We fear all the Ghosts of Failure: our past failures, our current failures, and our future failures. We fear letting our failures direct our choices. We fear repeating mistakes, falling short of our own or others’ expectations, botching the job, losing the money, missing out on the best option, or having regrets. We fear the repercussions of our choices. We fear judgment. We fear punishment. We fear staying stuck in analysis paralysis. We fear not achieving our perfectionist fantasies. We fear that we just aren’t enough. We fear the no.
Sometimes we even fear that we aren’t being fearful enough! Many of us have been groomed to think of fear as a zero-sum situation: it’s you or the fear. If that’s true, then the reality is that there’s no way to successfully coexist with it, right?
When Was the Last Time Fear Held You Back?
Tell me something: when was the last time your fear of failure held you back from making a move? Was it one of those situations where you really wanted to say something to someone that everyone else is scared to? Or maybe it was one of those times where no matter how much you analyzed something to death, you knew there was actually no other way to do it besides jumping out of the plane and pulling the ripcord—even when people (whose opinions matter to you) would think you’re insane? Or maybe it was that time you knew exactly what you needed to do or walk away from, but you were paralyzed with anxiety that it had the potential to trigger massive disappointment or judgment (or both) from someone you love? And while you may have avoided letting that one person down, in the process, you let yourself down. So, really, you still failed anyway!
Here’s the thing: our fear of failure (especially as women) far too often comes not just from an objective standpoint, but from a subjective standpoint via the opinions of others. Now, I’m certainly not going to dispense the ridiculous notion that you “shouldn’t care what anyone thinks about you” because (1) it will never actually happen unless (2) you become a ragingly self-centered narcissist nightmare of a human. If we never took our truth-tellers' two cents to help us get back on course when we lose our way, we’d be lost in the Kanye West woods of life.
We all have situations where people we love have let us know that we’re riding the Hot Mess Express—and thank goodness they did! But distinguishing between “looking out for you” reactions and “holding you back” reactions is where things morph into murkier waters.
See, there is something about your fear that is so critical to really realize, and fully grasping this fact has been the catalyst for Big Deal courage in my life like nothing else.
Here’s Why We Are Really Afraid
You probably know that what holds you back from doing the thing is that, on some level, you’re afraid of people you care about reacting negatively to it, yes? But that’s not really what you’re afraid of. Not deep down. What you’re really afraid of (and this is something that is tough for any of us to admit) is not that they’re rejecting what you’re doing. It’s that what they’re really doing is rejecting you. You might fear them rejecting who you are as a friend, a family member, a colleague, or a lover. You fear them rejecting you as a human.
What you’re really afraid of (and this is something that is tough for any of us to admit) is not that they’re rejecting what you’re doing. It’s that what they’re really doing is rejecting you.
In fact, if I may come in super-hot with this, you are probably so afraid that the people you love (and sometimes even people you don’t know) will reject who you are at your core, that it’s the number one thing keeping you scared, stuck, and staying in line right now. Even if you know better. Because your heart always trumps your head. And who would ever want someone you love to not love you back? For some of us, we’d rather be dead! (A tad dramatic, but you’re tracking with me, right?) I can honestly say that much of my fear after my business failures stemmed from this maddening mindset.
See, the truth is (and we all know this to be true) that reactions are just reflections. People’s reactions to you are just a reflection of how your big, bold, audacious move made them feel. Or what it made them reflect on in their own life. Maybe your Big Deal move forced them to view a version of themselves in a mirror that they thought they had nice and covered up. Or that they perceive as being a small deal reflection by comparison.
Big Changes Trigger Big Reactions
This is why big changes trigger big reactions. And the more massive your move, the more the world can’t help but match it with a massive response. If what you are doing isn’t significant, isn’t a game-changer, isn’t really that big a deal, people’s reactions won’t be, either. So if you’re hell-bent and determined to retain your relationships in the “happy days, frictionless, good times zone,” fabulous! But just know that the flip side is you’re also staying still, and only you can know if that stillness is safe or suffocating.
So the question is: What if you reprogrammed the way your brain classifies big, oftentimes negative or less-than-comfortable, reactions? What if you rewired your mind to process a big scary reaction as a green light, instead of a red one? What would happen in your life if you transformed the momentum-stalling “No, girl” into a momentum-igniting “Go, girl!”?
Someone’s objection to your decision isn’t necessarily a rejection of who you are. Because doing and being aren’t the same. Have you ever known a good person to do a bad thing? Or a bad person to do a good thing? Not to get down on Kanye again, but you can love the song “Stronger” as your go-to pump-up anthem without Kanye being your go-to person in terms of mentors or advice dispensers. And the same goes for you: your people can love you without loving your choices. The people who love you the most might not love those choices right away, but if they’re truly your people, they will eventually.
Once you can really realize this deep down in your heart of hearts, you’ll also understand that many of the fears that freeze you from going forward are the fakest of fake news. And every time you stutter-step on your path to where you know you were destined to travel, that’s just you accidentally taking the fake news clickbait. You’re unintentionally sending stupid spam right to your sweet soul. And if, for some reason, it’s not? That that person sees your actions and doesn’t love you? Well, is that someone you really want in your life anyway? Or is that someone who can just kiss your audacity? Because if that person doesn’t know that you’re kind of a Big Deal, well, that’s just simply not your problem.
“Excerpt from You’re Kind of a Big Deal: Level Up by Unlocking Your Audacity by Erin King, pp. 31-41 (McGraw Hill, May 2021).”
WRITTEN BYErin King