Why Your Fear of Failure Is Stopping You

Approaching a new endeavor, project, or ambition is always exciting and exhilarating. New beginnings are often full of the hope and fiery confidence that we attempt to embody throughout our lives; they may even come with the same inspiration that we get from those artists and masters we look up to. Look at it as the honeymoon phase in a relationship. Every day, you wake up excited to put in the effort that your newfound inspiration has helped you actualize; you may even find it easy to put in countless hours into the project. Suddenly, the long hours in the night are blazing away to this new passion. 

    But it never lasts long, does it?

    After the initial spark dwindles, we’re left to our own devices, as if inspiration, for some time at least, was carrying us on wings destined to elevate us above the tedium of hard work, willpower, time-management, and practice.

    Once the honeymoon phase is over, we stare at this project like the mountain we forgot it was, towering with all of the obstacles and fears prepared to test us during our ascent.


    One of the difficulties often faced after the initial inspiration has fizzled out seems rather plain and simple, laziness. We find ourselves not getting into our project as often as we did when we first began it. Without that blazing fire, without that first touch of inspiration, the hours we put it don’t feel so natural anymore, not nearly as productive, and more importantly, not as thrilling as they did at the outset.

    But here’s the plot twist. 

    You’re not lazy. Deeper than your unwillingness to work, hiding behind the infinite masks of excuses and reasons why you’ve not put in the same time and thought into your ambition, is fear.
    A fear … of failure. 

    The Fear of Failure is an incredibly complex and devilishly guileful creature because it is prepared to don any mask that is most effective in getting you to succumb to it, mostly because, at its heart, this demon is none other than yourself. And you, my friend, are dastardly creative.

    Let’s say you’re a writer, an artist of some sort, or even an entrepreneur. 

    After your daily routine and packed schedule, you find yourself at the end of the day with some hours on your hand before bed. At your desk, you sit down with that project you started hacking at weeks, months, years, or perhaps never even started at all. Sure, we all have flaws; everyone of us could hone our ability to dedicate ourselves. But at the heart of our excuses, our reluctant desire to say “No,” to working on our respective crafts, is a very human, very understandable, and very treatable fear.

    When you say to yourself:

    “I’m just not feeling it at this moment,” or, “The inspiration simply isn’t here tonight,” or, “I didn’t sleep well,” or, “Today I felt a little bit more sad than usual,” you aren’t really being honest. All of these feelings might be sincere and genuine and very real, but what you are really saying to yourself is:

    “I am afraid that if I continue to sit down and work at this, if I continue struggling along this journey I’ve decided to embark on, if I pour in even more hours, thoughts, emotions, and tears into this path, I am afraid of seeing it, ultimately, amount to nothing. You’re afraid of it not meeting your dreamlike expectations, of it not translating the way you want it to, not as vividly nor as powerful as you desire. The list could go on, but quite simply: you’re afraid. 

    Of course you are.

    Life is arduous enough without inviting pain into our lives. The idea of creating more obstacles and challenges, willingly, almost seems ridiculous. But what would life be without a little struggle? Challenges and obstacles aren’t curves in the path indicative of agony, they’re difficult locks to pick that unlock chests of wisdom, experience, depth, and even steps to mastery in whatever craft encouraged us towards them.

    Our fear of failure is really just protective. It is our inner pessimist guarding us against disappointment. We’re hedging our bets. We don’t trust ourselves enough to deal with whatever consequences there might be after we put ourselves not just in our ambitions but beyond them. So we retreat. We stop working. We don’t think about it. We make excuses. We’re trying to avoid pain and discomfort. 

    It’s perfectly understandable, but it doesn’t get us anywhere, does it?

    Let’s take a look at this demon and size it up, now that we’ve adequately brought it into this harsh light. 


    Once we’ve taken away the masks hiding the fear, we have to decide when we’d like to deal with it. In that moment between laziness and work, we have the option to look at our fear and say, “Yes, I acknowledge that you’re a big, fat, salivating and frightening monster that wants me to doubt myself until I do nothing with my passions. Your teeth are terrifyingly large and frankly I think your breath smells weird. But I’m going to let you sit behind me while I work, until I create something so bright it exorcises you from my presence, until tomorrow evening, that is.”

    Alternatively, we can see it for what it is, and indeed, succumb to our inner pessimist. We can say, “The hours, the struggle, the pain, it’s just not worth it right now.”

    Then the challenge is over, the opportunities, missed, the lessons we would have learned, eradicated from our horizon of possibility. In return, we avoid any pain of disappointment we might’ve crossed along the way. We, in a way, save ourselves from the chance of shallow wounds to instead take on deeper ones, much later. 

    Because you didn’t forget, did you? I said that this creature is devilishly crafty, and I meant it. It has the illusion of fading after we give up on our projects, but sure enough, this thing will return.

    We’ll likely meet it on our deathbed, and that’s if we’re lucky. But more realistically, it’ll return weeks, months, and years from now, and by then that creature will have amassed into something far greater than what it was, far more nightmarish and harrowing. Because by then, it won’t be just be fear.

    It’ll be much, much worse.

    It will be regret.

    We’ll look back on our younger selves, regretting not going for that opportunity, regretting not putting in the hours to write that book we always dreamed about (which, by the way, won’t be nearly as good as the book you write afterwards), and we’ll surely regret having to learn this lesson now, rather than facing that demon way back then, when it was just a tiny, defenseless imp, made small by the light of our scrutiny. We’ll wonder, what was really stopping us? Surely, it wasn’t all those excuses we dreamt up. Surely, it was just that fear we felt. Why, in all the heavens, didn’t we just deal with it then?

    So, now that I’ve summoned both of these creatures in full view. I’m going to ask you something very, very simple.

    No excuses, no second-guessing. Trust your impulse.

    Which one do you want to deal with? 

    Because you know what it’s like. After you’ve cleaned your desk, done your laundry, and done every possible thing you could do other than that thing you truly wanted to do, but were nervous to start, after you really get into the mud and start grappling with it, fear is the last problem on your mind. Once you’ve passed that door, there are a myriad of obstacles waiting to meet you. Challenges like time management, dedication, of practical knowledge in whatever craft you’re honing. Once you’re in there, fighting and reveling in the combat of your passion, this fear is the last thing on your mind.

    Because there is so much, much more to conquer.

    So why stop at the beginning?

    All of life is comfort, either secured, sought after, hoarded, or sacrificed. And in the realm of creative chaos, we have the opportunity to be gods, but only when we make the quintessential decision, to embrace whatever is waiting beyond that first door, of fear.