Everywhere I turn women (including me) talk about being perfectionists (or recovering perfectionists) battling the people-pleasing demon and not knowing boundaries were an option until their late-thirties…Some experts say that the root of these patterns is a fear of failure…just search for memes about embracing failure or failing forward and you’d think that the experts might be right! And I have a few thoughts about that.
Here’s what I know about failure
More importantly about the fear of failure. When we declare having this fear (whether to ourselves or out loud) the implication is that we don’t do ANYTHING that we might fail at. And since I know you do new things, mess them up and still get shit done!
I call bull-shit!
Of course you’ve failed…you’re an adult…shit got real more than once in your lifetime and you did what you had to do, learned a lot and moved on. You probably fail every day at stuff that you NEED to get done and eventually you figure it all out.
Whether you figure it out through the safety of a how-to book, while listening (but pretending you aren’t) to someone who seems to have their shit together or kicking at that dirty shirt until it flies across the room…You learn what you need to to get the job done. You don’t make a fuss…you just do what needs doing. You probably don’t even give it much thought… If you feared failure…every moment when you just make shit work, would disappear!
I know you’re looking up right now, with your eyes all squinty, trying to think of instances where you failed and figured it out and if you truly fear failure you may have to look pretty hard…because believe it or not, you’ve been removing the memories of your successful failures from your awareness. Why? Because those stories don’t align with your belief that you have a fear of failure.
So let’s re-write that shitty story
If I’m right (and I’m pretty sure I am) you absolutely have the capacity to do new things poorly and survive…and dare I say thrive. I get it, so much of your life is literally on display and you can get stopped in your tracks at the thought of stepping out of the “acceptable range”, worried that shit will fly of out of control and there will be no fixing the mess you made.
Is that the fear of failure?
The thing is, when we think there’s a chance that we’ll be kicked out of the club for F-ing up; turfed from the gang, exiled off the island, ghosted from the group. The fear we’re fighting is not failure, it’s the fear of not belonging…deeper still, the fear of not measuring up… not enoughness!
What if you took a few moments now to reflect on and make a list of when you failed and how things worked out for you. Done. Good.
Let’s focus on all those times, every time you drove that train right to the station, on time, intact, with no fanfare, no crowd. When you managed all the curves, jumped the gaps and literally had one hand on the how-to book and the other on the throttle!
You’ve gotten this far in your life, made it to adulthood by failing, learning, growing and failing again. So if it’s not failure, if it IS your fear of not being enough…your list of successful failures should be enough to beat this demon.
Why isn’t it?
The difference between what you’ve done already and what you’re still afraid to do is a shitty engrained false truth that the stuff you did fail and learn from, the stuff you were ENOUGH for was necessary, not grand, not noteworthy, or a big deal… just what needed doing.
Why does the shitty story of not enoughness exist
It’s because we need to believe that we’ve been avoiding our awesomeness because we are flawed…It’s that simple. People openly commiserate with us when we share that our lack of results are from not being enough. It’s easy to play small when everyone agrees with you.
What’s really going on
It starts when what we are afraid to F-UP is a little too close to home, something we really want, something that matters, something that would make us the most vulnerable. We get scared. Scared that when we do THE thing, people will see us for who we really are…and we still won’t measure up.
What derails us
- We believe that being “not enough” will inevitably get us tossed from the club we want to be in, the only one we feel we belong to…the club where we can freely express our awesomeness…
- Owning our awesomeness, expressing our REAL selves is brand new territory … it’s a culmination of every core fear we’ve faced before; Change, The Unknown and Failure that stops us before we start
- We don’t FEEL ready… we need more time, energy, money, books, resources before we can take action.
Steven Pressfield highlights WHY we derail beautifully in his book “Do The Work”. He shared this with his readers:
“HEAVEN AND BOOKS ABOUT HEAVEN
Have you seen this great New Yorker cartoon: A perplexed person stands before two doors. One door says HEAVEN. The other says BOOKS ABOUT HEAVEN
What makes us laugh, I suspect is that all of us feel the pull to PICK BOOKS ABOUT HEAVEN
Are we that timid?
When we’re offered a chance at heaven, what diabolically craven force makes us want to back off – just for now, we promise ourselves – and choose instead heaven’s pale reflection?
Fear of success [not the fear of failure] is the essence of resistance.”
What we need to learn from this
Heaven in this story is Your Awesomeness! Your life truly lived, aligned with your values, filled with joy and purpose. And we choose a pale reflection, to bump up against our own glass ceiling, we stop before we start, because, like Brene Brown said, JOY is the most vulnerable emotion there is. It can feel TOO BIG + TOO SCARY to have for too long (or at all).
Why we play small
First the fear of not enoughness is triggered when you dare to dream about your awesomeness, at the idea of putting yourself really out there. And then the fear of success, of JOY, the fear triggered by the thought that you’ll be f’n fantastic at being YOU creeps in. You begin to imagine that others will take notice, ask for your advice, look up to you…then your fear of not enoughness kicks back in, and around and around you go!
Can we overcome the fear of success?
…the last frontier
The key to really pushing through your fear of success is to get unquestionably clear on how your inner critic shows up in your life. We each have one and it manifests differently in each of us. For me it’s a messy combo of limiting beliefs and self-sabotaging behaviours! (PS it never goes away we simply get more skilled at working through it…we build habits that keep us in the driver’s seat and keep our inner critic in the back.)
You already have evidence of thriving in the face of the other 3 core fears. You know how to survive change. You’ve leapt into the unknown and landed on your feet. You got oodles of examples of how you failed and still came out on top…What you have yet to gather is evidence that you can in fact bust through your self-imposed glass ceiling. Your job now is to build your evidence base. Rebuild your trusting relationship with your self and believe in your enoughness and see your dreams become your reality!
Here are a few strategies to help with this new territory
- Get clear on your Core Values and live into them.
- Decide what you want and create a clear picture in your mind (Vision Boards are great for this)
- Surround yourself with your believing mirrors – The people in your life who believe in you, even when you don’t.
- Figure out how + where your inner critic shows up in your life and learn how to bust through it’s bull-shit!
- Practice being creative, get messy, fail often, get good at handling doubt + confusion, at shifting perspective and managing your shame storm.
- Celebrate EVERY win. Self-celebration is a powerful tool. It raises your vibration and overrides the fear of success with gratitude. You ARE gaining momentum with every step. When you stop and think about how far you’ve come, you reengage with that energy and propel yourself through resistance.