Success or Failure – Which Is Scarier?

I have had a series of wins lately.  It can feel great to pull things together and have them going in the right direction. But something unexpected started happening with my newfound success.

Fear! Fear started to creep in and undermine my direction. My inner voice started to let the bully enter my mind which I was so proud to have left back in my days of failure. Spiteful mean self-talk began dominating my idle time questioning my ability, my worthiness, and my gratitude.

This caught me off guard. I expected that as I had gained more success, so should I gain more confidence. Shouldn’t the fact that I am gaining more followers, selling my recently published books, and filling my calendar with events, blow away any self-doubt that I can accomplish anything I set my mind to? What a cruel trick my mind started to play. Among my fears were questions about my ability to keep up, to top the last big thing, and if I even deserved to be in this place.  I was afraid I would let people down when they found out I was simply the same old guy trying to do the best I can to make it in the world. Impostor syndrome was real.

Success was getting scary.

But I have been on the brink of failure in the past.  And by some measurements, one could say I have failed many times, and that did not feel all that great either. In those days I feared for where my next meal might come from.  I was scared that any one problem with the car might be something I could not afford to fix.  I feared the embarrassment of having to ask for help from others to pull my life together. I lived in fear of what to do next from the time I woke up until well beyond the closing of my eyes. Failure was scary.

But now I was seeing that success is too. Wondering if this was unique to me, I posted a simple poll to my friends;

“Success or failure, which is scarier to you?”

Surprisingly the results came back close, but with more people being afraid of success.

Shocked at these results, my mind raced with scenarios of how this could be.  How is it that the one thing we all chase, every day of our lives, is what we are more afraid of than the alternative of just giving up? If we truly are so afraid of making it happen could we be self-sabotaging ourselves without even being aware? Our minds are complex and have the ability to control our moods, behaviors, and biases without our knowledge. So how can we really attain success and give it our all, if the one thing we need on our side is holding back? And of course, I wondered, if people are even aware of how prevalent our fear of success is.

This made me look back at my own situation.  I had to reflect hard on what was actually scarier to me, success or failure?  I knew I was afraid of both, but which was scarier? With a monster at each end of the hallway blocking both exits, which way would I run? Which monster would I take on?

As I looked back at my times on the edge of failure and disappointment, and compared those to the current complete fear in my gut, as I live on the brink of big successes, I am left confused in just how similar the feelings are.  Should I race toward the door to success, hoping the fear monster guarding it does not pull me down, or do I slip quietly down the hallway through the backdoor of failure to hang out in the back alley with the oh so familiar monsters of my past? The old gang as it were.

Neither option looked too appealing, but this is not a corridor I can linger in any longer, and I must make a choice. I must choose a path and commit to a course.

It is simply a mind game, nothing more. Our brain likes comfort, predictability and the ease of a boring life.

The only reasonable answer I could honestly give is that whichever is closer to happening at the moment is what I am most afraid of. Whichever monster is in arms-length, must be the most dangerous and I must, therefore, run the other way. This is our brain at work. Protecting us from change and disappointment. It is simply a mind game, nothing more. Our brain likes comfort, predictability and the ease of a boring life. Any opportunity to stir things up or add challenges shocks the system.  Basically, your brain is a couch potato and if the cable gets shut off, it doesn’t like it just as much as if you tell it you are going outside to run a marathon.

It’s said that courage is not the absence of fear, but rather having fear and still moving forward. If we can understand this, if we can understand that fear will always be there working against us, we can learn how to win the battle. If you are going to be afraid no matter what, why not aim high?  Go for the big goals and do not let fear alone be the reason that you do not push yourself to find out just how far you can go. Race down that hallway to the door of success and push past that monster trying to hold you back!

Besides, if you fail, you will feel the same way anyway!

Thank you so much for staying on this scary journey with me.  I appreciate every one of your messages, likes, comments and shares as you it helps to get the message out to the world that we all have an amazing value to bring when we learn how to ‘Own Our Awkward’!


Andy Vargo
Andy Vargo
Keynote speaker, life coach, author and entertainer, Andy Vargo is all about helping you live your best life by learning how to ‘Own Your Awkward’! If you ever feel awkward about yourself, then you can understand how Andy Vargo lived the first forty years of his life. Coming out of the closet at forty doesn’t define him, pursuing his passion to help others does. During the day, Andy works corporate and school events as a motivational speaker and helps people master life changes as a one on one life coach. At night you can find him working stages around the northwest as a comedian making light of his journey with the gift of laughter. Awkward is not only his brand, but his style as Andy encourages each of us to ‘Own Your Awkward’ and be true to your genuine selves. In addition to authoring the Awkward Journal Series, Andy hosts the podcast, Own Your Awkward, co-hosts the Be The Better Local Show on BD Local and shares thoughts and ideas in his blog and video series available at awkwardcareer.

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  1. Great story Andy. At an early age my sister always taught me to be bold, be courageous and to be a Dragon slayer. I found a quiet place within me where a light always shines and fear has no home. Thank you for sharing an inspiring story.

    • Thank you for reading and for sharing your comment Larry- I love that your sister was watching out for you. If we could all learn to be dragon slayers at an earlier age just think what could happen!

  2. Thanks, Andy Vargo! Great success can sometimes be a shock to one’s entire being. You then have to change your outlook on your life to see how you can fit success in your Life Vision and parallel this success with your goals. The puzzle is much more intriguing this way.

    • Thanks for that perspective Joanne. Shifting our mindset is critical as our situation changes. I like the idea of looking to see how to fit success into your life. Might as well plan on it happening!

    • Thanks, Andy Vargo! We sometimes don’t make the room for good things when our lives are so filled up with ‘work’. Plan on success, yes!