Toni Kent Speaker

This PepTalk article is written by Toni Kent, speaker, poverty and social mobility writer and campaigner who wants to inspire  people to overcome adversity and achieve their full potential. We hope you enjoy Toni's words of wisdom on overcoming failure.

Overcome your fear of failure

How often have you talked yourself out of doing something you feel drawn to? Whether it’s going for that promotion, putting yourself on stage, or a complete career switch – everyone will have fallen victim to the fear of failure at some point in their life.

Through my work helping students, women, and young professionals positively embrace change and face their fears, it’s striking how negative self-speak can clip your wings and curtail your dreams. I’m on a mission to change that, starting with these five simple steps:

1. Reframe the word fear

Let’s start by tackling the word fear. Instead of being a signifier for something terrifying to overcome, try switching it for this acronym: False Evidence Appears Real. In doing so, you can ask, “Is the outcome that I’m afraid of a fact or something my brain has made up? Here are some quick examples:

  • Do you really know your boss will refuse your request for a pay increase?
  • Can you prove that no one wants to hear your voice?
  • Is there evidence that you’re not skilled enough for the job you want?

2. Separate the real risks from negative self-speak

One of the most powerful elements my talks focus on is the risks we know vs the risks we feel. We know that exceeding the speed limit comes with proven risks – from points on our driving license to an increased likelihood of accidents – yet thousands of people actively ignore the facts.

Compared with our reticence to speak up, pursue a dream or put ourselves forward, it seems crazy but it is true. Fear of rejection, exclusion or being denied access to resources is hard-wired in us. We want to belong and be accepted, so our brain goes into overdrive to protect us from perceived threats – our inner critic is operating on the level of False Evidence Appears Real.

3. Notice your inner critic

I liken my inner critic to a monkey, leaping around and making statements that it thinks will protect me but will ultimately cause harm in the sense of unfulfillment and failing to do what I’m naturally good at. Phrases like:

  • People won’t like me
  • My friends and family will negatively judge me
  • Everyone else is more experienced or qualified

Simply noticing these moments and saying, “Thanks, inner critic, but you can stand down for today,” allows us to accept these thoughts as part of being human and move on with our day!

4. Think really big!

A powerful growth mindset exercise is to consider something you’d like to achieve and imagine the most outrageously positive outcome. A good way is to start with the view from the inner critic and accelerate to the stars.

Here’s an example based on my process of deciding to try stand-up comedy:

Worse possible outcome

I will get up on stage, and no-one will laugh. Someone will upload it to YouTube, and people will mock me. Then my children will get bullied at school, my husband will leave me, and my friends won’t speak to me!

Outrageously positive outcome

I will get up on stage, and everyone will laugh. Someone will upload it to YouTube, and it will go viral. And I’ll be offered a tour alongside Sarah Millican!

This exercise can feel uncomfortable because we are conditioned as adults not to be playful or disruptive. Still, it is vital to increase our likelihood of achieving deeply held goals.

5. Voice your aspirations

As children, we are encouraged to dream big. No one ever told a five-year-old, “You can’t be an astronaut because you haven’t even got a science degree.”

We need to continue to feel comfortable voicing our aspirations. In doing so, we not only discover how to make our dreams possible, but we also find friends and allies along the way. One thing that surprised me from my own experiences was how much support my creative work received from my corporate network. Turns out I had a group of cheerleaders I didn’t even know existed!

The same will be true for you. One of the greatest lessons that facing – and challenging – your fear of failure can teach you is that there are people within your professional and personal circles who can connect you to your wildest dreams – if only you would ask!

To recap, start by reframing the word fear with the False Evidence Appears Real mantra. Separate the real risks from negative self-speak, notice your inner critic, engage your dreams and think really big, and voice your aspirations publicly for more support.

Read more from Toni Kent on PepTalk: Five steps to starting your social mobility journey

Toni Kent is a speaker, poverty and social mobility champion, podcaster (Challenging University podcast) and writer. If you’d like to book a PepTalk for your team from Toni, email us at

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