Self-Sabotage and the Fear of Success (To Write and Have Written)

In this Business of Creativity episode we tackle the little-discussed but not uncommon phenomenon of the fear of success. Let’s go over several ways we see this happen, what might be behind it, and what we can do about it.

Video (from Twitch and YouTube):



Self-Sabotage and the Fear of Success (To Write and Have Written) – powered by Happy Scribe

So I was going to be so proud of myself

for remembering to turn my microphone onwhen I started tonight and indeed,

I wrapped around so hard that I failed

into shouting into the microphonebefore my stream was up.

That’s where we are.

So.All right.

Hi, everybody.

Welcome to tonight’s show.

It is Tuesday, and I amhonestly together like an adult.

That’s where we are right now.

So, OK,

let’s get things organized, OK?

You know, really like

yelling into the microphoneand just to explain what was going on,

my Doberman is having a nervous breakdown

of sorts because the search team is hereagain tonight using the land outside,

using the acreage for searchpractice, which is great.

That’s all well and good.But she does not understand why

you know, why there are strangershiding on our property.

So she’s trying to tell methat we are being invaded.

And, you know, I should do something about

this and I should let herdo something about this.

And I’m trying to explain to her that I

know they’re there and I have a videostream to do and she’s not buying this.

So that’s whatwas going on there.

So, yeah, apologies for the excitement and

we’ll see if we can stay on taskand properly ordered going forward.


yeah.So yeah.

Natalie’s like, “But the mic was on!”

So, you know, I did,I did achieve, my goal criteria was met.

I just need to set some new criteria

about, you know,appropriate use of things.

So there we go.All right.

Let me get my other chat window organized

here so I can see whatyou guys are saying.

I moved my camera.

This was a good thing, except nowI’ve blocked my chat window, so.

All right.

OK, everybody.OK, great.

Right.OK, so.

The microphone adventure, as I was saying,is just kind of a continuation of my day.


this afternoon my husband and I descended

from our separate work environmentsand met in the kitchen for lunch.

And I, you know, put a frozen mealin the microwave because I’m very classy.

And that was today’s lunch plan.

And then I was doing dishes while thewell, it ran and it

stopped and I went over and looked at itand it was, you know,

my thing was still absolutelya hundred percent frozen.

And I was like, oh, man.

Clearly, I was distracteddoing the dishes.

And I, you know, for four minutesit ran, not doing anything.

I must have put it on the wrongsetting or something.

So I restarted it, went back,finished, no big deal.

And so then as it waswrapping up, it, you know

it stopped suddenly, just suddenly stopped.

The microwave suddenly stopped running and Irestarted it and said to my husband,

“You know, that’s the secondweird thing that it’s done.

Like, I just assumed that I had screwed up

the first time, but it just suddenlystopped in the middle of running.

That’s the second weird thingthat it’s done,” and he said, “Stop it.”

And I turned around and like black smoke

is flying out of the microwave, justbelching this horrible smelling smoke.

And so turn around, slam, stop,you know, get everything,

cut that out.Not on fire.

I turn back to my husband.

“That’s the third weirdthing that it’s done today.”

So, yeah, that microwave is no longer

in the house where it canpose a fire hazard.

So.All right.

So let’s do tonight’stotally not disastrous topic today.

All right.

I want to I want to mentionto start with that this is,

I have a lot of disclaimers to leadto lead off with here today,

because this topic, talking about selfsabotage and the fear of success,

is something that is going to potentiallytap into some things that may be scary.

And we’re going to talk about thingsthat are going to touch on identity.

Identity is real scary, real touchy.If you don’t believe me,

look around politics right now,like how people view themselves

is more important in many cases than howthey view what’s actually happening.


I want to just put off and this

this is different than when we’retalking about procrastination.

Procrastination is a fear of failure,

but it’s different, it’s a fearof failure, not a fear of success.

So,you know, I have these great dreams

of these things I’m going to do,but I’m not going to start doing them,

because until I do them,they’re still perfect in my head.

That’s another topic we candeal with at another time.

When I want to talk about now is

when we actually sabotage ourselves and donot allow ourselves to succeed where we

could because of perceptions andmisconceptions and a lot of other things.

