A fear of failure


Do you consider everyone else is a success but not you?

Everyone hates to fail. Think back to your infant school memories,  you left the cocoon of your family and spent 6 hours a day thrown together with a class full of other children your age. At some stage we become aware of what others achieve and either aspire to be like them, feel encouraged by them, or worse, feel like giving up because we can never be them. At eight years old  I remember feeling inadequate at dancing, during a school assembly rehearsal and I could not do the hip movements the others did. The teacher tried to correct me and I knew I was the weakest link. I felt ridiculously pathetic. A failure. before I was even into double digits. I hear that song and cringe now. Suddenly there were gold stars, head teacher awards and Sports captains. You saw the delight and praise and thought, wow give me some of that. Are we any different as adults and business owners? We outwardly share all our positives on social media and are often left alone with our negatives that we choose to contain.We all have moments of self doubt, but assume everyone else is okay. Clients can give you an immense sense of success, but it doesn’t end there.

Is your creativity hampered by your fear of trying?

Fear can damage everything in life. It can ruin your productivity, destroys your dreams even, and keep you from building the business you’re put so much into. Oddly we often fear what we most desire. Do we take risks, try new things, and grow, or if we are so scared of failure do we protect ourselves from feeling inadequate so don’t try? We actually need to readjust our view of “failure.” We all tend to think that failure is a bad thing, but it isn’t. You may have failed at something, but you could be one step closer to success and the lessons you’ve learned give you experience and knowledge.


Removing obstacles

Someone once told me that people who put obstacles in the way of doing something don’t actually want to do it. I believe this and as a parent, I tell my girls, if there is a way and you want to do it you will.

There is a fear of criticism, or the fear of ridicule, and rejection. We don’t want to look stupid. This is triggered by the desire to be liked and approved of by others, even people we don’t know or care about. People live lives of underachievement and mediocrity because they are frightened  to sell themselves and make a success of their businesses.  Fear of rejection and criticism, you can choose to play it safe and settle for far less than they are truly capable of. We have to value ourselves.



Here are some fears other people just like you have kindly shared with me…

“Every time I take a bigger step to invest more in money in my business to grow it, there’s always that fear that I may not get the return I want. It’s my money that I’m playing with, no one else’s, so I don’t have the worry of losing someone else’s investment.”

“My biggest fear is losing what I believe in. My passion is to shoot film and shoot it from the heart. The cost involved is big but I’ve strongly felt it would pay off. It hasn’t and the investment I have made in it has left me struggling to make a living. My biggest fear now is losing not only what I believe in but what I love.”

“My fear of failure is very real. But it’s more than just failing in business. To me, I feel I need to prove to myself that I can do it and that I’m worth something. This is my biggest fear; to be disappointed with myself, that little demon on my shoulder having the last laugh and saying ‘I told you so’. Having to admit defeat is my worst fear and is the reason I carry on.”
“What if I become so successful I can’t cope, I work alone, what if I cant keep up with the pace?”

“I fear being exposed as a fake!! I’m massively insecure about this as I have no formal training for what I do… I dread being called out on it. “
“I have a fear every time I start a new painting!! It’s always a daunting prospect, especially with a big piece, but once I get going and break down the process, the fear ebbs away.”
“I have worked in this industry in one form or another all my life so even though I do have those thoughts from time to time I’m very used to it! That’s not to say I don’t get stressed by it all of course.”
“I fear not reaching the people I want to talk to via my blog. I fear being invisible. Or if known, being seen as rubbish and a blog to not take seriously. I fear being dismissed or judged negatively. I fear being the irrelevant joke of my industry. Reading that back, I think I want to hug me!!”

