Fear of Success, Fear of Failure

Writer's block

I’m asked, every once in a while, if I’m afraid of success.

Usually, this comes up when I talk about being in the middle of the most vicious writer’s block I’ve ever experienced, or when I talk about how I’ve had ample time to complete the edits on my manuscript draft but just … don’t work on it for some reason.  Sometimes, when these topics come up, someone will ask if I’m afraid of success.

Everyone has some fear of rejection.  Usually it’s mild and gets us beyond that hump when it first happens.  Other times it’s flat nasty and paralyzes us cold.  Either way, most folks accept to varying degrees the idea of fear of rejection.  It makes sense.  No one likes to hear they’re not wanted in whatever capacity.  Heck, I just hit a wall and slid down in a greasy pus-like ooze over my last rejection – a job interview.

Still, the question of whether I’m afraid of success is a tough one.  Yesterday’s post talked about how I won’t settle for anything less than mega-success where publishing is concerned.  Everything else will allow me to say I at least tried, but it probably won’t give me the joy and happiness of the super-ride.  (I can’t say for sure though, ‘cause … y’know.  I haven’t tried or anything.  For all I know, I’ll be bouncing off the ceiling.)

But not having tried yet, I can’t say for sure if I’m afraid of success.  It’s not something I have to worry about right now.  I’m many things, but “successful” isn’t one of them.  And since I can’t focus on things which aren’t immediate needs for more than a few minutes right now, I can’t speak with certainty on desires.

I’d love to be successful, but that’s not to say I’m not afraid of it.  A lot of people love to skydive but that doesn’t mean they aren’t going to scream in flat abject all the way to the ground if (I say “when”) something goes wrong.  They like the thrill; not so much the consequences.  Since I don’t know the consequences of what I’m going after, it’s entirely possible I’m doing all I can to procrastinate on making the necessary steps because I can’t stomach the idea of being successful.

In truth, the odds of out-of-the-gate success are really poor in this, my chosen love.  Almost no one has immediate success.  Those that do are rare, exceptions, and for the vast majority of people the vast majority of the time, there isn’t a doggone reason to worry.

Still, it’s an interesting idea, and something I don’t know how to explore without … well, you know.  Without flat out trying.

What about you?  Some of you, my fellow writers, have taken more of the steps than I, and have experienced levels of success and/or failure I haven’t breached yet.  I can’t speak to what fear of success or fear of failure looks like, smells like, tastes like, feels like … but you can.  How did you know which it was?  Was it either?  Or did you just not think about that, like the person strapped to a tablecloth jumping out of a perfectly functional plane at 10,000 feet?

Ideas are all welcome.  I’m curious beyond reckoning.



18 thoughts on “Fear of Success, Fear of Failure

  1. Fear of failure is more of an external pressure, like when I give other people my work, or thinking of letting others down. Fear of success is internal: Once I reach this milestone I’m working toward, will I be able to continue to deliver, or have I hit the bottom of the well? If I don’t reach the next milestone, I’ll never be faced with my limits, which is, of course, a limit in itself. I think fear of success is harder to get over.

    I think you’re probably right, although fear of failure is only reinforced with any failure, so that can be tough too. But fear of success is weird and difficult.

    • I don’t know, I think fear can be lessened by failure, in that you can see you won’t die if you fail. It probably depends on the type and magnitude of the failure, though.

      And I think if the person’s afraid of the failure itself — not because they’re afraid of what will happen as a result of it — then failure can make it worse. I think what you’re saying applies to fear of rejection, but you’re right. It depends on the magnitude and type.

      • Ah, yes, let’s add fear of rejection into the mix. I think you are right. That is a different animal.

        Not entirely, though. I think fear of failure is similar, not entirely different.

  2. I know, I’m a pain in the you know; however, these are in a word document on my desktop lest I forget:

    “Success is the ability to go from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm” –Winston Churchill

    “There is no try . . . there is do or do not” –Yoda, Jedi Master

    “Always do the right thing. It will astonish some, and confuse the rest” –Mark Twain

    “Never, never, never give up” –Jim Valvano

    All great words to live by. And who hasn’t remembered master Yoda’s words when in the bathroom constipated, I asks ya? (J/K)

    • “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again. Then give up. There’s no sense being a damn fool about it.”
      W. C. Fields
      🙂 Ol’ W.C. was such a bright ray of sunshine.

      And a practical guy. 🙂 Thanks, Bryce. I guess I’m down to taking his advice soon.

      • Just a slightly more serious thought. Be careful how you define success. Baby steps toward a larger goal can be success, too.

        Well, redefining one’s measure of success is again easier to say than do. Much.

    • All I want to know is, where the hell is the ending to Benny Rodgers? And A Jog in the Park? Huh, huh, hum Mr. Success, Mr. Failure (hey my intitials SF now I get what my problem is, oy vey)….

      I have a new web acronym MwW (masturbating with words). 🙄 uh, oh I’m getting into trouble fast.

      Yeah, that’s not going to turn out well if we keep down that road. And the endings to those stories are what you read. It’s the evil part of me. 🙂

  3. I usually experience fear of success as having a raft of components that need to be seen through one by one. It usually means having to face such areas as commitment, more work than I think I can handle and more responsibility.

    Interesting. Maybe the magnitude of what’s required beyond the initial success is what holds us back. A valid point, Vajradaka. Thanks for stopping by!

