Lack of Drive, Fear of Failure, or Fear of Success?

June 10, 2014 § Leave a comment

For years, I’ve told anyone who would listen that I would like to be a writer, to write a novel. I would explain that the only things stopping me were a lack of discipline and a lack of drive. I am now thinking there might be a different barrier at work – a fear of failure. Or perhaps a fear of success?

I’ve been someone easily distracted for as long as I can remember. At the same time, the most mundane or ridiculous thing can hold my attention for hours. (Facebook, anyone?) Procrastination is my middle name or should be.

Lately, however, I’ve been rethinking the reasons why I don’t write or at least don’t write more. I still think attention span is a factor, supported by the fact that I have written prodigiously over the years – blog posts, song lyrics, the occasional poem – all very short forms and in very short spurts.

Now, though, I am coming to the conclusion that there may be an equally important factor at work behind my “lack of discipline.” That factor is the fear of failure, something I have experienced in other areas of my life through the years, so it is something I know is in my psychological DNA. Because of that fear, there are any number of things I have considered but not pursued because I did not want to fail or be rejected.

Often, that fear is coupled with a lack of self-confidence. Yet, when it comes to writing, I believe I have writing ability. In this instance, the desire to hold on to that belief manifests a fear that others will not feel the same and will conclude I am not a writer. So I hold onto the writer-wannabe status. I don’t write consistently, and aside from these blog posts and the occasional lyric, I do not share what I have written with others.

But is that fear caused by a fear of failure or rejection. Therapist Barbara Sher argues the answer is no in her book, I Could Be Anything I Wanted If I Only Knew What It Was. While reading her chapter on fear of failure, Sher argues that what some of us really fear is just the opposite:

As far as I’m concerned, people who think they fear failure have got it wrong. They really fear success. If you truly feared failure, you’d be very successful. People who truly fear anything stay as far away from it as possible. So, if you’re operating below your potential, and you think the reason you don’t try for what you really want is that you’re scared of failure, forget it. In your eyes, you’re a failure right now, so how afraid of failure can you be?

But what if you feel you’re not afraid of failure itself, you’re afraid of failing at something specific? “What if I try my hardest to be a writer, give it my best, and fail at that? Then my worst fears will be realized. I’ll know I don’t have what it takes,” you might say.

You won’t know any such thing. If you try to go to law school or be an artist or find a mate, and you fail, it doesn’t prove a damn thing except that it’s hard to succeed.

Powerful words and a bit hard to accept, but I’m sure going to try to do so. In some sense, I have already succeeded as a writer. I spent ten years in radio and television, much of it writing for public consumption. I’ve also written a couple of hundred blog posts and even a few songs that were publicly performed. In that sense, at least, I have not failed at being a writer.

The chapter immediately following the subject of fear of success focused on wanting too many things and being all over the map. That chapter could have been written just for me. Over the course of my life, I have expressed a desire to: be a doctor, be an architect, be a lawyer, be in politics, be a singer, be a writer. You get the picture.

What I’m not sure of yet is whether I am what Sher calls a “scanner,” someone who “delights in the astonishing, unending variety around us – but you don’t realize that being a scanner is a very respectable profession or a “born diver,” who wants to go deeper into a subject until I dedicate my life to it but “appear to be a scanner at this moment because something’s blocking you from diving” in which case I need to figure out what is stopping me from diving.

I have yet to finish reading the book, but Sher has me thinking about my lack of discipline and drive with regard to writing in a whole new light. I have taken the initial baby steps toward reversing that. Starting this blog was one of those. Consistency with regard to posting regular entries will help me develop a greater writing discipline, devoted as it is to my writing. Now, if I can only do something about my lack of organization.

Passages from I Could Be Anything I Wanted If I Only Knew What It Was by Barbara Sher, © 1994, Delacorte Press.

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