Let me start by saying I am not diagnosinganyone over the Internet and I am not

going to talk about actualpsychiatric conditions.

I am not going to talkabout specific people.

I am not going to talk about, you know,

I am speaking to a green LED.

I know you’re on the other side of it.

I would love to hear backfrom the chat as we go.

I want this to be verymuch of a discussion, but

I am in a couple of dozen at leastwriters groups online, not counting,

you know, in person groups that I’m in.Those groups I have been in, some of them

at this point a decade,

those groups may range from 30people to thousands of people.

I have seen

all kinds of writers from the casualhobbyist trying NaNoWriMo for the first

time to the career full timerwho is making a living off their writing.

So I talk to people at conferences.

I’ve talked to peopleat marketing meet ups.

I’ve talked to,

you know,I just want to say that there are

thousands of observationsthat are going into this talk.

So I’m probably not speakingabout any specific person.

If it feels like at any point that I am

speaking about a specific person who mightbe you, dear, dear listener,

I’m going to say it ismore likely that you are

possibly in a group of peopleabout whom I am speaking.

So where I’m going with this isnothing that I’m going to say here,

if it sounds scary or


then I want to say thisis, none of this is personal.

I am just putting stuff out here for you

to consider on your own timeand come to your own conclusions.

So if there — think back to Cinderella,

not the the sweet Disney version,but like that lovely old grotesque

fairy taleswhere the stepsisters really want to fit

in the shoe, but the footdoesn’t fit in the shoe.

So they cut off toes and parts of the heel

and all kinds of thingstrying to make the shoe fit.

If the shoe fits you,please just take this opportunity

to consider if that isa shoe that you want to fit.

If the shoe does not fit you,

then please don’t cut off toes and thencomplain that your foot hurts.

OK, that’s where I am.There we go.

There’s all the disclaimers.

I’ve put that up front.


So thank you guys.I am.

I’m seeing the chat.You know that.

Yeah, we’re good.

We’re on the same page,so I appreciate that.

But I think this is stuff that,

you know,I think about this stuff, and sometimes I

need to think about it in the car orwith music or over dark chocolate.

OK, so I’m just.To make sure that we’re all none of this

is ever personal. So, OK,so let’s start with,

how we self sabotage and the reason I want

to bring this up is thisis something that I see a

lot, actually,in the creative community,

and nobody, as far as I can tell,is talking about it.

I believe this is both conscious

and unconscious, and I think it happensunconsciously more than consciously.

So that’s why I want to bring it up so wecan be aware of it,

because if you’re aware of it,you can at least make decisions about it.

And if it’s if you’re not aware of it,it’s just going to keep happening.

Excuse me,

so there are a number of ways thatthat this happens and I’m just going

to walk through in absolutelyno particular order,

the rough categories that I seewhere this is happening.

So the first one is I’m just going to callthis the fear of change, because that’s

honestly a pretty accurateway to approach it.

If I create something and it is successful

and I become a successful creator, heavy,heavy air quotes because that is

a definition that we don’thave time to get into.

That’s another topic.

But for whatever reason,I have changed in my own self-assessment

of my creativity, my ability,my success level, whatever

that is change.And that is potentially a very significant

change, depending on how I haveapproached this hobby or career.

You know, again, a number of thingsthat will influence this.

The human brain is goodat a lot of things.

Welcoming change is not one of them.

Change is one of the things that the brainresists more than almost anything.


you know, I think, again,

I’m not I’m not going to get terriblypolitical, but you can look around and see

2020 is a year that hasrequired a lot of changes.

And you can see — I told my husband back

at the beginning of March, I said,”Oh, my gosh, I’m looking forward,

and this year is going to be all about

who has adaptability,who is flexible and who is not.

And and that’s going to determinehow people handle this year.”

And looking back, I feel that wasa pretty fair assessment.

OK, and so.

A lot of those changes are,we’re resisting change, you


I’m really trying to think

of non-political examples, I swear,but if, you know, in order for

you know what, darn it,this stuff has been so politicized,

there’s no way to safely say anything.

But if you’ve got, you know, oh,my gosh, this is a big and scary event.

You know, a pandemic, OK, that’sby definition a major event.

And acknowledging that is too disruptiveto my worldview and my level of comfort.

