts about my losses and told her mother. Guess you will know what happened after next as she has personally experienced what happened to her family members in 1998 CLOB Saga. Days and nights of nagging! :-(

    Costly lesson learned!

    1. Hi Uncle CW

      Thanks for sharing your experience.

      Despite being a seasoned investor and an extremely low average buying price for your counters, it's not surprising to see the magnitude of the GFC making you still nervous. I think everybody who are vested in the market back then is, and even those who did not have fears about their jobs and other things.

      You shared a few times that you were not very prepared when GFC struck then and now you are better at it. I guess this could be where asset allocation becomes even more important because it is directly negatively correlated with the index of fear.

  4. 1) B,

    I think its good you shared a bit more about your family and dad.

    We here in Singapore have similar stories. Quite a few of our listed companies were IPOed by the 2nd generation who had studied overseas while the original business founders were either the "rejected" Chinese educated or had little in formal education.

    2) CW,

    Lesson learned: Always bribe daughters with Coach bags ;)

  5. Hi B,

    I had this half written draft post about fear which I never published. Fear has been on my mind a lot lately. I agree with BfGf Money Blog though... For me, Fear of regret is more scary than fear of failure as I believe that if I give it my best shot, even if I fail I can tell myself that I have given it my best which is better than wondering about What if?

  6. Hi Joyce

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts on the matter.

    I think you guys have gone way ahead of me in thinking about the fear of regret than me who are still stuck in the comfort zone. It doesn't mean that I don't wish to do something which I wish I could be doing, it's just the fear has not touched my mind yet to date. Maybe I'll feel it when time comes along when it comes to doing business.

  7. Most times, it is either situation that forces us or a role model. Situation is taken out of context here because we have been enjoying some sort of comfort. Now comes to role models who are none but our peers, friends, cousins or just neighbors. If any of them have really made it, it is likely that we at least explore some options. So, take comfort and blame it on lack of role models.

  8. Failure is not an option in Singapore and we have so much to lose.
    But like you, I respect entrepreneur because for them, true passion cannot be tame. There are many ways to make money in our society. Successful entrepreneurs are those who can develop solutions to address pains in our lives.

    SG Wealth Builder