Novel Solutions for Fear of Success and Fear of Failure
Even The Scariest Monsters Have Their Weaknesses...
You have a work or school project due tomorrow—let’s say a 10-page paper, or an important presentation--but somehow you have a mental block, and you’re not getting it done. What gives? You notice you have the sensation of fear welling up inside of you; it’s palpable and all too real. You know you must do the task at hand, you know you’re fully capable because you’ve done it before, but somehow it’s just not coming along.
It may be that you’re suffering by the hand of one of two evil, diabolical, fire-breathing dragons, namely, the fear of success or the fear of failure. These two roadblocks often keep us from getting what we want out of life, whether it's as grand as a career change or as simple as asking for a raise, as big as a marriage proposal or as small as asking someone out on a coffee date. Not to mention just getting a “simple” term paper or presentation done.
Fear of failure is just that—the harrowing sense that, no matter how hard you try, you’re just going to mess up. Worries about doing a bad job and producing inadequate work actually sabotage your chances of getting things done. Fear of success, however, is a little less intuitive—with this sucker, you’re actually afraid of doing well! Succeeding is a scary prospect because it comes with its own burdens, such as the expectation of an even bigger hurdle down the road threatening to trip you up next. After all, once you achieve something, you have to keep the good fortune going, right? More of the same will be expected of you. That’s some incredible pressure.
Both fears often lead to procrastination. If this is the case for you, don’t be too hard on yourself. At least you know you care and want to get stuff done. So, here are some novel suggestions for tackling each monster. (This advice is mostly geared towards getting work done, but is applicable to just about anything in life.) If these fears are disrupting your entire life, work them out with someone you can trust. But if these are just occasional troubles, perhaps these ideas will help you see things in a new light.
1. For fear of failure, realize that you’re just human, and however your work turns out, it won’t be the epitome of infallible perfection . Notice the redundance of those last few words? When we’re in “fear of failure” mode, we feel like we must be absolutely spot-on with our work—that if what we do doesn’t come out perfectly, it must be scrapped. The problem with perfectionism is that nothing we produce seems to be quite good enough, and thus everything we produce is subject to being scrapped. But we are only human—nothing we do will be perfect. Who defines perfection anyway? Who defines failure, but other hopelessly flawed humans like ourselves?
We have to turn off that voice in our heads that wants to edit and criticize every little aspect of our performance, and just do . Do what must be done, without thinking too much. If that doesn’t help, make an intentional effort to produce "garbage." Say to yourself, “I’m going to give it my best shot anyway, even if it turns out somewhat mediocre. I’m just going to start moving and not worry about reaching the finish line.” There will almost always be time to go back and revise. Even when there isn’t (such as in the case of asking someone out or requesting a promotion), remember—you’re just human. You win some, you lose some. Pat yourself on the back for the effort, and pick up and try again when appropriate.
Give yourself a push and get to work, even if it doesn’t feel quite right. Tell yourself to indulge, bask, revel in the imperfection. Detach yourself from the outcome, enjoy being your flawed human self, and before you know it, you’ll be an achiever.
2. For fear of success, realize that you WILL be faced with challenges beyond your current one, and that getting past this one hump will strengthen you and prepare you for the next. “Oh no—what if I actually win at this thing? What will I have to conquer next? Help!!!!” OK, calm down and acknowledge this: life is full of hurdles. We’ll always have important things to accomplish, as well as the occasional dry spell or hard time we’ll need to push through. Try to think of your current project as a small “thing to do” in the grand scheme of things. There will be something else to overcome later, whether you complete the task or not. And you'll be better prepared for what comes next, for two main reasons: one, you will have actually accomplished something, and two, your increased self-confidence will carry over into the next challenge.
If you get through the present, you’re capable of handling what the future will throw at you. You’ve got proof positive that you’re a living, breathing being with value in the world; you can actually do things when you set your mind to it. So approach your daunting mission with the sense that it will make the future easier and brighter for you, and nip that fear of success in the proverbial bud.
Knock the fangs out of these monsters, and you'll destroy the power of their bite. Try some of these simple suggestions, and go forth and conquer the world—without fear.