I saw a thread on Twitter today that really hit home. It was about the fear of succeeding. People don’t really talk about that particular fear, do they? We talk about the fear of failure all the time, but for some reason, the flip-side is never brought up. Failure is scary, yes, but so is success. For me, anyway.
When I think about succeeding, I get kind of sweaty and shaky. I always thought that was just a weird quirk, so I never said anything about it. But now I’m realizing that I’m not the only one who is sometimes paralyzed by this fear. The fear of achieving what you’ve spent years of your life working for. The fear of actually getting what you want.
When you fail, you try again. Simple as that, really. You learn, you grow and you keep going. Failure is a necessary part of growth and we all will experience it… more than once. But when you succeed? When that happens, people expect things from you. They want more from you. You are now in competition with yourself and everyone has a front row seat to the match. That is terrifying.
I’m starting my last year of college in two weeks, and so far, most of my successes have been pretty localized. The fear of succeeding wasn’t so bad. But that doesn’t mean aspects of those successes weren’t a little overwhelming. For example, last year, I applied to bring a chapter of Her Campus to my school. I knew that if I succeeded, I’d get attention. And I did. I was interviewed on the radio, in the newspaper, and on live TV multiple times. People I don’t know approach me on campus wanting to join. People want me to come speak at events on campus. Because of that one success, people expect things from me that they didn’t expect before.
Those Grey’s reviews I used to write? Those also came with attention that stressed me out. People I look up to were sharing them and complimenting me every week. People were tweeting me constantly about the reviews. People were demanding posts from me. (Some nicely and some not so nicely.) It wore me out. Those reviews did so well that people wanted more, and that’s perfectly fine! It’s expected even. I had just never been the person people wanted more from, and it freaked me out. I put so much pressure on myself that I literally started to dread Fridays. Writing them wasn’t fun anymore. It started to feel like a chore and I didn’t want that. (And now you all know why I took a break from those.)
Those were just small successes, though. It was more stress than paralyzing fear.
There is one aspect of my life that, if I succeed, does terrify me. It makes me sweat in places I didn’t think could sweat. Just thinking about succeeding makes me want to live in a cave and never come out.
I’m terrified for people to watch a TV show I created.
I’ve never said that out loud, (and I still haven’t because I typed that) but it’s true.
I wrote a short film for a tiny showcase at my school. It won first place and was played for everyone to watch. I sat in my chair and trembled the entire time. That’s how terrifying and overwhelming this all is to me. I was so scared of succeeding that I didn’t let myself feel good. I didn’t let myself be excited about winning. That success didn’t really feel like a success. And the only person I can blame for that is myself.
I want to succeed. Who doesn’t? But being a successful TV writer means that people watch and react to something that is probably deeply personal. And if (WHEN!) that happens for me, it means exposing myself in a way that is going to be extremely uncomfortable. It means attention––negative and positive. It means expectations of more. It means letting other people inside a world I created. It means people shoving their opinions in my face. It means opening myself up to criticism on a whole new level. It means a lot of things.
And every single one of those things scare me.
Most of you probably know that I’ve written my own pilot episode of a show I created. But most of you probably don’t know that I’ve written seven more episodes of that same show, several short films, spec scripts and a feature-length film. And even less of you have read any of them. People ask me all the time if they can read one of my scripts and I always say no. Why? To protect myself from judgment, whether it’s good or bad. Because succeeding is scary. Because opening myself up like that feels like I’m putting a target in the center of my chest. Because then, if they like it, they’re going to want more.
Just like the fear of failure, the fear of success will not hold me back. I won’t let it. Not anymore. I will not self-sabotage. I will not hide. I will not stay comfortable in my bubble. Somebody, somewhere, needs to hear a story I write. A character I create could help someone else live to see another day, and it’s up to me to let them.
Succeeding is scary for me. But not succeeding? That’s even scarier.