So I am going to resist changes, you know,that, you know, to I’m going to resist

making changes because of that,because it allows me to live in denial.

That’s one tiny,highly politicized example.

So just where I’m going isfear of change is huge.

We see fear of change drivingso much behavior in people.

An unfortunately common but not politicalexample would be abusive relationships

where peopledon’t get out of the abusive relationships

because the change is scarierthan staying in the relationship.

And if they do get out.

Respectful, loving relationships feel so

different that they are more likelyto find a familiar abusive relationship

because the brain doesnot adapt well to change.

And there’s a reason we have the phrase

“the devil you know,” OK, like “better thedevil you know than the devil you don’t.”

Because, you know, between two bad things,

I will take the bad thing I am familiarwith because we don’t like change.

And this is,

where I’m going is just the conceptof life changing, of life being different

is enough to slow some people down and notwant to make a change,

even if it’s a change that they anticipatebeing for the better, it’s still change.

And honestly, we’re notthat great at that.

So we can we can change.

Obviously, we can choose to make changes,all kinds of things that I’m not going

to take the time because we’ve gota lot to do tonight to walk through.

But I’m just going to say fear of change

is one reason that we sometimes resistdoing things that we might want,

but we don’t want the changethat goes with them.

Now, how much of that change isreal and how much of that is perception?

Or I have talked myself into the idea

that it will be a larger disruption thanit really will be? Or anything like that.

That’s, you know, somethingto think about and explore.

But the you know, again,the idea here is just that just

having a difference is enough for somebrains to want to resist that.

And sometimes there are some legitimatethings to be concerned about.

You know, if I am doing this as a fun

hobby and suddenly I start makingmoney off of it, does it become a job?

Is it still fun?

You know, and you gotquestions to ask yourself there.

And where I’m goingwith this tonight is, Great,

ask yourself those questions,come up with answers.

Don’t sabotage yourself so that you can’tbe successful because you haven’t thought

about, do I want thisto be a hobby or a job?

OK, so.

So there you go.

One that — I can’t figure out another way

to say this, so I’m going to, I’m goingto say it awkwardly, is the change….

You know, some people are worried about

succeeding because they don’twant the burden of success.

And “the burden of success”is a very weird phrase.

But what I’m going to say there is,what if people like it?

What if people praise your work?

And it’s funny how many times I’ve had

conversations with people like, oh,you know, I don’t want to pitch this

at this conference or, you know,pick, pick whatever scenario, maybe

“I don’t want to submit this story.I don’t want to do this.

And what if they hate it?”And I’m like, “OK, what if they hate it?

Like, what is the worstthing that happens?

If they hate it, they don’tgive you money for it.

OK, know your submissiondoesn’t get taken.

That’s it.You’ve you’ve lost the cost of an email.

Like what’s the worst thing that happens.”

OK, ok, that’s reasonable, and I’m like, “And.

And OK, now let’s turn that around.

What if people like it?”And then you get this

reaction when people say, OK, OK,

so what if people like it isthe scary part of this question.

OK, so why just take a moment and wonder

why is that scary? You know,is it that if people like your work,

you will get more attentionor you will get praise?

Is that a bad thing? And if so, why?Again, just kind of sit and

you know, work through this.

If having people like my stuffis a scary thing,

ask yourself why that is. And I’m nottelling you all this is a good feeling

and this is a bad feeling, I just wantyou to kind of think, you know, think.

Thanks, Natalie,for making that face with me.

My, my.

But I’ve seen that happen so many times

with the you know, this just the absolutefreeze up of what if people like this?

Guys, you are allowedto be proud of your work.

Like if you’re producing workthat you’re not proud of, then yeah,

don’t sendthat off as a submission.

Right.Like, be proud of the stuff you make.

But if you’re proud of it,you’re allowed to be proud of it.

All right.

Like you are a creator,you’re supposed to create.

Like that is literally in the jobdescription, so don’t

hold yourself back from being proud

of something that you havelegitimately done a good job with.

Just going to leave that there

and then the other thing that I’llthrow out with the burden of success:

Let’s say that my wildest,most ambitious creator dreams come true.

My Kin & Kind comes out.It sells.

You know, that’s the thirdin my current series.

