Fear of failure or fear of success?

PJ Sharon, blogging from the Berkshires once again. I love these brief January warm ups that allow me to get out and snow shoe or cross country ski on one of the many trails behind my house. 0120011139After weeks of frigid cold temps, it felt good to be outside in the sunshine and breathing in some fresh air. It gave me time to contemplate my WIP, ponder my marketing strategies, and sing a few tunes to the wind. It also gave me an opportunity to take a moment to appreciate how far I’ve come and think about where I’m headed next.
A few hours of reflection led me to ask myself the hard questions: What is holding me back? Are there any obstacles I need to overcome to achieve my goals?

Then I remembered a lesson my sensei taught me many years ago. I had achieved the level of brown belt and he wanted me to compete in a regional tournament. When I refused, he shook his head, frustrated with my stubborn refusal. I tried to convince him that I couldn’t risk being injured, that I didn’t need to compete to know I was good enough, that I couldn’t afford it. I gave lots of excuses, and still he shook his head. Finally he asked me, “What are you afraid of?”

After a few days of honest analysis, I went to him after class. “Maybe I’m afraid of failure,” I admitted. He smiled. “I don’t think its failure you fear. I think you’re afraid of success.”

It took me a while to process this new perspective, but eventually I realized he was right. Competition at brown belt level for adults gets very tough, and it only gets tougher as you approach black belt. It requires a tremendous amount of dedication and focus to do well at that level. I was a married woman with a family and work responsibilities that were demanding. Taking on another huge commitment was not in my cards and I knew if I made the commitment to compete, I’d have to give it my all—which would have been more than I had to give. I decided that it wasn’t the direction I wanted to go with my martial arts. In that case, my fear of success was the litmus test that helped me decide my direction–a decision ultimately based on choice and not fear.

That lesson has been with me many times over the years since. Whenever I feel myself holding back or not embracing my highest good, I ask those hard questions and wonder if my fear of success is what’s keeping me from moving forward or if the path before me is perhaps the wrong direction.

To this day, I continue to wonder whether the writer’s life is truly for me, but I’m not ready to give up all that I’ve accomplished and I’m not about to let my fear of success—or failure—stop me from becoming all that I can be. I know I can’t be alone in feeling this way as a writer. I think fear is one of the biggest stumbling blocks people deal with. If you’re not sure how to tell the difference, fear of failure is that doubt monster that says “you’re no good,” “no one will read your books,” or “you really suck at this writing thing.” While fear of success looks something like this:

If I finish a manuscript, then I have to submit it (that means queries, synopses, and rejections). I would bet there are as many writers who fear acceptance from an agent or editor as there are those who don’t submit for fear of the dreaded rejection letters. Any agent will tell you that they only receive a relative few of the submissions they request at conferences.

If I become published, I will have to sell my books, have a social network presence, learn marketing, file taxes, etc., etc. Whether you are traditionally or independently published, you will take on these responsibilities and more. Not everyone is prepared for the business side of writing. In fact, most writers are not. Being a published author is a career—a very challenging and complex career that requires a tremendous amount of time, commitment, and hard work. As the scripture says, “To one who is given much, much is expected.”

As you look at your goals for the coming year—as you contemplate how far you’ve come and ponder the path ahead, ask yourself this question: Is your fear of success holding you back? What will happen if you succeed in achieving your goals? Are you really ready for it? If not, what do you need to do to prepare yourself to meet the challenges head on?

Motivational speaker and financial guru, Harv Ecker says, “People don’t have what they want because they don’t know what they want.” Be clear about what it is you want your life to look like. Enjoy the control you have over your career and the opportunity you have to grow into it at your own pace. Don’t let your fear of success–or failure–drive your decisions.

Unlocked secret:  If you love writing, but aren’t sure you’re ready for that next big step, don’t push forward just because others expect it of you, or you’re feeling the need to keep up with the crowd and prove yourself. Continue learning the craft, growing as a writer, and learn the business side of publishing to see if it’s the kind of career you really want, because it definitely isn’t just about writing good books. And if being a published author has always been your dream, don’t let anything stand in your way—not even your fear of success. This is your life—the life you are creating with every choice you make. Choose consciously.

What about you? Are your fears holding you back? Which is it…fear of failure, or fear of success?


23 thoughts on “Fear of failure or fear of success?”

