Thursday, October 25, 2012

Fears That Hold Us Back

In keeping with our October theme of fear, I decided to write about those things that hold us back from accomplishing all that we can. Some of those fears have already been addressed in other posts this month, so I thought I would focus on two that are closely connected: The fear of failure, and the fear of success.

The first time I heard those two concepts linked together, it gave me pause. I fully understood the fear of failure. I think we all learn that in school the first time we are called on to speak in front of the class. What if we bomb? What if the other kids fall out of their chairs laughing?

Many of us have carried that childhood fear into adulthood and worried about failing at our writing, but fear of success? What is that all about? In psychology, fear of success is about being subconsciously afraid of succeeding. According to a report posted by Laurie Pawlik-Kienlen in Suite 101, "Fear of success can be just as paralyzing as fear of failure. Many people fear success because it tests their limits and makes them vulnerable to new situations. Even worse, success can expose weaknesses and force people to deal with their flaws."

I thought a lot about this phenomenon, if it can be called that, when our oldest son failed to follow up with a casting director who had loved his audition and wanted to work with him, even though he was not right for the current project. Apparently they had cast the lead for that movie and were looking for the supporting actor role, and our son looked too much like the star they had already cast. 

In trying to figure out why our son did not jump on this opportunity to perhaps launch an acting career, I took a hard look at myself and realized that I have the same tendency to avoid stepping out of my comfort zone. I'm resistant to change, as any of my friends and family will attest to, and it is that little fear of the unknown that sometimes holds me back.
This is not the least bit scary, but appropriate for Halloween.

 However, I have gotten better in more recent years. I received some wonderful advice from the late Liz Carpenter when I had the honor of hosting her at a writers' conference many years ago. I got to spend one-on-one time with her driving back and forth to the airport, as well as sharing some time one evening with her and a friend. She was a warm and gracious guest and was generous with her advice to a fledgling journalist. During one of our drives she told me, "Never say no to an opportunity. Sometimes when we are a little scared of something we don't know, our first impulse is to say no. Don't do that. Embrace every opportunity that comes to you."

Shortly after receiving that advice, I got a call from a large institution in Dallas wanting me to do their PR work. I had no idea what a PR person did. I'd stumbled into the world of journalism via a weekly humor column, but I had no extensive experience and had never studied journalism or public relations. Nevertheless, I smiled and told the interviewer that I would be happy to consider the offer. Then I went home and called a good friend who had experience in PR and said, "Help!"

My friend did help, and for several years I went on to do all the in-house publications for this institution, as well as creating marketing material, slide shows, and corporate videos.

I still thank Liz Carpenter for giving me that push that I needed, and I think of her every time a new opportunity pops up.

If you deal with fear of success, perhaps this advice from Laurie Pawlik-Kienlen will help. She offers these tips and more in her article Overcoming Your Fear of Success:
  • Figure out why you’re sabotaging your goals.
  • Accept failure as part of succeeding.
  • See your skills as changeable.
Maryann Miller is a novelist, editor and sometimes actress. Her latest release is a police-procedural mystery, Open Season, available as an e-book for all devices. The second book in the Seasons Series, Stalking Season, releases next month. It has received a STARRED review from Publisher's Weekly, and a nice review from Kirkus. If you would like to read the books, you can ask for them at your local library. To check out Maryann's editing rates visit her website. When not working, Maryann likes to take her dog for a walk and work outside on her little ranch in East Texas.
Bookmark and Share


  1. Profound and insightful post, Maryanne. Fear can actually be a guidepost to action. I remember an incident during my training as a family therapist. A facilitator asked for volunteers for role playing a particular scenario. When there were none, she asked for a show of hands of people who felt scared or anxious about the prospect. "You are the ones who actually want to try this," she said, "because if you didn't want to, you wouldn't feel scared." I volunteered despite--or because of--my fear and learned a lot from the exercise.

    Fear can be a flag to alert us to our own impulses to take ourselves out of our comfort zones into new territory.

  2. I'd just like to get close enough to success to find out if I'm afraid of it.

  3. LOL, Christopher, that may depend on how you define success.

    Interesting point, Larry. I never thought of fear as a prompt, but that sounds reasonable.

  4. Maryann, I'm so glad you developed the fear-of-success theme. In my piece on fear, which will post tomorrow (Friday), I touch on it but don't pursue it. Yet, it's something we all need to think about so we don't shoot ourselves in the foot, so to speak. (Forgive the cliché.)

    Larry's quite right about fear being an incentive -- it all depends on how we view it and how we respond to it. It's the difference between positive and negative thinking. We accept the challenge to step up to bat or we sit out the game.

    Excellent post!

  5. This comment has been removed by the author.

  6. Hahahaha, Christopher, you're a hoot! I suffer from a bit of fear of success - my big issue is it will demand I do some more work and then even more after that. It doesn't just end with one success. I guess I'm basically a bit lazy.

  7. I like that she said to "Never say no to an opportunity." Sometimes we are afraid to venture out and do something we've never did before.

  8. In the last few years, I had circumstances where I was called on to do things I've never done. I may have felt sick to my stomach, but each time, I did them, and felt stronger and more accomplished as a result. You are right. Never pass up an opportunity.

  9. Excellent post, Maryann. Success can make us face stepping out of our comfort zone, indeed. But the definition of courage is doing that which we fear. And I love the quote from Liz, never to pass up an opportunity!

  10. Linda, I did see your post in draft, so I knew I was just expanding on what you mention in yours. Good post, by the way.

    Dani, I think you are right about laziness holding us back a bit. I can certainly see where my desire to not have to much to do has hindered me.

    Liza, congrats on having the courage to step through your fear. I think Heidi was right that it take courage to do that. I never knew how much until I took the PR jog. LOL

  11. Awesome post!! I am one who fears both failure and success when it comes to my writing. I'm either OMG what if the hate it or OMG what if the like it!! Working on overcoming both. Always good to see I'm not the only one with this problem.

  12. Joy, I think all these fears and insecurities are part and parcel of being writers. We're all just a little daft. LOL

  13. Maryann I like the way you compared giving a push—as if into an abyss—with giving someone a leg-up. Never thought of it that way before.

    Many act as if change in the publishing industry was new but so many authors with decades of experience have said that as soon as they thought they knew the rules of the game, the game changed. Publishing is not—and has never been—for the faint of heart! We'd better make peace with our fear.


The Blood-Red Pencil is a blog focusing on editing and writing advice. Some of our contributors are editors, some are authors, and some are writing sheep. Yes, sheep.