I used to think that I didn’t try new things because of my anxiety. It is true that I’m very anxious doing anything outside my comfort zone, but that is true of many people and it does not tell the entire story. Being anxious can lead to the avoidance of activities that trigger anxiety, but that is not the only reason why you might be avoiding them.
I didn’t want to look stupid or incompetent so I did nothing that would, in any way, lead to public failure and ridicule. But that quickly became not doing anything new at all. Never trying is not only not succeeding, but it is also not failing. It is nothing. Never trying is maintaining the status quo.
I also didn’t want the attention or pressure that comes with success. At least, that I believe comes with success. I’ve never massively succeeded at anything, so that is am assumption my brain has made in order to hold me back from really trying.
Sometimes the claim that you are avoiding anxiety is a cover story. You may instead be avoiding new things because you fear success or failure or both. Not trying will allow you to avoid facing those fears.
I have always hated being the center of attention. Whether it is attention from one person or one thousand, I hate it. I prefer to exist in obscurity. Some of that comes from being an introvert. Most of it comes from damaged self-confidence after being raised by an emotionally abusive mother.
If you want to succeed, you have to learn to tolerate some degree of attention. For most of us, that does not mean worldwide attention. It means small groups — -your colleagues, your family, your tribe.
I fear failing in front of an audience. It is a whole different experience now when I write a story that bombs. Previously, if I wrote something that sucked, only I knew about it. Now others can see my failures.
Success, on the other hand, will just bring more attention, which makes the risks of failure more intense. The larger your audience, the more people who are going to see you fail. That makes success a double-edged sword.
I have an over-developed sense of responsibility. It comes from having a mother who never planned or prepared for anything. I was the “adult in the room,” since I was a tween. I feel like everything is my responsibility to handle. Even when I can delegate, I do not. I don’t trust anyone not to let me down. Adding any kind of success into the mix will create more pressure because I will feel responsible for taking care of everything myself.
It will also create tremendous pressure to not fail. There will be expectations that I may not be able to meet. I know that one cannot please everyone, but the more readers you have, the more likely you are going to upset one or come across one who just doesn’t like you or your work. It will create pressure to not bend to them. Sorry you don’t like it. Sorry you think I suck. Sorry you think I should be writing something else. Sorry you think I should crawl in a hole and die.
How do these fears manifest?
It took me months to get my writing routine down. I have stopped and started more times than I can count. Last year, I thought I’d finally succeeded in establishing a habit only to have it all come crashing down late in the year as I struggled through the anniversary of my boyfriend’s death and what would have been his birthday.
Then the pandemic and lockdown became my brain’s new excuse to avoid the risk of trying.
I sabotage in other ways. I know that I should have a list of topics made, but I somehow never find the time to make it. I know that I should be more organized and plan ahead. I do that in every other area of my life, but I resist with excuse after excuse with my writing.
I’ve been sitting on other ideas for creative things I want to pursue for months. I have the means and ability. I’m just letting fear control me. I know that, but I can’t stop it.
Procrastination and Perfectionism
Procrastination and perfectionism are the twin demons of progress. Some days it takes me forever to start and then I’m cramming to get something done that I can publish. Other days I start early and then spend the entire day nitpicking at the alleged flaws. The flaws that only I can see.
Most days procrastination takes more innocuous forms. Social media browsing. Some silly chore that “needs” to be done right now. Planning and organizing things that have already been planned and organized to death.
Both fear of failure and fear of success can exist at the same time. They can mimic each other. They can feed off of each other. You need to be aware that of what you are really avoiding so that you can work through your issues and learn to thrive.