Do you occasionally feel like the current chapter of your life has run its course? There has to be more to life — more risk, more adventure, more to accomplish, more to experience. A life you want, not a life you just exist in. I know I do.
There are good reasons for not pursing every new desire or opportunity, but more often than not we avoid going after that life we want because of the fears holding us back.
The role of fear
In the past, fear kept us alive and safe from poisonous berries, enemies with bigger sticks and things with sharp teeth that roamed the night.
Our context might be different now but the instinct is the same; our fear helps us stay safe and comfortable at all costs.
I shared last week how our brains try automate as much as possible to help us but in doing so form a list of thoughts and beliefs which we rarely take the time to interrogate.
Fear is our attempt at finding evidence for those things that we already believe. It doesn’t matter whether those things are true; what matters is that we believe them. And while we believe them, we remain stuck in the safe and comfortable, away from the risk and adventure that leads to the life you want.
Safe and comfortable isn't always pleasant — you can be deeply unhappy while stuck in your safe and comfortable space.
However, it is familiar. That is where fear has so much power — even if we’re desperately unhappy where we are, the cost of facing our fears and taking action is outweighed by our craving for the familiar, for what we can predict and respond to without expending too much energy.
Fear helps us stay safe and comfortable in two ways.
The fear of failure
That gut-wrenching feeling of trying your best and still coming up short is never pleasant. Whether it’s asking someone out and being shot down, or hosting an event and only 3 people show up, or starting a business that folds after a few months because you can’t afford it, or… I could go on, but you get the drift.
Feeling disappointed when you gave it a shot and failed is healthy. When we give that failure an unhealthy meaning it becomes a problem.
When we do that, we demote failure from an opportunity to learn into an identity statement that negatively influences how we show up in the future.
What are your chances of succeeding (at a job interview, a social interaction, a challenging task, anything) if someone was repeating the following into your ear the whole time:
“You aren’t good enough”
“You aren’t capable of doing this”
“You are embarrassing yourself”
“Other people are judging you”
Not very high, I’ll bet. And that’s if you’re even willing to take the opportunity instead of just noping out before you even start.
But that’s exactly what we do to ourselves when we internalise failure as an identity statement.
The other way we hide behind our fear of failure is through statements such as:
“One day I will…”
“I still want to…but..”
“I don’t finish what I start”
“I am such a procrastinator”
“I will stop procrastinating tomorrow”
You give yourself permission to not even try, to eternally delay taking that next step towards the life you want.
The fear of success
Paradoxically, the other way we hide from a life of risk and adventure is the fear of success.
Why would we “fear” success? In my life and though my work with my clients, I’ve noticed two main themes. The first is an unwillingness to accept success as something that can happen to you when it comes to anything meaningful:
“I am not that kind of person”
“That life is not for me”
“I don’t deserve those things”
“That success is for someone else.”
“I am not allowed to do/think/feel/say that”
“It’s not fair to them that I succeed”
“No one will want what I have to offer”
The other theme is the use of “reasonable” justifications for why you shouldn’t even try because:
“I’ve never run a business before”
“I’m not good with money”
“I’m not good at communicating”
“I’m not a marketing person”
“I hate technology”
“I prefer to work alone / I’m not good with people”
“It’s too complex, I don’t know where to start”
These justifications (which are actually just obstacles that can be turned into skills) are a creative temporal tangle: “If I do this (which is full of scary things) and succeed I’ll have to do all these other things which also scare me so I’m just not going to try because then I can avoid dealing with all of that.”
Define failure and success
We rarely define what success or failure means in most areas of our lives, leaving us in an indistinct, emotionally-driven playing field typically dictated by culture, other people and impossibly high standards.
Make sure to clearly define for yourself what you mean by “success” or “failure” for any goal or dream. “They” might say that a successful business requires a 7-digit turnover and a thousand clients, but maybe success for you is a monthly turnover of R10,000 and at least five excellent clients who can’t stop raving about your product within 12 months of launch.
And if you fail? Well, you failed by your own clear metrics, which gives you the perfect opportunity to practice curiosity, learn and grow:
“Were my goals realistic?”
“Did I do everything I could to achieve them?”
“If I did, what other factors caused me to not reach them?”
“What can I do differently next time?”
“What skills or partnerships do I need to succeed?”
And so on.
What goal, task or project are you putting off doing?
What fears are holding you back from taking action?
What identity statements are powering those fears?
Are you definitions for success and failure clear in the important parts of your life?