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Fear of Success

So, we all know about the fear of failure. I feel like too many of us are too afraid to put the work in to whatever our dream is- not because we’re lazy, exactly, well, maybe that’s part of it, but there’s this crippling fear of failure, rejection, essentially that you won’t succeed in whatever you’re doing. I can’t tell you how many Calls for Artists I didn’t participate in because I thought, “Oh, they won’t accept me anyway.”

But what about the opposite?

The fear of success?

What about the fear of achieving your goal only to find that you can’t handle it?

Personally, I’ve had a couple of instances where my art was accepted for exhibition, but I didn’t tell anybody about it. I’m not even sure why. I just didn’t.

There are so many easy things I feel like I could do with this website to better present my artwork: clean it up, have a separate section where I show art I’ve sold/exhibited/gave as gifts, but I’m afraid of doing that too.

I think whenever you’re trying to start something new, learn a new skill, improve a skill or whatever, it’s just as important to consider why you don’t want to succeed instead of why you don’t want to fail.

When I was trying to improve my attention to detail for work, I found that I had this very subtle feeling of resistance. There was a part of me that didn’t want to improve. So, I more or less had a conservation with that part of my brain, it was like splitting myself in two people: The rational me, and the “inner child” me that didn’t like change or anything that would equate to growing up. So, I wrote a list of ten reasons I didn’t want to improve, then ten rebuttal answers. That made the process so much easier. I don’t know how much this exactly improved my attention to detail, but after that, I didn’t feel any resistance.

Yesterday evening, I found a new trick that would get more Instagram followers- which is essentially following more people who follow the pages you like. I added on to this strategy by liking five art pieces of other peoples’ stuff and commenting on at least one thing. I didn’t know how big of an impact that would make- just thought I’d try it out. I woke up this morning to find I had 15 new followers overnight- that’s about how many I get per week. I know 15 isn’t a big number, but it is compared to my usual weekly followers.

In that moment, I felt like a dog who was chasing a car then finally caught it.

I’ve thought about my art journey over the past year, and I’ve been told my whole life that being an artist, that it’s a hyper competitive field and that it would never go anywhere without a backup career- I don’t remember who in my life said that, but that’s what I believed. This past year though, I found that the opposite is true. The more I put myself out there, the more shows I sign up for, the more active I am on Instagram I get more and more successful- even if it’s just a little bit at a time.

I now have 200 followers on Instagram, I’ve been exhibited in four shows, and I’ve even sold artwork.

I’ve been trying to build my following to help my art business for a while, but this huge jump is making that “what if I succeed and can’t handle it” anxiety set in.

  1. What if I get a lot of followers who want to buy my artwork, see that there’s practically nothing in my Etsy shop, then leave?
  2. What if I get more requests for commissions than I can handle?
  3. What if the quality of my artwork falters due to increase in demand?
  4. I love art so much, what if doing this as a regular job causes burnout and I end up hating it?
  5. What if I’m successful for a while, but then suddenly stop?
  6. What if my tendency to work on something at full blast, then my tendency for complacency and burnout sets in that ruins everything I’ve worked so hard for?
  7. What if this causes me to only paint one specific thing? What if this prevents me from experimenting, or improving since people will want to buy only one type of art from me?

Well. As of now, I can only think of 7. Time for the rebuttal!

  1. Getting a lot of followers going to your Etsy shop will probably encourage you to post more listings and be more active on Etsy. Once you make a couple of a sales, that will build momentum to keep going.
  2. That’s silly. You can have a limited number of commissions. You also probably won’t get “more commissions than you can handle” for a long time.
  3. That’s a real possibility, another real possibility is the quality of your art will increase since you will have no choice but to keep working on art, practicing, and getting better.
  4. Again, another likely possibility. The reality is though that most people don’t like their jobs they didn’t go to school for or get passionate about. At least this would be a job that you know has a lot of meaning.
  5. Like you suddenly stop making money? Or your following stagnates? As long as you keep doing what you’re doing, that won’t happen.
  6. Yes, you have done that in the past: work on something at full blast, freak out, then burn everything, but you have been doing that less and less once you decided you were going to keep doing what you love instead of what’s “popular” and especially since you started competing with the person you were yesterday, AND especially since you adopted the “long game” philosophy where sometimes you’re ahead, and sometimes you’re behind.
  7. That would suck. But it would be very much like how your life is right now. You’re working a 9-5 job doing something that you didn’t go to school for, and you’re spending your mornings and free time building your art business and your following. If art did become your 9-5 job, then the time you would have spent trying to make that dream happen would instead be experimenting and working on other art.

Sometimes, we just need to treat ourselves as someone we’re caring for. We need to realize that the people most responsible for holding us back is ourselves- we then need to listen to ourselves: honestly listen to our fears, then in kind, give ourselves a little bit of encouragement and reassurance that no matter what, everything will be fine.

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