We have this idea that a fear of failure is the thing that stands between us and our wildest hopes. For every castle in the sky, there are a million shattered corpses. For every publishing advance, dashed dreams. For every success, failure.
There are seminars and books. Conquer Your Fear of Failure! Five Steps to a Successful You! There are programs and school initiatives and trophies and ribbons. And yet, after being well-decorated and well-educated, we’re still paralyzed with fear. And I’ll tell you why: We are not afraid of failure. We’re afraid of success.
We fail every day. We are children of perfectionism. We hold our first drafts to a published standard. We expect to produce a flawless 1,500 words on a bad day, while cooking dinner. We read a turn of phrase or hear about a successful author, and we feel despair. We fail constantly.
And yet, we still produce.
Not a single author I have worked with has said to me: “This book is perfect and came out exactly how I thought it would.” Not a single author says, “I know, without a shadow of a doubt, that this is the book that people are waiting for. I know I am brilliant.” Not a one. The books get written regardless.
We are not stymied by the fear that we may fail. We have lived with failure. It has become a comfortable presence; we know how to accommodate it. Failure is a familiar guest.
Success, though, is unknown. Success requires change. Success is different and spacious and terrifying. When success arrives, there is no room for failure. Our patterns will change, and we will abandon the familiar. The comfort of failure is no longer an option for us.
Success brings consequences. Will your cherished writing group still support you if you’ve written a national bestseller? Will your family expect lavish gifts if you’re featured in the New York Times? Will your friends be jealous? Will you change? Will you recognize yourself? Will you be happy?
I have found that it is not the fear of failure that takes our breath away at night. Instead, we fear that everything we love about our current life will evaporate if our incredible ability to create is recognized and rewarded. We see only the daunting cost of success, and in the darkness we lose sight of the reward. Our lives are not limitless. You cannot be grounded and also fly.
And so, the ultimate question. How do we garner the courage to jump?