“I’m a very stressed person. As a hyperactive, I always try new things and go full on new projects. I’m 100% dedicated and sometimes I fear it will simply not work. I fear in 10 years I won’t be a photographer anymore but working in an office on a job I don’t really like. Photography is a very lonely job, we work in front of a computer everyday, and being small business owners, we don’t really count hours. When we shoot, we meet people who are getting married, or have a family. I’m single, I’m afraid I will never be able to meet someone. I come home to an empty house from a wedding at 3.30am and may have left my home the day before at 7am. Whenever I have a a little thing to ask someone, I have no one to simply turn to and ask “what do you think?”. I need to contact friends, who have lives and kids and boyfriends and stuff. Sometimes it’s very hard to be on your own, especially when you work like crazy and you don’t really have time to meet other people. My biggest fear is that I might never be able to find someone to walk with me on the path of life, and it scares me. A lot.”
“I have a fear of employing and expanding. I talk to other similar business owners and when they say “Oh I’m so busy”  I ask myself  “What am I doing wrong?”  But in reality I know I have much lower overheads and am doing wellI.  I just want to provide the best service to be right clients.”
“If I had more of a decent income things would be easier. So I’ve failed in that respect. I cannot do anything else. I think it’s the worry of failing your children. I’m happy chugging along, but failing them fills me with sadness.”

“I need a balance of time for me and also family time.  Running my business I always feel like I have to say yes to everything as my income can be seasonal but this can lead to feeling burnt out and less effective. My new approach is to carefully plan in non negotiable time for me and my family and plan work and also admin around that.  The fear is that by saying no, I wont get the opportunity to say yes again. I guess that if I say no the work will all just dry up. So I end up compromising my life due to taking too much on. I guess believing in myself is what I need to do too!”

“I fear having things said about my work that are detrimental to my business, not everyone is going to like or value my work and I understand this, and constructive criticism is a good thing. I don’t have a fear of failure, I used to, but I don’t consider myself to be amazing. I will always keep on trying to improve technically and creatively, this is what drives me. My biggest fear is my equipment failing or someone hating the results. Neither of these has happened yet, but they could happen and that scares me a little. Not much scares me these days though, I think it’s because of my age and the fact that I have raised 3 kids and been through a lot. I don’t get scared by much, I think you can fear failure but that would mean never making a success of my business but I feel I have. Only if every job and every piece of work fails can you be a failure. One or two mistakes don’t make you a failure I’ve got quite big balls and I will always have a go, but I am also very modest, I don’t think I am all that!!!”

“I was told at uni that creative people have to have the skin of a rhino and not to be upset by rejection. In my career I have definitely toughened up but ultimately it is me that I am selling and I still freeze with terror when having to make an approach to a new contact – the phone is a particular terror of mine!”
“As weird as it sounds I always hold back a hell of a lot because I fear that if I truly give my business my very best effort and then I fail then I am in essence a failure! Whereas if I “choose” to have small goals then I’m never going to risk messing it up . So I guess I fear taking risks with the business which is such a shame because by nature I’m such a bold person.”
“I have fear that someone hates the work I love that I have delivered. It’s not happened yet but it might do one day. I pour my soul into my work so that would hurt”fear-of-failure_0008

Why not challenge yourself – get experimental?

If your work is not challenging you, you can set yourself a personal challenge, try and do something that you’ve always dreamed of doing, write a book, organise a photoshoot, plan an event. Get together with like minded people and organise something fun and challenging. You probably belong to or have dabbled in networking groups, get together with individuals who you feel you would like to work with. Set yourself a project or plan of action. Find something that will fulfil you and keep you inspired. Over the years I’ve tried to push myself, challenge myself and do things that scare me a little. In 2007 long before the selfie stick and the hashtag #selfie I undertook a year of self portraits on flickr. In publicly doing a challenge like this, I was worried that if I gave up, I would feel a failure. I had a deaf 8 year old and the challenge I set myself really was an escapism. For how ever long I spent on that self portrait each day, I did not feel a wife, a mother, someone struggling with the challenges of parenting a child with special needs. It was amazing, rewarding, enlightening, it taught me so much about many things. I didn’t fail. In 2009 I actually did another whole year, this time exploring outdoors and my lovely county of Hertfordshire much more. I became a little bit famous on flickr, I was asked to do some other photographers’ wedding photos. I had exhibitions, had my work featured in self portraiture books alongside Miss Aniela and many other self portrait artists. I gave talks about self portraiture and eventually gave up my job to be a full time photographer.

I still have fears. But if we do not push ourselves we will still be that 8 year old who thinks she can’t dance.

Can you take positives from your mistakes and believe in yourself?

