"It is impossible to live without failing at something, unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all - in which case, you fail by default."
- J.K. Rowling, Author & Billionaire

Everyday I hear from people who are scared of failing...except they never come right out and say that they are scared of failing. People hate admitting that we are afraid of anything.

The fear of failure shows up in a myriad of other ways. They tell me other things that are holding them back in life. Issues like procrastination, being too busy, overcommitting or simply being stuck doing something they hate.

So often these issues are really a mask for this deep fear of failure that we are all plagued with to some degree. This fear often holds us back from living the life that we want to be living.

What did J.K. Rowling really mean when she delivered those words above in her June 2008 commencement address at Harvard University? I think it's important to look at the sentence that preceded it to truly understand,

"You might never fail on the scale I did, but some failure in life is inevitable."

This one minute clip from her speech sums it up perfectly:

It's hard to believe it now, after seeing the success of the $15 billion Harry Potter franchise that she created, but at one point in her life Rowling described herself as the "biggest failure she knew." Before she found massive success, Rowling was a welfare-collecting, unemployed, depressed, suicidal, single mother who never thought she would make it anywhere.

She failed over and over again. But she never stopped. Even when she wanted to. Even when everything and everybody around her told her she should.

But what if she was afraid of failure? Afraid of looking stupid? Afraid of what other people might think? Here's how these different obstacles could have held JK Rowling back and allowed her to fail by default.

Procrastination
She would have started writing her book and made a lot of progress on it but then she would have found lots of reasons to never finish it. She would have told herself that someday she would come back to it and finish it...but she never would.

Being Too Busy
She would have kept herself super-busy with life and justified all of the reasons she couldn't work on her stupid little book that had no hope of ever going anywhere anyway. She would have told herself that someday she would work on it when she simply had more time but right now she was just too busy.

Overcommitting
Imagine if Rowling had simply said yes to everything. If she had put everyone else's needs, desires and demands above her own. How much different would things have been? It's easy to overcommit in this life. It's hard to say no. But sometimes you have to say no to other people so that you can say YES to your dreams.

Staying Stuck
This would have probably been the easiest one for her to hide from her fear of failure. She could have simply stayed stuck in her current lousy circumstances. She could have believed that she could never be a success. Who was she to think that she could be a famous author, let alone a billionaire?

What's Holding You Back?

Deep down we all want it to be easy. We don't want to be embarrassed. We don't want to be uncomfortable. We don't want the pain that comes along with failure.

So we try to stay safe. We try not to fail. But every time we play it too safe, we are indeed failing by default.

4 Questions to Get You Past Your Fear of Failure

What's holding you back right now from living the life of your dreams? How is the fear of failure showing up in your life? Ask yourself these four questions and then take small, simple actions to begin overcoming them today.

1) What are you putting off right now that you know you should be doing? What was the first thing that popped into your head? Do that today. Break it down into simple steps and just do the first one, that's it. You have just won a small victory against procrastination.

2) What are you doing today that you don't need to be doing?
Scan through your day in your mind. What are you doing that isn't essential? Cut out one thing. Just one. You have just won a small victory over busyness.

3) What should you have said NO to?
Perhaps it's a co-worker that takes advantage of your kindness or a pushy mom at your kid's school. I am willing to bet that there have been a lot of instances in the last week alone that you agreed to do stuff that you didn't want to do because you were afraid to say no. The next time someone asks you to do something that doesn't feel right, simply say no. And by doing that, you can say yes to YOU.

4) Why are you staying stuck in [fill in the blank]?
The blank could be a job, a relationship, a habit, a house...or it might be everything. We get one chance at this life, you simply can't afford to stay stuck doing anything you don't love. What was the first thing that came to mind? How can you start to change that? Again, break it down into tiny steps and simply take the first step, often the first step is simply the decision to change it.

It's time to stop failing by default in life. It's time to stop letting your fear of failure hold you back from truly realizing your greatness. JK Rowling didn't want to look back on her life and realize that she had failed because she didn't go all in. And neither do you.

Take the first steps today to taking back your life and looking the fear of failure directly in the face. You will be amazed at how unscary it really is.

Published on: Jun 9, 2015
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.