So for whatever reason,

the third book is, that is the magicone and it sells 26 million copies.

It gets an Amazon Primeor a Netflix adaptation.

It becomes a major theatricalfilm and Howard Shore scores it.

I mean, you know, my favorite A-listactors are going to take the lead.

You know, all of the, like, just gocompletely over the top with this.

The most wild and crazy.

I’ve got casual phone gamesbased on my world, whatever.

It goes absolutely insane.

I am still going to be able to

step out of my rideshare in whatevercity I’m visiting,

because this is the future and we’retraveling again

and walk down the sidewalk and walkinto a hotel or do whatever

and not get mobbed on the street becausenobody is going to recognize me.

I am never, no matter what level ofsuccess I’m at, going to be the Beatles.

OK, like the burden of success is probably

not as heavy as you’re maybeanticipating it to be.

And you know, don’t.

You know, in my most unrealistic scenario,

I am still living the samelife that I’m living.

All right.So don’t cheat yourself out of doing well

because you’re worried aboutwhat happens if you do.

Hey, I hope this is making sense for me.

Some, throw me some feedback.

I got Kate agreeing with me that Howard Shore,

that is my dream.Like Howard Shore will score something,

some adaptation of my work.There we go.

I have put that out for

mockery or agreement or the universeto recognize, whatever that’s out there.

But just.

Oh, my gosh, Kate — Kate’s totally on topof where the next thing is going.

“What if they like it, and I have to live up

to that and producesomething just as awesome?”

OK, you know, as somebody trying to stick

the landing in a series right now,I feel this really hard, okay?

I completely get thisand I’m not going to lie.

Getting good feedback on book one wasfantastic, but it made me worry about book

two, but book two had a deadline,so that was great.

And then book two people said, “oh,

book two is good, we liked book two better than book one.

So I can’t wait for book three.”

And I’m over here going, “yeah, that makesseveral of us.” Like I’m honestly

you know, I get that because you do feelpressure, you feel pressure, regardless of…

I’m going to say,

any time you’re making something,

you’re going to feel pressure. If if Ididn’t if I didn’t have a book or a book

two, if I just had this book,I would still want this book to be good.

Right.And if.

If people don’t like my next book, well,at least they liked my first book, right?

Also, there’s quite a lot of,

we also have the phrase”one hit wonder,” OK?

And, you know, you have.

You know, so many.

I’m thinking of Harper Lee,

who had one book for decades,but it was one amazing, very famous book.


you know, I think it’s.

Yeah, you you definitely are going to feel

pressure if you want to, you know,live up to your previous work.

On the other hand,

you did put out that previous work, so youclearly can live up to that previous work.


And I go back to, when in doubt, reallysit down and consider the statistics.

Is it likely that

if my next book is not as amazing as

my first book, that peopleare going to egg my house?

Probably not, probably what I’ll hear is

that wasn’t as good as my favorite,you know, fill in the blank, and

OK, you know what, like

I feel the same way about other authors

that I read, it hasn’t stoppedme from reading their books.

I just have books that Ilike more than others.

You know, I’m going to rereadthis one, but not that one.

I did not ever email everyone I know

and say I just read the latest from so and so anddon’t ever read one of their books again.


Oh, my gosh.

“One hit wonders laugh at usbecause at least they had a hit.”

That is one of my favorite quotes.

And as far as…

That’s a musical group, and, oh, my gosh,Seeker put the name of the group in there

because I’m having a complete,complete mind blank.

“one hit wonders

laugh at us because at least they–“I can do it in my head, it’s just not there.

OK, darn it.

OK, let’s let me get back to my notes

because I’m just getting distractedby the song lyrics because they’re fun.


All right,

OK, so here’s the next one that’s goingto be starting to step into touchy

territory if we haven’t gotten therealready, and that is we’re going to talk

about identity. And inparticular to start with–

Excuse me — in particular,

to start with a kind of, I’m going tocall this a victimization narrative

because, darn it, that’san accurate way to do it.

So there are a lot of peoplewho get through life

using as a coping mechanism

that the reason things can be hard isbecause things are actively,

purposefully set against them,and if that makes you happy to live your

life that way, I guessthat’s that’s your call.

(That is a This Train song.

Thank you.

