Fear of Success or Fear of Failure?

What’s stopping you?  Do you know?

What blocks you from pursuing your dreams with all that you have, all that you are, all of your might?

Often when asked this question, the answer is either:

Fear of Success


Fear of Failure


And often it’s even expressed as both – “Maybe it’s fear of success or failure.  I don’t know….”  Really, the truth is, it doesn’t matter which.  Because it’s not logical.  And you’re not going to be able to logic yourself past it.  Although understanding the underlying belief that’s driving your fear can be an important step in moving past it.

But Debra, how can you say it doesn’t matter?!?

In our society we’ve done ourselves a major disservice when it comes to Emotional Intelligence.  We’ve confused, disguised, conflated or combined thoughts with emotions.  The statement, “Fear of Success,” is emotion + thought/belief.  A better way to look at it is “I have beliefs about Success, and those beliefs cause me to feel fear!”

Remember the Cognitive Behavorial Cycle:

Belief, emotional intelligence, Fear

By saying Fear of Success, you are combining two different steps in the cycle!  But what you’re really experiencing clearly is the Feelings State.  And most likely the beliefs that are causing that feeling state are unconscious!  Which is why you might be unsure – is it success or failure or both that you fear?

As you can see from the cycle, what’s stopping you is the emotion, which is fueled by the beliefs.  Clearing or shifting those beliefs is the best, most long term solution to the problem of being stopped by fear.  But that’s a longer term project.  What if you just need to get into action now?

Here are a few suggestions:

  1. Remember that fear is just an emotion, like happiness, sadness, anger.  But fear has been hardwired into our neurology because reacting strongly to fear was an evolutionary advantage.  But unless your fear is a lion about to eat you – just breath and move forward.
  2. Notice what you’re telling yourself about the action you’re afraid to take.  Could you reframe it so that it’s not quite so life and death?  If you take a risk and it doesn’t work out – could that just be an interesting experiment, instead of the end of life as you know it?
  3. If it’s a big project, break it down into bite size pieces and then promise yourself you only have to take one action today.  Just a nibble.  You don’t have to eat the whole elephant today.  Just one nibble…

In last month’s ArtistsMBA class, How to Move Past Your Fear of Success or Failure, I explained several specific and concrete methods for managing your fears around success and/or failure.  The most important first step is to acknowledge that this is what’s going on.  Because often, we miscategorize what’s going on.

You might name it procrastination or avoidance.  Perhaps you just feel pulled to take any action EXCEPT the one you know you need to take, even allowing other people’s needs to distract you from moving forward.

Haven’t you noticed that when you operate from fear, you end up manifesting the very thing you’re afraid of?

I’m not going to tell you that facing the fear, feeling the fear and moving through the fear will be easy and light.  In order to move through it, you must own it.

What I will tell you is that moving in the direction of the fear, rather than at the behest of the fear will create amazing results in your life and your career.  Fear can be a wonderful guide.  If you’re willing to let yourself feel it.

And let me leave you with this inspiring TED talk by Brene Brown:

In order to embrace your path to success in the Arts & Entertainment Industry – you must allow yourself to tell the story of who you are with your whole heart.

How can you use this to overcome your fear?  Please share with me what you discover!


Overcoming Fear

Artists MBA, Professional ProgramFEAR = False Evidence Appearing Real

Simple, right? Yet, when we’re in the grip of fear, the logic (or illogic) of it is completely beside the point. It cripples us. It fills us with the quaking, heart-pounding, hands and voice shaking, inability to move.

And sometimes it undermines us in very subtle ways.

Courage (according to Encarta) = “quality of being brave: the ability to face danger, difficulty, uncertainty, or pain without being overcome by fear or being deflected from a chosen course of action.”

Fear is an emotion. Courage is a skill. Debra will show you ways to develop the skill of courage in response to the emotion of fear … so you can move forward and achieve your desired level of success.

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Suppose that what you fear
could be trapped
and held in Paris.
Then you would have
the courage to go
everywhere in the world.
All the directions of the compass
open to you,
except the degrees east or west
of true north
that lead to Paris.
Still, you wouldn’t dare
put your toes
smack dab on the city limit line.
You’re not really willing
to stand on a mountainside,
miles away,
and watch the Paris lights
come up at night.
Just to be on the safe side,
you decide to stay completely
out of France.
But then danger
seems too close
even to those boundaries,
and you feel
the timid part of you
covering the whole globe again.
You need the kind of friend
who learns your secret and says,
“See Paris first.”

Marsha Truman Cooper
originally published by River City
published in the re-issued chapbook, “Substantial Holdings,” Pudding House, 2002

Some Fun Alternative Definitions of FEAR

  • False Evidence Appearing Real – the canonical one
  • False Emotions Appearing Real
  • Future Events Appear Real
  • False Expectations about Reality
  • Finding Excuses and Reasons
  • For Everything A Reason
  • F*%# Everything and Run
  • Failure Expected and Received
  • Fighting Ego against Reality
  • Frantic Effort to Appear Real
  • Federal Employee Antidiscrimination and Retaliation Act of 2002
  • A positive take on it: Feelings Expressed Allows Relief
  • Face Everything and Recover
  • And my new favorite, Forgetting Everything’s All Right

How to Maintain Consistent Growth and Development

Have you ever pushed yourself out of your comfort zone?  You know, created something really different, taken a risk that felt scary and hard, pushed through a tough learning curve, talked to someone who totally intimidated you?

