Do you operate as a one-woman or one-man show? Does asking for help ever even enter your mind as a viable option? Does the old saying, “If you want it done right you have to do it yourself.” resonate with you?
Are you getting it all done at the expense of your own undoing?
If you stop long enough to take an honest look behind the need to be and do it all, you might be surprised to find that some combination of fear of success and fear of failure could be fueling your behavior.
As a successful talent agent, I lived on caffeine, nicotine, and adrenaline. I was a straight up workaholic and a crappy delegator. I was proud of how much I worked and how little I slept. I was addicted to the stress of getting it done and pulling off the impossible, until I started questioning the greater value of all of my hard work and sacrifice. This can’t be all there is became a reoccurring thought. Then I got sick. What I learned from my cancer experience was that there was nothing impressive about treating my body and my life like crap. I also learned that much of my behavior was fueled by fear, which seemed counter intuitive, because I experienced myself as fearless.
But fear is a tricky bastard and wears many clever disguises. Fear of success, fear of failure, and fear of loss are the three main fears underneath most workaholic tendencies.
I am grateful that cancer forced me to take a deep dive to uncover what was actually driving me. Once I admitted to myself how completely burned out I was, I was able to discover a better way of living that actually created more success—financially and emotionally.
Today, I want to break down the fears of success and failure and how you can identify and begin to move past them to make your life more manageable and enjoyable.
Fear of Failure
It is safe to say most of us have some fear of failure. It makes sense. No one wants to be defeated, let down, or embarrassed. But fear of failure can run deep and mascaraed as ambition. So to gain clarity, take a moment to answer these questions.
- Are you afraid to fail?
- Do you consistently pick the safe choice?
- Do you hold back or withdraw from taking risks?
- How many of your life choices are driven by fear of disappointing someone else or being rejected?
- When you do something “wrong,” are you easily humiliated, embarrassed, and disappointed in yourself?
- Do you rarely, if ever, ask for help?
As a therapist, I find that it is the meaning clients assign to the perceived failure that dictates how they experience it.
Fear of failure has one thing in common with all of our other fears: it is a feeling and not a fact.
This is a powerful realization. You change your feelings all the time, so you can change your mind and feelings about failure. I have helped many clients re-frame their fear of failure from terrifying to normal and an unavoidable stop on the road to success (and the road of life for that matter).
Many people with a fear of failure are extremely successful by societal standards. This fear can be so overwhelming that they will achieve their goals by any means necessary to avoid what they fear. My own fear of failure stemmed from being the youngest of four daughters, born to a father who wanted a son. I decided early on that I would become more successful than any boy my father could have had to prove my worth.
Knowing what is driving your behavior is key.
Answer the questions below to clarify your fear of failure.
- How is this fear of failure holding you back?
- What would life be like if you did not have this fear?
- Whom are you afraid of disappointing if you fail?
- How strong is your desire to release this fear?
- If there were one step you could take to overcome this fear, what would it be?
Give yourself time and space to write your answers and really marinate on your fear of failure and how it is impacting your life. While you might feel as though nothing is holding you back, your need to do it all could actually be preventing you from living a life you would fully enjoy living. Dig deep and let your answers flow. Re-framing failure as an expected part of the process of living life normalizes the experience and takes some of the charge out of it.
Fear of Success
Being successful comes with its own set of emotional issues. There are obvious issues, like the pressure to continue on your upwardly mobile path and maintain it once you arrive, but there are also more subtle issues. Feeling guilty or threatened by becoming more successful than your parents, your friends, or your spouse is rarely discussed but is a common occurrence. These fears can inspire feelings of isolation and fear of abandonment.
To help you get to the root of your fear of success, find some quiet time, pen and paper in hand.
- What is holding you back from achieving what you want and continuing to strive higher? Is it a person, a feeling, a cultural standard?
- Once you know what’s blocking you, ask yourself what you want your life to look and feel like. What do you want more and less of in the areas of your life where you feel stuck, guilty, and afraid?
- What is the next right action to releasing the fear of success? Do you need to have a heart-to-heart with your parents about your feelings of guilt if you become more successful than them? Do you need to talk to a friend or partner about your fear that they will be angry or jealous of your success?
Fear of Loss
At the core of these issues is a fear of loss. Loss of control, loss of the familiar, loss of love.
You imagine how someone else might react to changes in your life. Realize that these assumptions are colored by your own projection.
Remember, your life and career are a collection of your choices. I hope this post inspires you to think honestly and deeply about what is motivating your decisions. I hope you choose to continue to allow yourself to shine in all areas of your life, not just your career.
Drop a comment and share your failure and success fears. Have you found tools for coping that have worked for you? Your insight might help lessen the suffering of another.
For more, I did a call on Monday night Success Simplified: How to Get It All Done (Without Undoing Yourself in the Process). Click the link for the recording, a guided meditation, worksheets, and a chance for a complimentary strategy session with me!
Let’s simplify success. It’s about time, right?
Love Love Love