  4. I’m not sure about fear of success. I don’t think what people really fear is success, I think that’s just a label we’ve stuck on two things.
    1) The fear of change. For example, people have their friends, and they don’t want that to change/become weird.
    2) A low concept of self. If someone has already decided internally that he is a failure, there’s no reason to try. Oddly enough, success, even repeated success, doesn’t seem to fix the problem.
    Of course, I’m no expert, but there you have it.

    Now, that’s interesting. Very much so. I feel number two describes me better than I’d like. Not that I’ve had repeated success, but low self-conception is something I’ve had most of my life.

    For me, I don’t fear failure. I fear missing out on opportunities to share my favorite hobby with others. I fear allowing what modicum of fledgling talent I have to become stagnant.

    I tangle with burying the talent too.

    And monkeys.
    Monkeys are not your friends.

    No, I know some who believe monkeys are the ultimate in cool, and others who feel they’re consummate evil. I’ll count you among the latter. 😉

    • All those who have had real experience with monkeys, and not just movie or zoo experience will agree with me. Monkeys are mean-spirited and vicious. If you consider that cool, that’s your prerogative.

      Sloths, on the other hand, are awesome beyond words.

      I’ve no real-world experience with monkeys, but being in a zoo doesn’t lessen their mean-spiritedness. I can testify to poo- and pee-flinging followed by gleeful monkey laughter and shrieks of human horror. Those who find monkeys cool do not, to my knowledge, reside on this blog.

    • >I tangle with burying the talent too.

      Yeah, light under a bushel and and all that.

      Yep, that whole “God gave me this, should I put it out there for people or is it just for me?” thing; not that I use it in any way to glorify God except He gets the credit for giving me the gift to begin with. So maybe it’s a moot point?

  5. I’m not conscious of ever being afraid of success. Then again I’m not a very ambitious person. I’ve never wanted to be famous, and I’m happy being financially stable, but I’ve no desire to be vastly wealthy. So there’s no tug of opposites: the desire to excel vs. the desire to stay safe. I mostly stay safe and let things evolve organically. That seems to work out pretty well.

    And there’s nothing wrong with that! Woo!

  6. Often, the thrill of doing something, far exceeds that of the ultimate consequence.. and it is a good thing, since the journey is what takes us through the consequential destination..

    The fear of rejection, which can come camouflaged under various different garbs, is something I believe affects each one of us.. I view them as stumbling blocks, which are meant to be bypassed! Therefore, I think, sometimes we ought to take rash decisions, without pondering much over the consequences, trusting our instincts.. Of course, it wouldn’t augur well for us to dive in front of a speeding car!!

    I’m not sure I can live like that, but every once in a while I do find I need to say, “Heck with it! I’m goin’ for it!”

  7. I think Bryce said it best. Are you sure it’s fear of sucess? Or is it just fear of change from where you are now? Or more directly, is it fear that you won’t feel any differently when (NOT IF) you are successful? Why risk changing things and being succesful if you fear that change will only be around you, not inside you? You only live once, why not just dig in and go for it? Worst that could happen is you are where you are now. Nothing wrong with that. You have a hell of a support group and fan gathering. 🙂

    I sure do! Thank you all so much. So much! You guys are the awesomeness itself! I’m not sure if Bryce nailed it for me or not, but there’s definitely the crystalline ring of truth in what he says.

  8. Knyt

    Just speaking for me I would rather go to the big game and LOSE then not to have been there at all. Failure stinks but the more you play the game the more success you will have. Least thats how i feel about it…zman sends

    Sounds like a plan to me, Zman. Thanks, bud. 🙂

  9. I’m not afraid of success, I was afraid of failure but then I realized that too much of my definition of failure is fame and fortune and and being able to rub said fame and fortune in the noses of the people that always thought I was a loser.

    And that’s me. In a nutshell, that’s it.

    In doing so I really lost a lot of the joy of writing.

    I’m sure I have too.

    Now I give my stuff away all across the damned Internet like a girl with Daddy issues, breast implants and a webcam.

    You know about free ones? ‘Cause all I ever see are ones asking for a credit card number for “age verification” … yeah, right ….

    But seriously, I’m happier than I’ve ever been.

    My wife liked to say “Let go and let God” and even though I mostly worship Cthulhu I think this time she was right.

    She is right. And I’m trying to learn how to do just that. Not the Cthulhu thing, the letting go to let God.

  10. I’m definitely not afraid of success nor of failure. Failure to me is not trying or giving up. And I’m trying. And I can’t quit. Success to me is publication, not really acquired millions or fame. And I don’t fear my version of success. The dream-squishing kind of fear is just an excuse for inaction. You either want something, or you don’t. You either go for it, or your don’t. If fear holds you back, you probably don’t want your THING badly enough.

    My great group of critters helped me to see the good in my work and also the bad so I could make my work shine. Their encouragement, constructive criticism and belief in me and my ability gave me confidence to trust in myself and overcome my fears. And oh, I have them. Plenty. But I’d rather fail because the gods, the economy, the industry have all somehow conspired against me and my effort than because I never had the guts to step out and try. I’ve been querying and cringing. It’s totally freaky. But out of ten letters sent, I’ve gotten three rejections and one request for the full. Not too bad for a start.

    No matter your passion, there are always risks in going for your gold: potential heartbreaks and pitfalls, wolves out there ready to trample on your dream and tear you apart. But there are also possible wins: merely reaching the finish line, in getting it done, praise for your effort. Though rarer than diamonds, I’m after the wins, both big and small, so I have to go for it. I can’t accept anything less from myself. My fear, negativity and all else be damned.

    Yes indeed, being able to say you tried is gold in and of itself. Good luck!

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