So Alena had the name of themusical group.)

This is why my chat being

delayed from my trainof thought is a problem.

All right.Jumping back.

So you’ve got a victimization narrative

going on where, you know, it’s, “I can’tsell my story because nobody likes

this topic” or”I can’t do this because my family doesn’t

support my efforts” or,you know, that sort of thing.

If this story sells, and if the family then

comes back and says, “oh,that’s great, we’re so proud of you,”

what if the family is supportive?You have just changed the entire narrative

there and in some casesit is worse to be wrong.

It is worse to be wrong aboutthe world view than it is to fail.

We would rather fail than have

to recognize that we needto change how we’re doing things.

And that is a frustrating

way to live, it’s an incrediblyfrustrating conversation to have, if

you know and again, I’m talking

from thousands of observations over yearsand years, so I’m not speaking of any

person in particular,but I can say that on a number

of occasions I have beenin a coaching kind of scenario

and it is just incredibly obvious

that the person was more attachedto a worldview than to goals and,

“Oh, no, no, no,

I can’t I can’t do that because,you know, my my family wouldn’t like it.

My friends don’t like this kind of thing.”

And “like, well, actually, they justsaid this really supportive thing.”

“Oh, no, no, no, no.

That’s not what that means.”

OK, whatever.

So where I see — howyou can see this happening,

and this is, I’m just going to throw out

some things that that again, I observeand this is just for thought.

But if you have someone who has 40

positive reviews and then they get onenegative review and either that completely

derails everything, “I can’tenjoy those 40 positive reviews.

I can’t take that as valid feedbackbecause there’s one negative.”

I’m sorry.

In what mathematical universedoes one balance out forty?

Hey, don’t don’tdon’t let that bother you, OK?

But I’ve actually seen people take theirbooks off the market for that.

“Oh, I got a negative review.

Now it has to go down because, you know,there’s no way to recover from that.

And I knew it.

I knew it wasn’t going to work out.

I knew it was doomed to fail.”

Like, whoa, like this is notany kind of logical, rational thinking.

This is pure…

You are defending yourdecision to fail at that point, OK?

There are

in the behavior world,we talk about explanatory fictions,

I’m going to bring some explanatoryfictions over into the publishing world.

This is where you’ll hearexplanations for why

I can’t succeed and I’m just goingto run through — I wrote down some of these

because these are the onesthat I hear a lot

and I’m just going to run through them so.

No one will give selfpublished books a chance.

Everyone wants cheap indie books.

So the odds are stacked againsttraditionally published books now.

With all the diversity buzz, no one isinterested in books by white people.

The market is biasedagainst Christian authors.

The market is biasedagainst pagan authors.

The market is biasedagainst atheist authors.

My genre is glutted.

My genre has fewer readers.

Independent bookstores hate self published

books, so there’s no pointin trying to work with them.

Independent bookstores hate traditionally

published books, so there’s nopoint in trying to work with them.

Big chain bookstores hate self published…

OK, and any victim narrativefor the market will work here.

And this is where I get very frustratedas a person who is, you know,

participating in this creative communitybecause I will get online and I will see

back to back in my social media,like sometimes right next to each other,

the statements, “the market is not friendlyto left leaning books right now”

and “the market is not friendlyto right leaning books right now”

And I, can you guys justget over yourselves?

You know what?The market is not

friendly to writers who whine insteadof fixing things and getting to work!

OK, that is a true statement.

But the whole,you know, creating these explanatory

fictions to why there is no pointin trying or why I don’t have to

work harder because it’s just goingto fail or, you know, that kind of thing.

You know, that’s not that’snot helping anybody.


you can sum this up as Yeah But.OK, so if there’s you know…

‘Oh, you’ve got this really great review here.”

“Yeah but.I got a bad review.”

I don’t care!

“Here’s a callfor submissions for–“

“Yeah but

I’m not the right demographic,”

whatever that might be.You know, like submissions.

You submit via blind submissions.

I frequently, the complaints I hear,

I see online in groups about, wellthey’re not taking X demographic or Y

gender or, you know, fill in the blank,but they’re talking about places that are

using blind submissions because I’msubmitting to those places too.

And I know how their submissions work.

And so, no,it’s not the name of the author or