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Make Your Fear of Success Obsolete

Make Your Fear of Success Obsolete

Yesterday, I underlined the following lines in a book about war:

“One cannot explain it.  A man is walking along without thought or heed; – suddenly he throws himself down on the ground and a storm of fragments flies harmlessly over him; – yet he cannot remember either to have heard the shell coming or to have thought of flinging himself down….

It is this other, this second sight in us, that has thrown us to the ground and saved us, without our knowing how.”  

(From All Quiet on the Western Front)

What a remarkable thing our bodies and brains are.

They can sense imminent danger and leap out of the way – sometimes before you have time to consciously process what is happening.  Think about it – if you sense a spider on your arm, you are often only made consciously aware of it by you leaping to shake it off, then looking around to see what happened.

Fear serves a tremendously useful purpose.  How terrible it would be if we had to get into every situation before realizing that it was dangerous.  By then, the damage would already be done!  In a way, fear is like a superpower – it enables us to predict the future and avoid harm.

Fear is only a problem when it’s wrong.  (Click here to tweet that.)

Imagine that you turn on the TV one morning and hear a meteorologist shouting about an impending deluge of rain.

So you pull on your rain gear to walk to work.

Except, the meteorologist was inaccurate.  You’re soon standing out in the sunshine with galoshes, covered in acres of waterproof fabric, while everyone around you is wearing shorts and flip flops.

I have met so many creative people walking around in galoshes and raincoats – some with big hats and giant umbrellas – when it’s sunny outside.

fear-of-success-2371People taking a defensive posture, anticipating harm. 

But the dangers aren’t really there.  Or they aren’t as bad as their minds are telling them.  Or, they’re dangers that could easily be avoided.  In the meantime, they’re wrapping themselves in so many protective layers, they’re not enjoying the warm sun.

They’re not even always aware they’re doing it.

All because the meteorologist – their fear – predicted inaccurately, and they follow without stopping to question.

Last time, we talked about what fear of success is, and some hidden signs that you might have it.  I recommend you read the post if you haven’t. (My favorite comment was: “Great post! I thought it wasn’t for me… Untill I read it.”)  🙂

Essentially, when you fear the things that go along with success (busier schedule, more scrutiny, detractors, added work, new tasks, new people), you start to work against yourself.  Because you do want success, but also don’t really want to reach that place.

Today, we’re going to learn exactly how to walk through a fear of success.

Not ignore it, not bludgeon it, not grit your teeth and bear it – but walk right through it.

Render it as outdated and obsolete as yesterday’s weather forecast.

(This method works for a lot of other things, too, so read on.)

The notable thing about fear is that it often forms itself before you consciously have time to think it through.  And it becomes entrenched without you fully examining it.  You can make fear obsolete by walking through the feared situation and gathering more information.

Once you see that what you prejudged as harmful might not actually be harmful – or that you can handle it – you still might experience some blunted sensations of fear.  But as you take action and your mind sees that it’s not being harmed, fear will go away on its own.

All you have to do is answer the following – and we’ll look at a couple of examples:

fear-of-success-23901. Success to me is:

What is it you’re reaching for – what’s the goal?

Say, booking 15 clients per month.  

2. Is this really necessary for “success”?

Don’t skip this question.  Do you really need 15 clients a month to meet income goals, or does that just feel like a solid number?  (Do you really need 50,000 people on your email list, or would that just feel reassuring?)

Sometimes we land upon arbitrary measures of success – we think someone else has this number and they ‘seem successful,’ or we invented the number because it sounds ‘safe’ and abundant, or we just picked something out of the air.

I recommend grabbing your phone calculator to check metrics.  Even if it’s just a quick n’ dirty estimate:  How much income do you need per month, times twelve, divided by net profit per client.  Or number of sales you make per 100 followers, times the number of sales you need to work out how many followers you need.  Whatever.

Make sure that you’re not just grasping at something because it sounds neat.  I’m not judging what you consider success to be, I just want to make sure you have judged it to be accurate and needful.

For now, let’s assume that 15 clients per month is really who you want to be serving, and the math works out.

3. Here’s what feels scary about it:

Imagine you suddenly have 15 clients per month – presto, it happened!  What would feel scary about that?  (Or: How would your life change, what would make you uncomfortable in this new situation?)

Well, I’d be stressed out because serving that many people would take a lot of time and energy.  Heck, sometimes I’m stressed by the few clients I do have!  How would I ever get the work done fast enough?

4. For each thing that feels scary:  If _____ happened, what’s the worst thing that would actually happen?

Be ruthlessly specific.  If you got stressed out, what would actually happen:

I would run out of time and energy.  I’d get behind on serving people, and then I’d fail, and no one would want to come to me ever again.

5. Here is how I could handle it though:

Okay – if that happened – then what?  How could you work your way out of it?  What could be done to make sure that everything got done?

