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Novel Solutions for Fear of Success and Fear of Failure

Updated on September 1, 2011

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.

There's no need to be afraid of this guy.
There's no need to be afraid of this guy.

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.

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    • BennyTheWriter profile image
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      BennyTheWriter 7 years ago from Northeastern U.S.A.

      Thanks so much kimh039! I really appreciate it. The key to defeating that stubborn "perfectionist" trait is to embrace your own imperfection and the dynamic nature of life itself. I wish you luck!

    • kimh039 profile image

      Kim Harris 7 years ago

      I love your "voice" Benny, and the way you draw the reader in, and your use of adjectives. I about drove myself mad with perfectionism some time ago, and learned to stop that. Sometimes, I think I need to get back some healthy fear of failure; I don't have enough anymore! Thanks for the great hub, Benny.

    • BennyTheWriter profile image
      Author

      BennyTheWriter 7 years ago from Northeastern U.S.A.

      Ah, thought-provoking question. I like.

      I'd like to think that I'm living now as if I knew this were my only life, but I know that this isn't the case. However, I'm aware that I should "life differently." I should fully develop myself as the person I want to be and actively work on that each day. I should be expanding my knowledge and understanding of the world on a daily basis. My hub "Taking Action: The Best Antidote to Regret" was written in part to push myself out of procrastination, to act in the here and now, while I have life and the opportunity to define my existence.

    • Kosmo profile image

      Kelley 7 years ago from California

      Would you live your life differently if you thought this is the only life you'll live in the entire existence of the universe? Later!

    • BennyTheWriter profile image
      Author

      BennyTheWriter 7 years ago from Northeastern U.S.A.

      Thanks for your kind words Kosmo!

      When I say I'm an existentialist, I refer of course to the way I see myself, my place in the world, and the world as it relates to me. The basic tenets of existentialism have helped me define for myself many of the vague notions I've had about life since childhood. I believe that "existence precedes essence," and that solitude is intrinsic to the human experience. I think many of our successes and failures in life, as well as our personalities, are heavily determined by our relationships with ourselves and that solitude.

      I agree with you: existentialism seems to be naturally embedded in the human psyche. Many people seem to go about defining their lives without giving it much thought, but I was always the type to dig deeper and ask myself, even as a young kid, "what is life all about? What, if any, meaning does it have?"

      I confess, I have not read "Waiting for Godot," but I have read about it, and will get my hands on it as soon as I can! It's quite fascinating.

    • Kosmo profile image

      Kelley 7 years ago from California

      There are plenty of fears out there all right and you, BennyTheWriter, seem to describe them quite well. So, you're an existentialist, eh? Does that mean you've read Existentialism 101, that is "Waiting for Godot"? Personally, I think we're all existentialists, whether we realize it or not. Later!

    • BennyTheWriter profile image
      Author

      BennyTheWriter 7 years ago from Northeastern U.S.A.

      billyaustindillon: Thanks a lot for your feedback. They can indeed work back to back, and can thus be easily defeated by simply changing the way we think. It takes practice, but ultimately it's not that hard.

    • billyaustindillon profile image

      billyaustindillon 7 years ago

      Benny you explain the fear of success and fear of failure very well - they often work back to back to knocking each other down and most people don't even realize it.

    • BennyTheWriter profile image
      Author

      BennyTheWriter 7 years ago from Northeastern U.S.A.

      Thanks Vern! You're inspiring me to write more about the concept of perfection, so I'll put on my thinking cap and see what I can come up with.

      I'm learning that it's all about how you look at perfection. Perfection is, quite ironically, a flawed concept. It's an artificially strict standard that will always be just out of our reach, so it's really pointless to pursue it. We need to learn instead to appreciate our ability to simply DO things. When we ACCOMPLISH something--whether or not flawed human beings (i.e., we ourselves and others) see it as "on par" with other accomplishments--that in of itself is success. Until we appreciate ourselves and are thankful for our capabilities, we'll keep pushing ourselves to the brink of madness.

    • vrbmft profile image

      Vernon Bradley 7 years ago from Yucaipa, California

      I see you enjoy looking at this "perfection" stuff. Me too! I am at a place in my life, rat now, it might change in three minutes(!), where I can enjoy performing however I perform, or accomplishing whatever I accomplish. Well, yea, I slap myself around a tad, but not like in years past. It's a huge relief to know that the finished product, in a sense, for this very moment, is perfect or as good as it gets, and to also recognize it's not "mine" anyhow and then to let everyone else tell me if they like ir or not or if it's "good" or not. I like the way you broke your hub into two parts. Looking forward to continuing reading your "perfect" stuff!! Thanks for reading mine!

    • BennyTheWriter profile image
      Author

      BennyTheWriter 7 years ago from Northeastern U.S.A.

      Anytime. Glad I was able to help you out!

    • Internetwriter62 profile image

      Internetwriter62 7 years ago from Marco Island, Florida

      Thank you Benny, I really appreciate the advice. You are right, I have to treat it with objectivity, and not let my nerves or the pit of my stomach do the talking. I do admit, I did learn a lot from the experience, and yes, I made many mistakes, that is partly why I quit, I didn't feel I was right for that job, therefore I was not doing my employers a service by staying there. I like to be effective in my employment and feel I am genuinely contributing to the company I work for. Thanks again for your kindness, I truly appreciate you wise insight.

    • BennyTheWriter profile image
      Author

      BennyTheWriter 7 years ago from Northeastern U.S.A.

      Internetwriter62: Thanks so much for rating up--I truly appreciate it. Sometimes people get in the way and contribute to our fears of success and failure. I'm sorry you've had a rough experience in employment. Take pride, however, in the fact that you now have some life experience which you can learn from.

      An important thing for you to realize, I think, is that other people are not the arbiters of your worth as an individual. You have every right to work and do your job to the best of your ability, just as they have the same. When you think in those terms, you're in a better place to judge their criticisms more objectively. If those criticisms contain any useful information on what you can do to improve as an employee, then you should implement them as best as you can. If, however, the accusations are baseless and you're already working within the limits of your capacity, it's best to do what you did: remove yourself from an unhelpful, harmful environment. You did your best--be confident in that.

      Yes, fear of success is a curious thing as well. Again, it's all about perspective. Sometimes we need to reward ourselves in little ways after we accomplish something (for example, treating ourselves to recreation and relaxation, doing fun things) and not be so dependent on external validation that happens by chance. That way, we still get the reward, and we're refreshed and ready to tackle what comes next.

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts and experiences--invaluable stuff.

    • Internetwriter62 profile image

      Internetwriter62 7 years ago from Marco Island, Florida

      Thanks for another hub full of insight and truth. I pretty much am a victim of both monsters. I have some fear of failure still, due to my last job, it seemed no matter how hard I tried, I could never please my co-workers or employer, so I quit. I have fear of finding another job and reliving that experience. I understand fear of success to, sometimes the prospect of more responsibility seems daunting, you sometimes wish easy street would be one's reward not more challenges. Excellent hub, rated up.

    • BennyTheWriter profile image
      Author

      BennyTheWriter 7 years ago from Northeastern U.S.A.

      Thanks for your kind words Pearldiver! I've never heard these ideas expressed, and I figured these proposed solutions would help people. It's amazing what just a few realizations about the nature of the problem, along with simply pushing yourself to get things done, will do for you.

    • Pearldiver profile image

      Rob Welsh 7 years ago from Tomorrow - In Words & NZ Time.

      Well put together hub, that deserves to be read and has a relevance to many that perhaps they fear to admit to. Thanks for sharing... having suffered from both of these fears in my life.. I have to say that you have done well!

      Take Care.

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