  1. I once became so blocked I couldn’t write. I read The Artists Way by Julia Cameron which has a bunch of irritating, er, amazing exercises to help you learn just what you’re afraid of. Turns out it was a fear of success, subconsciously I was afraid if I succeeded it would affect my marriage. But how could I not write? After talking to my critique group who poo-pooed the idea-how can writing hurt a marriage, I got back to it a page a day. But I was right. By the time I got an agent, things had gotten so bad that I sank into a pretty deep depression but refused to admit it and I refused to give up writing. Ended up having to give up the marriage though, it came down to an ultimatum, quit writing or get out. Ironically, after the divorce I couldn’t write for over a decade (and lost my agent). Guilt’s an evil bedmate. I did blog about how to get up again, but actually I could write a whole book, lol. http://www.rubyslipperedsisterhood.com/knocked-down-get-up-again-tips-on-bouncing-back/

    1. Oh, my sparring story-first time I sparred as an orange belt, I pretty much tucked-tail and ran, lol. However, I’m not fond of failure so sparred again when I was a brown belt and won. Had to drop out of martial arts after that, though. We moved and I had four kids by then so it was too tough and wasn’t one of my long-term goals, I actually had started to help out a friend.

    2. WOW, Diana. That is an extreme case, but not so unusual. Writing is one of those careers that is not a 9-5 job and it requires lots of understanding and help from our mates and families. My husband is uber supportive, but I sometimes feel as if he’s become a “writer’s widow.” That first year in publishing when I was intensely focused, he barely saw me out from behind my computer screen. Not all men can handle that kind of competition, especially if they see it as a “hobby” and aren’t seeing the benefits of a big paycheck to go along with it. I’m sorry to hear that it derailed your life so badly, but your perseverance is inspiring! Thanks for sharing.

  2. An excellent post, Paula! An agent once told me that 80% of the writers she invited to submit didn’t. The writer’s life is very demanding; I agree…know what you’re getting into and make whatever decision is best for you.

    1. Thanks, Kristan. I remember having a conversation with you a few years ago about not being sure I wanted to deal with the demands of the traditional publishing world–contracts, two books a year, “working” for someone else’s profit. I balked at the pressure to produce. But once I wrote Heaven Is For Heroes, I knew it had to be published. It was a big turning point for me and an instrumental moment in turning me toward indie-publishing. I decided that the parts of being published that were standing in my way wouldn’t exist in the indie world. Of course, I was totally wrong, LOL. The only real difference is that I’m the boss and the buck stops here. The only one I have to blame for my success or failure is moi:-) Thanks for stopping in!

  3. Wow, You’ve definitely given me some food for thought, especially that “unlocked secret.” Something I have a really hard time with is when I start getting praise and when folks assume things about me–it’s like I get caught on a tidal wave, going in a direction I’m not sure I’m ready to go in yet. I’m not the type of person who just finishes a book and sends it off. For example, my historical, yes, I’m sure something will get done about that, but I haven’t decided what the best thing is yet. I don’t really want to be a career historical romance writer, so I don’t want to go down a path that will pigeon-hole me. It’s just not “me.” LOL but it’s like my book is burning holes in other people’s pockets ;). I want to be ready for a career when I step in, and I don’t want to step in until I am ready. I have a vision of what I want–not the success part of it, because I know that’s out of my hands in many ways, but for me, and who I want to be. It’s really hard to stay on that path though when so many others are doing things differently!

    Best of luck to you, Paula! I love reading your books.

    1. Thanks, Melanie. And thank you for your lovely review.

      I know exactly what you mean. I actually decided to indie publish because my husband double-dog-dared me to, LOL. My takeaway:Trust your gut and try not to let the expectations of others rule your choices. Thanks for being here.

  4. I can SO relate to this right now! It’s exactly what’s been going through my head lately. I’ve been chalking things up to “marketing isn’t working for me”–but I think it’s quite the opposite. I have made a lot of personal book sales, and it scares me a bit to think that I may need to focus on that more…do more public speaking, bang on more doors in hopes of signings, which equates to taking time from my family.

    Glad to see I’m not the only one who thinks all backwardsy like this :).

    1. It’s not “backwardsy” at all Kat. I think most humans process this issue in very similar ways. Listening to the message is what’s important. Knowing what you want and having clear intention is the way to succeed, but going into it with your eyes wide open about the responsibilities that come with it, is the kicker that draws us backward. Everyone is maxed out with responsibilities and pressures today.

      We all have limitations on how much we can handle and there is always going to be our competitive nature that says, “she/he is doing it. I should be able handle it too.” As kristan Higgins pointed out, we each need to find the path that’s right for us. You definitely aren’t alone:-)

  5. Fear, for a small word it can really tap dance on a soul. My woodpecker is constantly pounding the fear factor in through my brains back door, and I fight to overcome it. Every book comes with a hole that I’ve mud filled several times only to start again with the publishing process. Yeah, its a vicious circle but I think deep down, it’s the fight of overcoming it that keeps me going. But it is unhealthy and I appreciate reading these blogs encouraging me to learn to work through it. I think that overcoming fear will be my ultimate internal praise. Thanks Paula.