I could hurry and hire people to do the leg work that bogs me down.  Stuff like uploading and triple checking orders, answering simple/repetitive questions by email, running to the post office – I guess it doesn’t have to be ME that does all of that.  I feel like an automation when doing that anyway – I could easily show someone else how to do it.

6. Here are some people who would help me:

Sometimes, just writing a list of people who can support you makes you feel less alone.  It’s actually a really moving exercise to actually see names on paper of the people who would be there for you if things got tough – be sure you try it.

Sometimes this list might just be your spouse and friends who can be emotional support.  Other times it might extend to looking for outside help:

I can check Google to see the going rates for VAs, and post in some regional groups.  I could even see if there is anyone who has closed their business (they have experience and know my industry, but no longer want to run a full business) who would want to pick up some simple task work from home.  

My neighbor Kim is really good with crafts and is always out and about – we could explore her coming over once a week to manage all wrapping, shipping, and deliveries. 

7. Here is what I can do now to prepare:

So, based on what you could do to handle The Scary Thing: What steps can you take now to get that in place already?

I can make a list of all the tasks I have to do, and then cross out the ones where it HAS to be me doing it.  Everything that’s left on the list, I can find someone else to handle.  

I can start looking online for virtual assistant information, post in some groups, and schedule lunch with Kim to see if this would be interesting to her in the future.

Getting your business primed for expansion will diminish your fear of growth.  If you’ve been hesitating to market your work because you don’t know how you’d handle extra clients, seeing the structure take shape that would help you serve additional clients is strong motivation to actually go get those clients.

Let’s look at one more example, where ‘success’ feels more like fame or notoriety:

fear-of-success-23631. Success to me is:  

Gathering a hundred thousand followers on Instagram.

2. Is this really necessary for success?

You might see a few other people with huge audiences, where everyone is jumping to comment and like and sing their praises. But what is it that you would really get out of that?  Is that number needed to meet some sales conversion goal?  Does it just feel good?

As you ponder the question, I’d encourage you to consider this advice from Alan Alda (from his book Things I Overheard While Talking To Myself):

“I learned from my father that if you’re just looking to take bows, you’ll almost always be disappointed, because the applause is never loud enough.  The bow is really just a gracious ritual.  If it becomes your goal, it is a drug.

The performance itself offers an ecstasy far greater than the drug of the bow after the performance is done.”

May I recommend that you make sure your goal extends beyond simple recognition or notoriety.

Sure, the process of winning a certain award can help you improve, the process of figuring out how to gain thousands of followers can be a great learning experience.  But make the process and learning your actual goal.  Because if numbers are the main goal, you may well find that you reach them and remain unsatisfied.

Upon revisiting this, you might find that to meet your sales/booking goals, you only need 10,000 followers.

3. Here’s what feels scary about having 10,000 followers:

That’s still a lot bigger than what I have now.  I’d have a lot more pressure to post regularly. I’d feel the need to maintain an appearance.  

I’d probably get a bunch of negative commenters in the mix who would say mean things.  

4. For each thing that feels scary: If _____ happened, what’s the worst thing that would actually happen?

The pressure to post regularly would stress me out.  It would take the enjoyment out of making things.  I’d probably feel pulled to create more of whatever got the most likes, rather than creating more of the things I love.  

I’d be torn up over people saying mean things.  I pour my heart into my work, so when people are mean and dismissive, it feels personal.

5. Here is how I could handle it:

Well, I could start by creating a month’s worth of images to share so that if I get behind, I have good things to share and talk about. This will keep me from diluting my voice by putting random stuff up just for the sake of posting regularly.

And when people say mean things I can slowly learn to ignore it.  

Just as my worth doesn’t come from gaining a hundred thousand followers, neither is my worth diminished by a few dozen detractors. (Click here to tweet that.)

6. Here are some people who would help me:

I don’t need help gathering photos, but my husband and my friend Janie could be there if I needed to vent about people’s behavior.

7. Here is what I can do now to prepare:

I can practice having a backup calendar of images.  Heck, that would even help me now, because I don’t like having huge gaps in between postings.

I can come up with a solid method for handling comments – and set my own rules for when I respond, when I ignore, and when I delete. That way if the volume increases, I’ll already know what to do.


Make sense?

The gist of this method overall is this:

Isolate what it is you want.  Figure out what is scary about that (meaning: what subtly, quietly keeps you from pursuing what you want).  And then put that fear under a microscope.

You walk away with a plan of action that ends self-sabotage.

If it seems deceptively or boringly simple, then there’s no harm in trying, is there?

Copy and paste this to a word doc, your phone, or somewhere else and start filling it out:

Success to me is:

Is that really necessary for success?

Here’s what feels scary about it:

For each thing that feels scary:  If _____ happened, what is the worst thing that could actually happen?

Here is how I could handle it:

Here are some people who would help me: 

Here is what I can do now to prepare:

I’d love to hear your observations in the comments!  I’m certain you’re not alone.


This post is part of a series called

Get What You Want This Year. 

