when fear of failure is sneaky


I'll begin this with a personal story — one I believe will resonate with a lot of y'all, even if it's within a very different context in your own life.

I've posted before about the band I sing in, Más Moss. So far, we've written over a dozen songs together, played 4 live shows and counting this year, recorded and released a (now physical) EP and our first wearable merch, and we get together to practice almost every week.

That might sound like a lot to some people, or very little to others, I guess depending on who you are.

Considering that we're four people in our 30's with day jobs and other responsibilities, I used to consider it a triumph simply that we got together so regularly to practice (and rarely, to write). That's great and all, but as we've started to acknowledge more recently, rehearsal is only one small piece of the equation if we want to continue to get better, create more new music, share it with the public, and not go broke in the process.

Our bass player Seth, who works in the music industry primarily as a sound technician, is the one who has his act together the most when it comes to the administrative parts of the band: he got us off our butts with booking shows; he's always sending and posting new ideas for the band, like where/who we might play with; he managed most of the process for our EP release and the t-shirt; he's always exploring the best gear for us; and recently, he's been posting a lot of ideas for songs.

About a month ago, Seth expressed a totally valid concern that, as a whole, we really didn't seem to be showing up for the band outside of rehearsal.


At first, I wanted to make excuses for myself: Work has been super stressful. I've been really busy. When I do have time to relax, I just want to veg and watch Gilmore Girls and West Wing. I don't really know how to do a lot of the things the band needs. It's who you know, or the money you have to invest, and I got neither.

Getting to the FULL Truth

But hell, I am a therapist after all, and I usually know better than to buy my own bullshit, even if it takes a little time to suck it up and admit it. All of those things above are certainly true to some extent, but I knew there was a deeper reason — one related to mindset – that I needed to explore.

And the answer actually took me by surprise: I realized that I was afraid of failing.

"No way," my ego wants to say. "I do ALL THE THINGS! I've always wanted to be in a band, and I'm in a band. I've wanted to blog and start a solopreneur gig, and I have this website and coaching business. I got my masters and followed my passion in my career. I wanted to do yoga teacher training and I did it!"

But, I realized — ego defenses aside — if I'm really honest with myself, I want to do all the things, but I don't want to try that hard at them, because then no one can blame me if I'm not super successful. And I can't blame myself either, because *shrug* it wasn't like I really tried. If I play small, I can't be expected to make big results, so I can't truly fail.


Are you hearing yourself in here anywhere?

How We Lie to Ourselves Without Even Knowing It

I never thought of myself as a person who was afraid of failure, because I assumed "that person" doesn't even try things she wants to do. But now I realize I was rationalizing, just like the alcoholic who says, "I'm not really an alcoholic, because I don't have to drink in the morning to avoid tremors. [I just drink a bottle or two of wine to get to sleep every night and have blacked out and hurt myself a few times.]"

I finally realized that just because I can say that I try things doesn't mean I have this fear thing figured out. (Well, if I ever think I have it all figured out, please fire me, k?) No, I have to own it: I'm afraid of failure.

Intellectually speaking, I embrace fear. I recognize its value, and the futility of trying to become "fearless." But at the emotional level? Maybe I still don't want to be "found out" as a fraud, an imposter. And so, I will find ways to mitigate that fear by pretending it's not there, because it doesn't "look" like fear on the surface.

I wish I could say that I've made a 180º since this realization, but that would be an exaggeration. I have, however, spent more time and taken more steps than I was previously. Because, dammit, I want to try.

Now that I am more fully aware of this self-sabotaging dynamic that was playing out, I have two choices: 1) continue to let it play out, or 2) be ruthlessly honest and aware of it and do something different.

So that's what I've been trying.

Even if it's 15 minutes here or there, or a silly idea for a social media campaign, I will acknowledge my fear, and I will take committed actions in service of my values and try hard anyway.

It Boils Down to This: 

Old (subconscious) mindset:"If I really try and I still fail, it proves I am a fraud and not good enough — so I will not fully try, and then if I fail it is simply because of that, not because of who I am."

New mindset:"Singing in a band is a lifelong dream of mine. If I'm not giving it my very best effort, then something else is driving the bus and that is not okay with me. I will work hard to give this passion the effort it deserves, devoting as much time/energy as I can while taking good care of myself. If I don't achieve what I'm shooting for, that is not a reflection of my worth. At least I can know that I gave it my all, enjoyed the process, and learned a lot along the way.

Nice Timing, Universe —

This post has been in my mind for a couple weeks now, and yesterday I watched the first video in James Wedmore's new Business by Design free video series, and it propelled me to finally get this written and out into the universe.  In the video, James — a former pro bartender turned online video expert and entrepreneur — talks about how so much of successful business boils down to mindset.

He shared his own story about how he hadn't given mindset sufficient attention, and though his business had become very successful by some external measures (like $$$), he suddenly woke up to the fact that he was very overstressed/overworked and had completely sacrificed the lifestyle that was his reason for starting the business for in the first place.

He also realized that he'd been limiting his potential for further success by having a mindset of "playing small," not believing that he could truly be in the same league as others he saw as highly successfulentrepreneurs.

Boy was I nodding my head during that part.

(Sidebar, this is totally not an ad for James, and I'm not an affiliate for any of his programs — but I've heard him interviewed on several podcasts and appreciate that he's "one of the good guys" of online business and shares a lot of valuable content for free.)

I try to not take my thoughts so seriously and focus more on action, but this has been a good lesson to me that we don't always have a choice in whether or not we're blindly obeying self-sabotaging thoughts if we're not even aware of their presence to begin with.

So with that, I'll leave you with this inquiry:

Is there some area of your life where you're feeling stuck or like you're "trying" but just not getting where you want to go? If so, I encourage you to do some journaling around it and see what self-sabotaging mindset may be at play, and what it would take to do something different, even at the smallest level.

If you're interested in exploring your limiting beliefs deeper and get un-stuck, check out my coaching programs

Also, like Más Moss on Facebook! You can enter our summer giveaway just by liking our page and either sharing one of our posts or tagging us in a post (details on our page). 


Valerie Martin

Valerie Martin, LMSW, is a Primary Therapist at The Ranch residential treatment center, where she works with eating disorders, addiction, trauma, and co-occurring mental health issues. Valerie focuses on a holistic treatment approach of mind + body integration, using Acceptance & Commitment Therapy (ACT), somatic and bioenergetic therapy, Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT), psychodrama, 12-step, and shame resilience. She is also a Certified Sexual Addiction Therapist (CSAT) Candidate. Valerie received her Bachelor of Science degree in Communications and Master of Science degree in Clinical Social Work at the University of Texas in Austin. She is an active member of the First Unitarian Universalist Church in Nashville, and emphasizes spiritual exploration in her work with clients.