  6. Hi Doree. Faith is a bigger, stronger word than fear:-) Believe in yourself, believe in your writing, and know that whichever path you choose you will have a lot to learn along the way. it just depends on where your heart leads you. Best of luck!

  7. Great post, PJ. I’m going through the same questions this week as I make my 2013 goals.

    Fear of success is what I’d say is holding me back. I love my current life. If I were to succeed, writing would take much more time, it would become a full time job. I’d have to carve out the time and force my family to respect my closed office door. I don’t think I was fully prepared for this in the past two years.

    My writer self has grown up, matured, and is now ready to commit to success. I’m very positive for 2013.

    1. Thank you, Carole. I will say that the evolutionary process eventually helps us hone in on some balance–at least it is for me finally. The first year of publishing for me was extremely unbalanced. I worked way too many hours and tried to do it all…to the detriment of my health and relationships. I think once we figure out how to step away from the writing and keep living our lives while still taking care of “business,” we are much happier. My goals are all about being kinder and gentler to myself this year. Glad you popped in!

  8. Thanks for a great post. It’s much food for thought for all of us who write. I’ve asked myself that very question in the past–Do I fear success?. And my answer was yes as I didn’t know if I could handle being an author plus all the other demands in my life. But since the release of my debut Historical Romance, I’m determined to keep forging ahead. I have a lot more to learn about marketing and that is overwhelming to me at the moment, but I keep saying to myself if others can do it so can I. I only hope I’m right. And as another commented, it helps to know others silently question why we hold back at times. Thanks again.

    1. We are definitely all in this together, Beverly. Happy to offer support. I keep telling myself, “stay in the moment, take it one step at a time, and allow it to unfold.” I’m thinking that’s good advice for all of us:-)

  9. This post is thought provoking. I just want to finish my WIP and pitch. No fear here, only the push ahead to complete my WIP and pitch at National. I still have not decided if I want to get involved with traditional pub, or epub. Either way, there’s a great deal of marketing. I am not sure that I want to work that hard anymore. Been there, done that. We shall see. Thanks for a wonderful post.

    1. I’m smiling, Gail. I like your no-nonsense approach. Focused and one step at a time. Excellent philosophy. And I hear you about the hard work. I did not think I’d be working this hard at this point in my life. When I first moved up here to the hills with my sweetie and both my kids had gone off to college and beyond, I started my own Holistic health care practice and had kind of a cushy 30 hour per week, Zen lifestyle with lots of free time to play and no real responsibilities. I started writing to fill some of those hours and somehow it snowballed into another new career. I love what Oprah Winfry says about such things. “Sometimes God has bigger plans for us than we have for ourselves.”

  10. PJ, wonderful post and timely. Fear of the unknown, the next step, and all the anxiety associated with those fears cripple me. “Doubt” constantly plagues me as a writer. This is a hard business and I had no idea when I jumped in, how deep the water was, or the huge chunk of commitment it takes. I also had no idea how much joy it would bring to me, personally. My life has changed drastically since making the decision to move forward and take writing seriously, and not all for the best. Sometimes I wonder if its all worth it, but when I try to step away, it’s like leaving a limb behind and I don’t function a hundred percent until I’m back to writing. Cliche, but it “completes” me, and it isn’t so much about the numbers as it is about the self-satisfaction I get when I pen “the end” and see the finished product. Your choice I believe is the right one. You’re a great writer, PJ, and I for one, look forward to reading your next creation.

  11. Another great post, Paula. I was in my early-20s and had just finished listening to a self-improvement course on cassette (imagine that, cassette tapes). Anyway, I followed the visualization, face-your-fears steps to the nth degree over the following week. About five years later, I realized that I was standing in the exact scene of success that I had envisioned during that post-course week’s effort. In the following twenty years, I have never blocked out enough time to repeat that process but not a year goes by when I don’t wonder how much further I might have gone (might go) if I continually repeated that process. Success and failure are so closely entwined, it’s no wonder that living safely will provide you with neither. Thanks for the reminder of all that. Will I or won’t I block out a few days this year? Maybe.

    1. That’s fascinating, Tim. I’ve had success with those kinds of intensive training sessions where you can really unlock powerful manifestations through focused intention. None of us spends enough time in meditation, prayer, or just deeper connection to the spirit that animates us and gives us the power to do the impossible. Why don’t we do that more often? Sighhh…

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