And after that push – did you feel the almost irresistible urge to pull back to your safety zone – even if your push out was really successful?  You know the two steps forward and one step back?  Why do we feel the need for that one step back?

I call it:

The Stretch Reflex

In physiology, the stretch reflex (also called the myotatic reflex) occurs when you stretch a muscle to the point of pain and hold it for longer than about 10 seconds.  The muscle contracts against the stretch.  This contraction is an autonomic (involuntary) reaction which attempts to resist the change in muscle length by causing the stretched muscle to contract. The more sudden the change in muscle length, the stronger the muscle contractions against the stretch will be. This basic function of the muscle spindle helps to maintain muscle tone and to protect the body from injury.

In physical therapy, I learned that if you hold the stretch and breath through the muscle’s desire to contract, consciously relaxing that muscle, the contraction will stop and you will actually be able to go even deeper into the stretch.  The trick is not to give in to that contraction, and just breathe while maintaining your position and consciously relaxing the muscle.

I believe that in behavior we also have an autonomic (involuntary) stretch reflex.  When you’ve pushed yourself beyond your comfort zone, your unconscious wants you to contract in order to protect yourself from being hurt.  That contraction could look like getting sick, like wanting to curl up in bed for several days or even just procrastinating about getting back to a normal schedule after a big push.

But if we give in to that contraction, then growth (both personal and professional) becomes sporadic and difficult to maintain.  So, how do we maintain that stretch through the contraction so that we can increase and expand our comfort zone?

Awareness – Always the First Step

One of the key tools in any growth is awareness.  If you’re not aware that you’re in the middle of a stretch reflex, you will likely surrender to it and allow it to pull you back into your comfort zone.

You also need to use your awareness to differentiate between the stretch reflex and your need to rest after a big energetic push.   I’m talking about consistent growth, NOT constant growth.  You need to pace your energy so that you are not constantly pushing yourself to and beyond your limits.

“Balancing stress and recovery is critical not just in competitive sports, but also in managing energy in all facets of our lives.  When we expand energy, we draw down our reservoir.  When we recover energy, we fill it back up.  Too much energy expenditure without sufficient recovery eventually leads to burnout and breakdown.  (Overuse it and lose it.)  Too much recovery without sufficient stress leads to atrophy and weakness.  (Use it or lose it.)”
The Power of Full Engagement

In the last month, I spent about 3 weeks putting in 11 hour days to complete the website and Membership revamp before leaving for SXSW and then 11 days of conference intensity in Austin.

When I returned, I needed to take several days to recuperate.  That’s not the stretch reflex.  That’s simply refilling my reservoir.  But once I recovered, I could feel the urge to procrastinate rather than getting back to a productive schedule.

No coincidence that I had already planned on this topic for my next newsletter!

So use the power of your awareness to identify if what you’re experiencing is recuperation or the stretch reflex.  If you find yourself pulling inward, ask yourself:

Is this fatigue or fear?

If it’s fatigue – rest!  If it’s fear – what are you afraid of?  Sometimes our fear kicks in AFTER we’ve taken a risk.  So, if you can name the fear and embrace and celebrate the risk – even if it led to something other than success – then you will be able to breathe through the urge pull inward.

And once you’ve identified that what you’re experiencing is a stretch reflex; don’t try to push yourself deeper into the stretch.  Just breathe and maintain the level you’re at.  The ability to go further out of your comfort zone requires you to first become comfortable at this level of exposure.  So, breathe and maintain.

And when this becomes comfortable and easy – then stretch out further.

The Shy Singer an Interview with Vikki Flawith

artists-marketing-business-academy-interview-with-expertsDebra was thrilled to interview singer/songwriter Vikki Flawith, former student at the Artists Marketing & Business Academy, Champion of the Creatively Introverted & Socially Terrified, opera-howling Blogger, procrastinating Painter, housework-hating Vocalist, power-napping Composer and Aquarian Cyber-Geek.

Vikki is a well-respected vocal teacher.  And she has signed multi-track deals with several music publishers.


Vikki says:
“My definition of success used to be pleasing everyone else and living my life according to what I thought they wanted so that they’d be pleased with me. Now I live my own life and my own dream.  In order to do this, I had to look deep inside, figure out my goal, and work steadily at the process of achieving it, over time. I had to understand my own operating system.  Being introverted isn’t a crime.  You just have to be more creative in marketing yourself and your art.”

In this interview, we explored:

  • How to make your introversion work for you
  • How to find your unique voice both in your art and in your marketing
  • Criticism vs critique, and how we talk to ourselves

And much more!  It was an enlightening and enjoyable conversation.

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