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Fear of (not) Failing

Photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash

By now, we're used to hearing stories about "the fear of failure" but have you ever considered if you experience any fear of success?

To some of us this probably sounds illogical but what we can fail to acknowledge is that success usually requires change, and change often comes with a cost. The costs that accompany healthy growth includes a temporary loss of comfort, familiarity, or certainty. And our brains do an outstanding job of detecting these costs and measuring them against the gains. Here's how it works...

When we decide to change a behavioral pattern, the innermost part of our brain (the brain stem and cerebellum) helps assess the risk factor involved and if the risk seems too high it alerts the middle (limbic) and outer (neocortical) parts of our brain, strongly advising them to maintain the status quo. The problem shows up when our dear, sweet inner brain mistakes a loss of comfort, familiarity, or certainty for a total loss of contrl and over-reacts by warning against any change at all, regardless of if that change would be valuable in the long run.

Even with this warning, if that reward-oriented part of our brain is still desiring change, the inner brain may employ shame and fear to try and convince us to stay put. This ends up sounding like thoughts that not only discount the benefits of a positive change but also our deserving of this change.

It's the battles we pick trying to disprove our inner brain thoughts that really get us stuck. So here's the key: the true work of change has little to do with being totally certain we will never have to feel unsure or uncomfortable and everything to do with knowing we just might and moving forward anyway.

This really struck me when I was re-watching The Wizard of Oz recently (some self disclosure: I live with a young kid so we watch a lot of random stuff around here!) To be honest, though I enjoyed the book, I wrote the movie off as total cheese not long after my own childhood and I'm pretty sure I haven't watched it since then. So I was completely shocked when we reached the Wizard's monologue in one of the final scenes and heard this:

Wizard: As for you my galvanized friend, you don't know how lucky you are to not have one. Hearts will never be practical  until they can be made unbreakable.
Tin Man: But I still want one.

You know what? I don't think it really delivers without the audio visual...

(Tissues for days over here.)

It’s not as simple as a fear of failing. What this scene taps into is the fear of succeeding at something worthwhile, something that requires us to loosen up a white knuckle grip of control so that we can experience some heart and mind-opening.

One of our core values at b'well is a commitment to creating a space and place where people can learn about their brain's complex dialogue and identify what really matters in their lives. When we clarify these things, we trust that we're one step closer to naming what we are willing to risk the constant comfort, familiarity, and certainty for, whether it's authentic connection, learning, true intimacy, justice, or adventure! These are the kinds of things that promise growth and, if done successfully, will always require risk.

As you start this week, may you find places to practice the Tin Man mantra, knowing the risks of success and still going for it anyway.

Be well,


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