A few weeks ago, this prompt was posed to me by my Aunt Marilyn:
“I’d like to hear what you have to say about ‘fear of success’ and how to get over it!”
Fear of success? It seems strange to say that. Most people have or understand a fear of failure. But can a fear of success hold you back from achieving your dreams?
My initial reaction to the question was, sure, I have some concerns about what may happen in my life if I achieve success as a writer. But I actually don’t think that accurately covers the scope of the fear.
So, I did some Googling. I came across quite a few websites explaining it but the easiest one to understand was Livestrong.com’s Handling Fear of Success. It gives a simple list of bullet points and follow-up questions. It struck me then, I DO have this fear and it’s probably pretty common.
I won’t list every bullet point, but check out the link above to see if any of them fit in with your own insecurities. The two that stuck out most to me were:
- Fear that you will accomplish all that you set out to, but that you still won’t be happy, content or satisfied once you reach your goal
- Lack of belief in your own ability to sustain your progress, and the accomplishments you have achieved in your life
“I’ll take: Go to Disneyland for 100, Alex”
“Erin, you’ve just achieved your dream, now what are you going to do?”
In a nutshell, that’s what Bullet Point #1 means to me: now what? When I was younger, I had very clear goals and I’m happy to report I achieved them. I wanted good grades–I had them. I wanted to go to college–I did. I wanted to move to Chicago and get an internship–I did. I wanted to have a career doing something exciting–I did. I wanted to get married and have kids–I did. But that was as far as my planning ever took me. So there I was, 27 years old with my first child, thinking, “Now what?”
Boy, did that “Now what?” have me feeling guilty! Here is what I had to tell myself: “Now what?” is actually a positive question. It didn’t have to mean what I achieved wasn’t good enough, it just meant there was more I was capable of doing. I had to find my next goal.
Sustaining Success: Second Book Syndrome
Finding the next goal actually brings me to bullet point number 2: “What if I can’t sustain progress?” It’s no secret in the writing world you’re expected to be more than a one-trick pony. You can’t just write one book. If you get an agent and a publisher wants to invest in you, they want to know you can repeat your success. Hopefully over and over again. What’s more, your readers will demand the same thing. Scary, right?
There are horror stories floating around the internet about “Second Book-itis” or “Second Book Syndrome” where debut authors have their dreams crushed when the public fails to love their second book as much as their first.
Gosh, why bother trying? All that hard work for…what? Seems easier just to quit right now.
Well. Wait a second. That’s putting the cart WAY before the horse (I must have a first book before I can worry about a second!). Why am I letting fear of what happens after success scare me out of being successful?
To answer that I had to rationalize. If I have the talent to do this once, I will still have the talent to do it twice. Being scared of the follow-up to success kind of implies the first time was luck, right? Well, there’s nothing lucky about being successful. It’s about hard work. If you can work hard enough to do it once, you can work hard enough to do it again.
So, how do YOU overcome these fears?
It’s about asking yourself what those fears mean and how do you logically move beyond them.
Why do you fear a lack of satisfaction with success?–> Because I won’t know what to do next. How do you logically move beyond that? –> Keep setting goals, even little ones.
Why do you fear sustaining success? –> Because if I can’t do it again, am I really successful? How do you logically move beyond that? –> Remind myself that I was talented enough to do it the first time and I still have the talent to do it again.
So, I’m no psychologist, Aunt Marilyn, but those are my thoughts on the subject. A lot of overcoming fear is facing it. Doing that requires positive affirmation and surrounding myself with support. I actually think a good support system may be the MOST important step, for me. Here’s what I did:
- I told people about what I wanted to do. Not only to get encouragement, but to also have them hold me accountable.
- I sought others who seek the same dream as me. Absolutewrite.com is a wonderful community. Twitter is full of supportive writers (I suggest searching the #MyWANA hashtag group and check out this blog by Kristen Lamb).
- Get yourself some cheerleaders (another Twitter group under the #wordmongering hashtag has been great for this).
- Take a break once in a while. This is a toughy. Writing a book makes me feel exactly how I did in school when I had a paper due the next day…everyday. Having other interests and friends gives me the breather I need to dive back in everyday.
No matter what you want to do, I think those same principles apply (just tailor them to fit your exact needs).
What do you think? What fears are holding you back? How are you/did you overcome them?