The Odds That We Might Fear Success MORE Than We Fear Failure

by Trish

in Create Now! Revolution, Find Your JOY!, Reframe Your Possibilities, writing


An oldie, but goodie.

It’s so easy for me to fear failure.

I envision failure.

“Oh, I’m so not going to stick that landing right there.”

“Oh, what will they think of me? I should really rethink this.”

For me, and for many of you, this fear of failure shows up at the beginning of the process.

For instance, I’m researching a book proposal right now (mine; I do not give up!) and I’m reading and writing on note cards (a la Elizabeth Gilbert) a lot of factoids about creativity. I’ve read Sarah Lewis’s AMAZING AND MARVELOUS book, THE RISE, and am in the middle of both Ed Catmull’s CREATIVITY, INC. and Dr. Shelly Carson’s YOUR CREATIVE BRAIN.

I swear, every day I take notes, I think to myself at least more than once, “there is nothing new for me to say about this topic, is there?”

Anyone out there raising their hand with me?

First of all, this is fear of failure talking.

Good grief, I”m so bored with this. Is there nothing new my self-talk can say TO ME about my own work besides, “I don’t think you have an original idea here”?

Who does have a truly original idea anyway? It’s all about repositioning, looking at old things with new eyes, and resurrecting time-worn ideas that still work.

VOILA, enter James Webb Young. Yesterday, I shared how I discovered his methodology and how it changed my creative approach.

I also talked about how I ran up against creative blocks through each step of his creative process.

Fear of failure.
Fear of success.
Not good enough.
The mindset.

Today, I want to talk about the process I’ve been in lately.

I don’t think what I’m experiencing is fear of failure. I think I’m dealing with something else.

Remember when I said that Young’s steps:

Young’s Step 1: Gathering Raw Material
Young’s Step 2: Digesting the Material
Young’s Step 3: Unconscious Processing
Young’s Step 4: The A-Ha Moment
Young’s Step 5: Idea Meets Reality

might actually bring up very unique blocks for you. It may be fear of failure, but it may also be something else completely.

Each of these blocks are valid.

I don’t hand you Young’s methodology with my framework in order to stress you out!

I am trying to help creatives to be more self-aware.

What is the block I’m experiencing at this moment? What does it mean? How can I move past this block and get back to my creative work?

Segue back to my proposal anxiety and block.

I’m not so much worrying about fear of failure (I mean, yes, it’s there too; big time), but rather fear of success.

Once you get bored with the fear of failure self-talk (and I am so bored, because I recognize it for what it is—same old, same old bullshit I always tell myself), you will just come up against another block.

For me, it’s fear of success. The thing about fear of success is that what’s required now is not more hard work, but an energy exchange. A release of the old self-talk toward an adoption of brand-new self-talk.

As I face this fear of success, I have to stay self-aware even more than when I was fearing failure. That’s the thing about this framework. It eases you in. You finally get around one block, you have to work harder to get around the second one and on it goes.

I don’t say this to quell the enthusiasm. In fact, you deserve to know the truth.

But sometimes you can work so hard, but still hold onto the old paradigms, the old beliefs. My fear of success is me going through this process of letting go of what hasn’t worked or served me. I’m going to keep going, not because I’m trying to just change my self-talk, but because I’m trying to change how I view the world.

For instance: Being creative is effort. It’s work. It’s fun! And then you, like me, decide to push yourself and have goals around your creative efforts and it gets harder.

It surprised me too!

In my view of the world, doing something like writing a book should be easy, effortless, and always fun.

In reality, writing a book, making art, selling products on Etsy, while fun (because you aren’t creative without inspiration, which is the fun part), is more about pushing yourself to the next level. Not settling on your laurels.

You’re inspired to do what you do for a reason. When you’re facing fear of success, it’s so much more than self-talk, it’s ingrained self-worth.

“Do you deserve this?”

“Have you earned this?”

Fear of success sees that you’re doing an end run past the self-talking peeps AND that you are going to make it.

So they turn on the pressure. Start reminding you of all the times you HAVE FAILED. They get a megaphone and start blasting you with louder accusations.

“Don’t you dare!”

“No. No. No. No.”

“Don’t even THINK about it.”

You are MUCH easier to deal with when you’re just afraid to fail. But when you start to create kinetic power, you’re a whole new ballgame, and your self-talk knows it.

You know it! The energies are stirring and something’s changed.

So, the block HAS to show up. It has to stop you.

I’ve read Steven Pressfield’s THE WAR OF ART so many times and this is his main premise. The more pressure you exert to become a better version of yourself, the more resistance you will get. His example was something about Mother Teresa and a used car salesman, but get the book. You’ll be glad you did.


The next step.