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  1. Allison on March 15, 2016 at 11:02 pm

    First! Just kidding, this post was so dense! I actually read half of it, got inspired to start immediately, wrote down a bunch of ideas, and then came back and read the other half, which inspired another big batch of ideas… What a great series!

    • Jenika on March 21, 2016 at 4:16 pm

      Oh yay, Allison! I LOVE it when I read something that inspires ideas before I’m finish, so I’m so honored you told me this. Success!! Go get ’em!

  2. carolyn on March 16, 2016 at 7:33 am

    This happens to me CONSTANTLY. But the problem is not of fear of success. It’s fear of having no help/guidance and having no clue of how to handle the details. Fear of wasting so much time/energy/expense and not getting the income from it that’s so desperately needed.

  3. Dee on March 16, 2016 at 8:13 am

    This happens to me a lot. I have lots if ideas, but as Carolyn mentioned, no guidance,wasting time and energy with no return. There are times that I doubt myself. Reading this post has helped me realize I’m not alone. Thanks

    • Del on September 5, 2017 at 5:54 am

      While following this guide I found myself in this same predicament, however after thinking about it, for me, I believe the fear of expending so much effort in vain is the fear itself distracting me from my fixation on the fear itself. Removing focus from the fear itself is exactly what needs to happen, I think. It seems to all boil down to just making a decision, sticking with it, learning from it and trying a second time, excepting this time having that knowledge from the first time to guide us.

      As long as we’re moving forward, we’re trying, and sometimes that’s all we can do.

  4. Lia Edwards on March 16, 2016 at 8:21 am

    YES!! This makes perfect sense. You explain it all in a way that makes all the fears disappear. Thank you!

  5. Bill Garcia Solis Photography on March 16, 2016 at 9:58 am

    Excellent pearls of wisdom, lovely cherry blossoms. My favorite = Alan Alda quote. Yes, process + journey + personal growth are more important than audience praise, World Series rings, plus other external awards. — Namaste. OM shanti. 🙂

  6. Jen Dean on March 16, 2016 at 12:12 pm

    I had a big smile at the very beginning of your post. I did exactly what you described. I had this great idea for a project (I want to make it a book even!) it kept me up at night several nights in a row. And then I found all these reasons/fears to stall out. In the last week I’ve picked it back up and I’m slowly working through how to do it. So I didn’t give up on it but that fear sure slowed me down. And it happens with lots of things, like my overall success, not just this project. The amount of bravery needed (ok, or just baby steps) to continue putting myself out there creatively is amazing to me. Often I feel like it’s repetitive. I know that I’m holding myself back. I know I must work through it, but it’s so hard. I’m going to print that list you made at the end and post it in my office. As a reminder. Thank you. – Jen

  7. Lisa on March 16, 2016 at 12:19 pm

    Food for thought. I am determined to push past my fear and just practice, practice, practice. Fear cannot block learning for me.

  8. Wayfaring Wanderer on March 16, 2016 at 12:33 pm

    Awesome post! I love the questions to help break down barriers that may be holding us back. I’m going to use this for the new projects I’m about to begin so I can thwart resistance ahead of time! 🙂

    Thank you for sharing!

    Wayfaring Wanderer

  9. Debby on March 16, 2016 at 12:53 pm

    I am trying to simplify my life. This is one of the few blogs I am keeping. Really helping me examine where I want to go in my life.
    I’m still confused but working on it.

  10. Daisy on March 16, 2016 at 2:45 pm

    You broke it down really well but the examples are what solidified it so we could really understand the process. What’s the worst that could happen is definitely a question worth answering honestly, especially as saying what our fears are often shows us how small they are in the scheme of things. That’s in my experience, anyway. Thanks for sharing, Jenika!

  11. Patti on March 16, 2016 at 7:47 pm

    Maybe this was a big moment. I just finished my taxes and I spent more than I made. This is my 4th year in business, working at least 30 hours per week! But I am very blessed to have my husband make a good living to pay the bills. Am I sabotaging myself because this business does not “need” to make money? I feel like a failure every year when I look at the numbers, so it needs to make money, but if I really think about how much money I NEED to run the business, that is what I’m earning. How do I break above that? does this make any sense?

  12. Sanna on March 20, 2016 at 7:57 am

    I got rid of most of my email subscriptions about business and life as they just seemed to fill up my email every week and I felt overwhelmed by all the “you should do this” advice. Your newsletter is one of the few I kept because it’s one of the only ones I actually WANT to read and that I’m looking forward to. And again, this is no exeption. Amazing how you seem to be talking about the things I’m currently struggling with 🙂

  13. Karen Quist on March 22, 2016 at 2:06 am

    How do you know me so well???
    Please keep it coming. I just love your posts and always take away something valuable from reading them.

  14. firefly on November 30, 2016 at 11:04 am

    Thank you. Most accessible and practical advice when I need it. i real learning. Thank you.

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