The most inspiring stories are those where a defeated protagonist returns to conquer seemingly insurmountable odds. Too often, though, the specter of defeat paralyzes talented individuals and keeps them from realizing their true potential.

Bill Gates and the late Steve Jobs are two of the most inspiring tech entrepreneurs that the world has ever known. Each encountered catastrophic failures on their road to success. The Apple founder had a rather unique way of motivating himself against failure:

“Remembering that I’ll be dead soon is the most important tool I’ve ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. All fear of embarrassment or failure — these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important.”

That philosophy served Jobs well throughout his life. First, he struggled to set up a business as a college dropout. Later, after he had taken Apple to the apex of business success, he was unceremoniously booted out of the company he had established.

Bill Gates has had to deal with a litany of missteps on his way to claiming the title of World’s Richest Person. Microsoft’s 1993 database project was a major setback and its TV-style internet shows on MSN a few years later were financial black holes. How did he respond?

“Once you embrace unpleasant news not as a negative but as evidence of a need for change, you aren’t defeated by it. You’re learning from it. It’s all in how you approach failures.”

Gates and Jobs are the epitome of sound business leadership, not just for their successes but for their responses to the failures which inspired those successes. Here are four questions to ask yourself if you want to emulate their journey:

  1. What is failure to me?Is it falling short of a target? Is it looking incompetent? Doing anything wrong?The fear of failure can be debilitating when it is exceedingly generic. By defining the parameters of failure in a specific context, you free yourself of the shackles of unnecessary anxiety and can focus on the factors that matter instead.
  2. Am I setting approach goals or avoidance goals?An approach goal is a target that you want to reach. An avoidance goal is an outcome you want to avoid. The first is positive; the second, negative. Instead of focusing on the possibility of failure, shift your attention to the countless components that are part of every success.
  3. What do I fear?This tactic is a favorite of successful author and investor, Tim Ferris. He recommends replacing your list of goals with a list of fears. This approach works because it forces you to confront your fears in a calm, rational manner. That is the best way to find counters to them, and to plan a strategy for the worst-case scenario.