The Internet Home Business Magazine for Moms & Dads

Is it Fear of Failure or Fear of Success that is Holding You Back?


My second home based business was a great freelance graphic design business. I ran it for 4 years from home, never took on any debt, and made money every year (until the end… but that’s another story). There were several times in which I tried to figure out how to grow the company without taking on more clients - and the obvious solution was to subcontract some of my work out to other freelancers.

This worked for a while, but I found that I was a little lot outside of my comfort zone to delegate work - especially work that had “my name on it”. I wanted to run the show - wanted to maintain control. At the time, I knew I was dealing with an internal struggle - and deducted that I was just afraid of failing :: that if I didn’t control all of the pieces of the puzzle, something would go terribly wrong.

So I eventually stopped trying. 

It wasn’t until few years later that I realized that perhaps it wasn’t fear of failure at all. In fact, I was damn good at failing :: I failed to follow up on a ton of leads, failed to grow my business to the level I wanted, failed to manage my time efficiently, and in the end the burnout got to me and I ended up closing my doors (which may or may not be considered a failure - for me, it truly was the right time to move on).

It was a dear friend who helped me to see that failing was indeed comfortable for me. What I was actually afraid of was becoming a success. Megan over at eBay Selling for eParents wrote a heartfelt post about this yesterday. And instead of buttoning up her article, she left it open ended and asked for some input from others.

So here’s what I have found. Becoming successful has a whole slew of perceived baggage that comes with it: I feared that if I became hugely successful…

  • Friendships and relationships would change because I would become more successful than the people I loved
  • That success would go to my head and I would become a raving bi*ch (hahaha)
  • That I would become materialistic and spend a lot of money on things that I didn’t need
  • That I would teach my children that success is more important than relationships
  • That once I became successful I was going to have to be perfect all of the time, because that’s what people would expect of me

When it came right down to it, being super-successful was so darn foreign to me that the uncertainty that it caused was more frightening than just staying in my ho-hum business and never getting anywhere.

At least I knew what to expect with “ho-hum”.

Now, by some standards, this site is hugely successful - compare it to iVillage or even TechCrunch, and we’re still an internet peon.

I won’t kid you by saying that busting through these fears was easy. Honestly, I’d have to say that they were the hardest challenge of all - pushing me to the limits of what I felt I was capable of (and well beyond it, at times).

In short, the internal walls to success are far more difficult to conquer than any external challenge you will ever face as a business owner.  

And I hate to sound negative, but no matter how successful I get, there still seems to be more internal roadblocks to overcome. The good news is that once you get a little practice at facing your fears and moving past them, it does get easier to do it again.

And again, … and again.

I mentioned last week that I am reading The Girl’s Guide to Building a Million Dollar Business by Susan Solovic. I expected great business strategy, networking advice, and an inspirational guide to getting big. Yes, the book has all that - but honestly, do you want to know what this book is really about?

Face your fears. Do it anyway.

It’s not an easy pill to swallow.

And honestly, it’s times like this that I rely on the personal lessons learned in the darkest moments of my life. I tell people over and over again when bad things happen, they will be thankful for the experience at some point in their lives. And this is how I get through times like this - by taking the $hit I have been through and using it as fuel to get me through:

If I can get through bulimia, homelessness, being single and pregnant, and an alcoholic marriage… well, building a super-successful business has GOT to be a piece of cake. ;)

Share the Love... and the Traffic ;) These icons link to social bookmarking sites where readers can share and discover new web pages.
  • Digg
  • Netscape
  • StumbleUpon
  • Ma.gnolia
  • Reddit
  • Technorati
  • Bumpzee
  • co.mments
add to sk*rt

If you liked this article, please...

Subscribe Via Email Subscribe Via RSS Add to Technorati

Or read these related articles...

  • The Risks and Rewards of Making Big Business Changes
  • Go to the Mattresses :: Overcoming Obstacles Vs. Untapped Potential
  • The Questions We Fear to Speak
  • The Results of Putting my Own Advice into Action = $$

  • Discussion

    What do you think? Leave a comment. Alternatively, write a post on your own weblog; this blog accepts trackbacks [trackback url].
    This blog has removed the "nofollow" tags, so each comment counts as an inbound link to your site. Comment Policy


    On October 18th, 2007 at 1:03 pm, James D kirk said:

    Thumbs up to you, Wendy. Great article and a very nice ending. Makes me realize I have it really easy compared to some of the stuff you’ve had to deal with. Also makes me much more grateful that my eTravels have brought great folks like you, and your site’s content into my stream of consciousness. Thank your for the “successful” work you’ve done and continue to do!

    On October 18th, 2007 at 3:55 pm, Ann Nichols said:

    Really great article, Wendy. I can’t tell you how many times I have felt very similar. I didn’t give up on my dreams and I have finally found something I can be proud of and share with family and friends without fear of being ostricised. Keep up the continued success.

    On October 18th, 2007 at 4:16 pm, Holly Schwendiman said:

    Been a while since I dropped by and just wanted to say hello! Hope you’re doing well and keep staring that fear in the face! :)


    On October 18th, 2007 at 6:53 pm, James said:

    My fear of success is that I will get into more than I can handle. I’m getting to the point that I am really beginning to overcome part of it.
    Funny how this topic is poking up on so many sites I’m reading recently.