As I work through my fear of success, I have to keep repeating to myself, “I’m letting go of old ways that no longer serve me.” I no longer wish to kowtow to someone or blend in anymore. I’m going to stand out. I’m going to chuck the dimmer switch in the garbage.

Full blast. This is me.

Hello, world!

Easier said than done.

I’m changing up my old patterns:

  • I used to think I couldn’t run anymore. I run every other day.

  • I used to think I couldn’t give up eating sugary treats. I did. I also even juice veggies and get those wonderful micronutrients instead.

  • I used to think I could never write a memoir. I’m writing one and it feels good.

  • I used to think I needed an MFA before submitting a novel to an agent/editor. I’m going to submit my novel sometime in 2016 to an agent (I still want an MFA).

  • I used to think I wasn’t anything because I never went to college. I know now that I can give myself the gift of college and I am SOMETHING <strutting my stuff>.

  • I used to think I was a terrible money manager. I’m actually a BRILLIANT money manager. I just want to be better than before.

  • I used to think I had to have tons of clients in my freelancing work. I now know that I want a handful of clients that I adore and that adore me.

  • I used to think I had to bend myself into something others wanted. I refuse to bend. I will flex, and I mean FLEX, but I’m not turning myself inside out any more.

  • I used to think I deserved the shame. I refuse to be shamed ever again.

  • I used to think I was the only one. I’m in a community. We’re all in this together.

So, how do you deal with fear of success?

  • Remember back to the moment you asked yourself, “Who am I?” Creatives can often go back into their art, their writing, their scrapbooking, and find that EXACT moment in time when they asked that question. Or they remember the book, or the creative project, or the art they created as an ANSWER to that question.

  • Go find that moment. Dig through journals, find a quiet place and think back in your mind’s eye, or ask a most trusted friend. When did I ask the question, “Who am I?” And what was that answer?

  • When was the last time I actually did something creative that supported and nurtured that answer? Seriously.

When we fear success, we’re usually still believing something somewhere that got through, that is a lie. We’re letting it lead us around by the nose STILL. I may have kicked the fear of failure in the hindquarters, but fear of success shows me that I still am living up to the paradigm that I am actively trying to kick.

It could be family, cultural, even peer pressure. Heck, sometimes I find that I’m trying to be too many things in a day (I’m an entrepreneur and I like all the clients, remember?).

Beating fear of success is watching to see what else is hiding in the shadows. It could be a resurgence of fear of failure, with all the threats you received from people when “you got too big for your britches.” It could be someone warning you that if you “dare to do what you’re trying to do, you’ll die.” Or “It’s a slippery slope right down to hell.”

That last one is a personal favorite. I’ve been haunted by that one. I had a delightful time in a patriarchal church, can’t you tell? <blarg>

I’m going after it. Enough is enough.

The best way to know if you’re fearing success is if you are able to pinpoint the moment you decided “Who am I?” and you still notice that your thoughts and willpower around that moment don’t match up.

It’s when you know that you’re fighting so hard against the patriarchy, but you’re still haunted by their horribleness and threats. It’s when you know you’re so over that rejection, but you keep replaying key pieces of the actual rejection letter/email in your head. It’s when you are waiting to hear a good vibe from an art studio you really like and you’re willing to become whatever they want just so they’ll post your art.

Fear of success is a giant blinking arrow pointing to anything you missed when you told fear of failure that you were enough, that you did matter.

Fear of success spurs you to keep digging, to keep up with the self-awareness, to continue challenging that self-talk, and most important, to fully stand in “Who am I?” and to live it to the limit.

It’s not just hard work that gets you there, it’s realizing that this journey has creative blocks the entire way. Ask any creative.

Every time any creative, no matter what they did before, gets started, they still notice something. Success may be success, but it also is a giant blinking arrow. You can get it before you fear it, but once you notice it, well, it’s part of your daily landscape.

What is the giant blinking arrow pointing to in your creative life?

Paying attention to it and remembering “Who am I?” as a response to whatever the arrow is pointing to will guide you through it.

A Bit More Than You Wanted To Know, But It Might Be Helpful To Someone

To deal with some of this in my own life, I went and got professional therapy, from a psychiatry and counseling center attached to hospital system. It works. It’s so helpful. It changes your life.

I have also used a life coach. If you’d like a personal recommendation, use the contact form.

I now regularly use tapping or the emotional freedom technique (EFT). It’s accupressure work. It does similar work on your energy and stress as acupuncture, without the needles. (I love acupuncture, but a lot of people don’t.) A book I recommend: THE TAPPING SOLUTION by Nick Ortner.

If you have a comment, or want to leave feedback, check in at the Facebook page.

If you’d like help creating more ideas you absolutely love, contact me about creative consulting services.


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