Killing our own dreams

Photo by Ian Britton

The bold colors of our dreams by Ian Britton

Part 2 – continued from previous post, “Conquer Fear of Failure.”

What can we do to avoid killing our own dreams?

I took a self-motivating class at DU many years ago, and the professor (whose name, I regret, has been lost along with my class notes) introduced me to the concept of mental alignment. At the time I was struggling to find a way to successfully quit smoking, which I did after several failed attempts and after absorbing this concept.

Acknowledge the fear.

One strategy I learned was that of acknowledging my fear. I am afraid. There, I said it. Nothing to be embarrassed about, but we try to hide it, don’t we? This simple act of acknowledging (note I didn’t say admitting because it’s nothing we are guilty of, which is an important distinction.)

Identify the fear.

What shakes your knees? Fear of failure or fear of success? Let’s start with the most widely recognized fear: fear of failure.

In an article posted by SSS Consulting/The HR Chally Group, failure is described as one of the dirtiest words in our society. Fail. It’s the most cringe-producing four-letter word we can tie to our actions. We’d rather be argumentative, odd, flaky or any other number of conditions than seen as a failure. Our society places a huge emphasis on success, and successful people are “Winners.” We simply shudder to think of being branded the big “L.”

Fear of failure is an epidemic in the corporate world, of which publishing is a part. Bottom line-focused, the corporate world claims to want brilliance and new ideas, but remains hopelessly focused on failure, choking the very innovation it covets. In an article on failure, author Carlin Flora says, “Corporate America has very little tolerance for failure. Compensation is typically based on tasks well-done, not spectacular (and costly) failures that could eventually produce breakthroughs. Bosses preach innovation and yet they hover over workers, poised to slap wrists . . . the more prevalent mixed-message style of management has employees (and writers?) so scared and rigid that they innovate less than they would have if their bosses had never uttered the word at all.”

Ironic that we’ve developed all those little pep-talk phrases to insulate ourselves from failure:

“We learn from our mistakes.”

“You can’t win them all.”

“Everyone’s wrong sometimes.”

How sad that none of them work. We need to learn how to fail. Think of it not as a punishment, but as an opportunity to learn.

Be a successful failure.

Avoid exaggerations and sweeping generalities. From the SSS article, we can reduce the anxiety caused by self-induced pressure by “breaking the mental set that success is equal to right and therefore equal to good, while failure is equal to wrong and, as such, is bad.” If we accept failure as a normal, healthy part of life, we reduce the fear, the pressure. Instead of stress, then, you choose a more healthy reaction that relieves stress and makes improvement possible.

Be the best you can be – refuse to compare yourself to “better” writers.

If we feel compelled to be better than someone else, we’re doomed to failure to the end of our days. Instead, be the best you can be. Make comparisons about how far you have come with your craft, how the critiques of your writing are getting better, how much better you feel about your ability to set the scene, characterize your protagonist, build suspense.

Acknowledge “Healthy Failure” and “Fail forward fast.”

Terry Bragg (Peacemakers Training) puts it this way, “Fail forward fast.” He points out that Tom Peters, the management guru, encourages companies to fail forward fast, to learn by making mistakes. By making mistakes at a faster pace, we learn at a faster pace. If–and it’s a big if–we learn from the mistakes we make and don’t repeat them.

Set attainable goals.

Celebrate success and small successes, as you achieve them. RMFW’s own goal guru, Margie Lawson, addresses this beautifully in her course, “Defeating Self-defeating Behaviors.” Margie’s method of self-reward is especially powerful–setting yourself up for several small successes so you realize them and celebrate as you go. These successes insulate us in times of adversity because we’ve shown ourselves, our own shadowy, internal critics, that we are, in spite of setbacks, making forward progress.

In my next blog, we’ll dig deeper into that other crippling illness, fear of success.


1 Comment

Filed under success techniques, The Writing Life

One response to “Killing our own dreams

  1. What a powerful post. Thanks for sharing!


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