I worried that I was never good enough, I’ve been photographing weddings since 2010. Like many of you I am my own worst critic. I often thought about entering for an industry award. But I feared being laughed at for entering, I told myself I just didn’t have the volume of weddings to get votes. I kept thinking, what if I fail?  What if I tell everyone I’ve entered and then don’t get selected. I’m surrounded by awesome wedding suppliers and other photographers who have entered and won, or entered and learnt something. I asked myself, who am I doing all this work to please? Which award is regarded the best, which is the one for me? I realised that whatever the award, it’s my couples that I want to please. I love hearing from them, and their feedback is invaluable to me. When I feel low I read my testimonial page and remember all the people I have delighted with what I do. So I was nominated and encouraged to enter.  I picked an award, that seemed to most fit. I doubt I will win, but in entering, it made me reflect on all the couples who put their trust in me. It made me look at what I’ve given them, what I’ve put into their happiness. All the hours and hours of work, the images, the memories, the way I helped them and the extra distance I happily went. And do you know what? I have been shortlisted. Still I think, I’ll fail. But I have learnt something from it. And in writing this piece, which I told myself people will not want to read or contribute to, I’ve learnt something too.

Above all – have fun

Doing something that you find fun, will make you happy, just go out and be a kid again. When adults create art, it’s often something from our imagination and the result can give us great rewards.

Sharon Cooper is a Hitchin wedding photographer covering London, Herts and the uk. Sharon provides creative wedding photography, alternative wedding photography and destination weddings. Please feel free to get in touch and tell me your plans. Find Sharon on Google+

Please leave me a comment, tell me what you fear? Do any of these shared here strike a chord with you? I’d love to hear your voice. Thank you to everyone who contributed, it’s been cathartic and lovely to chat with people about this issue. I want to give all of you a big hug! 


[all photos by Sharon Cooper]
  • Really superb work Sharon – really gets under the skin. thoughtful and insightful. Thank you! Dx

  • Beth it’s a struggle to try new things, if the old things are working..but when we do and we enjoy the new challenges and results. Imagine Picasso never moving to his ‘Blue Period’ or if Monet had never thought to paint his series water lilies? Keep doing what you love and experiment too. Thank you for reading and for your comment.

  • Pushing forward each day is one of the hardest things I struggle with. Starting a new design or project with no idea on how well it will go down. Do I bother? Or don’t I? Id love to be financially free enough to creatively venture without worry but perhaps I would still find reasons to hold back on things….thank you for writing and sharing this xxx

  • lovely piece Sharon, I guess we are all running a bit scared, we always think everyone else is doing great, but we are actually
    all in the same boat which makes me kind of happy 🙂

  • Harry

    Thank you, Sharon – written from the heart. I don’t think you missed anything out, either!

  • All so recognisable! Nearly every one of those people is me. I think the one thing we can all take away from this is that we’re ALL afraid, no matter how much we present a “can-do” attitude to the world!

  • Fantastic Sharon. Exactly what I needed this week. Xx

  • A beautiful blog to read Sharon.
    It really made me smile.
    So many of the statements described me and the way i feel all of the time.
    And yet they made me feel somehow not alone.
    Thank you for taking the time to write this blog =) xx

  • All very recognisable.
    The answer is to shed your fear and go for it as you have said. I’m glad you have shared your thoughts on this because
    How to shed the fear has been a journey for me in the past and is relevant today, I am working through this with a very capable friend who is making the difference. for the fear can come back even once you’ve proved your capabilities and shed the fear of failure.
    No one wants to hear that, however we can all lose our way and we do, it’s important to revert to the real self to recognise the fear is a construct born of the questions what if ?and with me at the helm?
    What is me?
    Me is everything aside from what if.
    If Me is self loathing, useless, unable, fearful even pathetic then What if becomes a construct of immediate failure.
    Me is now,me is in this moment and not made up of past/ future constructs.
    I am all I need to be right now to do what I need and always will be Because through calm of mind and acceptance that thinking of the past or the future doesn’t dictate the now comes strength.

    What if ?
    With me at the helm
    Anything and everything.

    Today I feel that and am truly alive
    What of tomorrow?
    I can’t think of that I’m enjoying today too much.
    X X

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