    On October 18th, 2007 at 9:01 pm, --Deb said:

    Fear is fear. It’s intimidating and makes things scary!

    On October 18th, 2007 at 9:31 pm, JoLynn Braley said:

    Hi Wendy! I can relate to the fear of success, after all, it is much easier to stay where you are - you do know just what to expect!

    I’m listening to Susan Jeffers’ Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway. She points out that the fear never goes away as long as you continue to grow, and to make “I’ll handle it” your mantra. All fear comes down to the thought that you won’t be able to handle it, just like James commented on above. So, I’ve been affirming that “I’ll handle it!”

    Keep up the great work, it doesn’t look like you’re letting fear stop you! :)

    On October 19th, 2007 at 4:37 am, Heroes said:

    This article of yours is pure truth, what can i say.You are right here, and that’s a law, when every time you have to pass the fears, there’s gonna be a moment of easiest in things that you do.

    On October 19th, 2007 at 8:18 am, Susan Payton said:

    Wendy, for you, there’s no turning back. You ARE successful! The 4,233 emails in your inbox is proof!

    It is definitely hard to be open to what may come, even if it is sure to be wonderful. But once you do, isn’t it a great feeling?

    And success is what you make of it. You don’t have to be materialistic or shallow just because you’re good at what you do.

    On October 19th, 2007 at 8:33 am, Googlelady said:

    Wendy, great article. I always follow this: To succeed you have to fail ;) so accepting our fails is not bad (for those that are still afraid after reading this great post)

    On October 19th, 2007 at 8:39 am, David LaFerney said:

    If you (or I) make only a half baked effort on a project, and then that project fails, then it’s really no big deal (on a personal level). If, however we go “all in” and fail, then this affirms personal failure - to our delicate ego. So, to quote the philosopher Homer (Simpson) “Never Try”.

    Really committing is risky. Quite scary for the risk averse. Understanding this can be a powerful thing.

    On October 19th, 2007 at 8:44 am, Wendy Piersall said:

    David - you bring up an extremely important point that is a whole other post!

    If we put in our all and fail, then we risk our very identity. While we’re still trying (but not all the way), we can still hold onto the idea that “I can do this”, “I am good enough”, etc.

    But if we failed on that level, risking losing that dream is indeed frightening.

    Great comment - something I need to explore further… both on the blog and within myself. ;)

    On October 19th, 2007 at 8:49 am, Mother Earth said:

    awesome post wendy - i think i have sabotaged quite a few success opportunities for fear that I’d lose me along the way. It’s the only way I know how to describe it - if i get too busy -or in over my head busy - like if my time is not my own and the rest of my world turns to chaos. I get lost in that inertia. Then in order to avoid the fear of being too busy - I shut down. When I shut down I get scared and then I am clawwing my way back to the work I love vs being happy I have a profession I love. It’s very intense.
    and frustrating

    I did not know about your personal challenge path - wow, it makes me admire you even more - wendy what a champion you are

    Mother Earth

    On October 19th, 2007 at 9:17 am, Aruni said:

    Wendy - this is an excellent post as is Megan’s post. I am going to put the following comment on her post as well.

    I honestly think that the fear of success can cause more paralyzation (sp?) than the fear of failure. I am facing this exact same issue right now.

    Do I raise funds for my company and grow? I know I can’t do it all. If I ‘fail’ now when not many people know about us maybe I’ll slip away unnoticed. But what if I fail after bringing along people for the ride? What will they and the rest of the world think? And the fears you mention above regarding becoming hugely successful swim through my mind constantly. As well as if I ‘make’ it:

    + will I have time for my kids and marriage?
    + will I have time for myself?
    + will I have time for my friends?
    + can I handle the criticism that often comes with success from people who just like to criticize (I am known to take things too personally sometimes)

    In my search for answers I interview people on the topic of success and every story is different.

    I work on my fear of success by forcing myself to be in the same room with people who others think of as successful for practice. I use to be deathly afraid of public speaking, but I kept putting myself out there…volunteering to speak despite my fears and now the stage looks so inviting. I’m hoping the same will hold true if I hang around a bunch of successful people! My for my next gig I’ll try out being a singer. :-)

    Thanks for writing this post and writing it now. I needed the reminder that I’m not the only one out there peaking around the corner hoping Success doesn’t see me and come jump on my head! :-)

    One piece of advice I can give (which I have to remind myself of constantly) is separating my success as a human being from the success of my company/job. As entrepreneurs we tend to tie those two intricately together which can be emotionally devastating for bot the company and us.

    On October 19th, 2007 at 9:31 am, Aruni said:

    I left a comment but still don’t see it. I guess it’s stuck in spam filter land. Hmmm. Anyway, I stumbled this post!

    On October 19th, 2007 at 9:41 am, Wendy Piersall said:

    Aruni - thanks for letting me know! I found yours and another one in Akismet. Not sure why that happens sometimes, but I’m always glad to be able to save a great comment from disaster! ;)

    Mentions on other sites...

    1. Freelance Advice from the Blogosphere, Part 3 | Freelance Parent on October 19th, 2007 at 11:20 am

    Leave a Reply

    If you liked this article, take more To Go...


    Subscribe to Daily Posts Via Email
    Sign Up for the Weekly Email Newsletter
    I'll never sell or rent your info. Period.
    Subscribe Via an RSS Reader