Today’s post was inspired by a member of our mailing list. She is taking our free e-course, 21 Days to Making More From Your Writing, and said fear was one of the things keeping her from taking her writing career to the next level. I’m really honored she shared such an honest response with us. And I know she is not alone. Hence yesterday and today’s blog posts.
Fear steals ambition and potential from a lot of us. As writers, it can feel like we see a whole lot more failure than success at times. Every time we put something out for public consumption that we’ve written, we risk readers tearing it apart, ridiculing us, and even laughing at us. And if we submit anything to an agent or publisher, there is a good chance we’ll get some rejection — that is, if the agent or publisher even bothers to respond at all.
Yeah, that’s a lot of potential for failure in the writing life. And that potential for failure strikes fear in the hearts of many aspiring writers. The devastating effect is that some writers never even share their work with others; they keep it locked away on their hard drives. That’s a shame when the writer is good, but too scared of failure to chance having the work read by others.
Yesterday, we talked about the fear of success. But sometimes, it’s the fear of failure that keeps us from moving forward. We get so consumed with being scared of how others will see us that we let that color how we see ourselves. We see ourselves as not quite good enough, that maybe we don’t quite have what it takes to do the thing we most want.
And, just like the fear of success, the fear of failure paralyzes us. We live in a world filled with, “One day I will…” but we know we won’t.
Sometimes the fear of screwing something up in a major way — failing — stops us from even trying something new.
Lots of us envision the absolute worst thing possible happening, and that mental picture is enough to hold us captive.
I once forgot what I was saying in the middle of giving a college commencement speech. It was a quote I had uttered many times before and knew. But for some reason, my mind just went blank. I broke out into a coughing fit and someone rushed to get me a cup of water. When I finally — finally — recovered, the crowd was ready to clap and have me sit down. But I wasn’t ready to go. I made a joke about the whole thing, the crowd laughed, and I went on with the rest of my talk. Most people imagine forgetting what you are about to say is the worst thing that can happen when you are speaking. And it is pretty bad. But you know what? I survived. And I went on to do other speaking engagements after that.
So the worst-case scenario happened, but I didn’t die. And you won’t either.
Six reasons you fear failure and what you can do about it
1. You don’t want to be laughed at. What you can do about it: Realize that most people are too consumed with their own lives to dwell too long on yours. So you may make a mistake and a few might even notice, but chances are, your mistake will be forgotten before too long.
2. You imagine the worst-case scenario. What you can do about it: Plan, practice, and prepare. Consider whatever you think is the worst-case scenario. Then imagine what would happen if that thing actually happened. How would you face it or address it? Just entertaining this thought can help you realize that the worst-case scenario might not be as bad as you imagine. But if that thing does happen, then you’re prepared for it and know what to do about it.
When I had that mental bleep and forgot what I was saying as I delivered that college graduation speech, I knew I had to acknowledge what happened, diffuse any awkwardness about it, and move on. So I acknowledged it by having a laugh with the audience, which diffused the awkwardness. And we moved on.
3. You see failure as defeat. What you can do about it: Realize that failure is only defeat if you stop trying. If you let that failure be the thing to stand in the way of pursuing your success. Failure that you learn from on your way to success is just that, a teaching tool, and a training ground for bigger and better things. Know that most great successes we hear about today came after failure, disappointment, and drama.
4. You don’t think you are good enough. What you can do about it: Realize that you don’t have to be great to get started, but you do have to get started to be great. And if you get started and do poorly to begin with, that’s OK. Most of us screw up a few times before getting it right. And if you truly are bad at whatever you are attempting, then get the necessary training, education, and instruction to get better.
5. You feel your race, gender, location, etc., is a liability. What you can do about it: Realize that people of all races, both genders, and from all over the world find their success, even in fields and areas dominated by people who don’t look like them. Choose to pursue your aim, goal, or dream anyway. If you see your race, gender, location, etc., as a liability, try to see it as a competitive advantage, instead. The thing you see as a liability could be the thing to give you a unique or different perspective. It can be the thing to help you stand out in a world of sameness.
6. You are afraid failure will make you go broke or lose something valuable. What you can do about it: Depending on what you are pursuing and how much you have at stake, you could go broke or lose something valuable if you fail. The thing to do when this fear is stopping you is to learn all you can about the thing you are pursuing, put into place a solid plan for pursuing not only your success, but addressing any unknowns. If going broke is the fear, then decide how you will handle money — Do you need to save a certain amount before going forward? Do you need to take on a second job while you get your new business off the ground? Do you need to downsize or scale back on some of the current expenses? Planning in this instance, will help allay your fears.
Whether you fear success or failure, you can face it. You can make a living writing. You can publish your book. You can have your byline in a fancy publication. You can … Yeah, you can follow your dream anyway.
What big goal or dream do you want to pursue?