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Shrinking in fear… of success

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It’s the last week of 2021 and I don’t know about you but this week is one of those weeks where time moves differently. We’re not quite done with 2021 (despite absolutely feeling done with this year) and we’re not quite ready for 2022 to begin.

It’s the perfect time to pause and review what I did in 2021. And you know what I did?

👉🏻 I stayed small.

Why did I do this?

Fear of failure? Nope.

It snuck up on me again, this old, deep-seated fear.

You see, I’m afraid of success.

Yes, it’s a thing. And it usually looks like this:

Me: It’s doing well. I’m seeing my impact. I’m making money. I’m enjoying it. I’m growing. I’m … succeeding.

My brain: Success is unknown, thus unsafe! Stop! Shrink yourself!

But the thing is… I want to succeed. I want my definition of success. I mean, for fucksake, I defined it! Why would I hide from what I want?

Because brains are assholes and we’re conditioned by society to shrink. It’s easier to be small. The habits we have that keep us small also keep us safe. Because that’s what our brains equate with safety… what we know. (Whether it is actually safe or not.)

“The unknown is dangerous! Success is an unknown! Best keep away from it!”

Our Brains

Success is new. Success is scary. And thus, if I’m not careful, I end up shrinking away from it and staying small.

Overcoming a fear of success

So how do we move through this bullshit cycle? We have to train our brains to accept success and overcome habits that keep us small, or shrink us. Which is hard and takes practice. And awareness.

Often, the habits we have that keep us small are so subtle we don’t even notice. And sometimes they’re significant but we don’t recognize that’s what it is. Awareness helps us recognize these things.

How I shrink myself to stay “safe”

Awareness helped me realize that, for me, a subtle shrinking shows up as procrastination and perfectionism. It’s not having an email opt-in on your website because you don’t have the “perfect” welcome sequence, which causes your email list growth to stagnate. Or waiting to put that scheduler online until the booking page looks “just right.”

For me, a significant shrinking is my anxiety actualized. It’s being “too busy” to make the announcement that you were on a podcast, to write an email and a blog post and a social media post that quite simply says “Go listen” because you are “overwhelmed” with “all the things” going on right now. And all that busywork is just that… busywork.

All these things kept me small. I didn’t grow my email list. I didn’t book as many consults as I needed to. I didn’t share the things I worked hard on. I just kept… going.

Now, subtle shrinking habits can be overcome fairly easily with “just fucking do it”-ness (put the fucking form on the page), but significant shrinking is much harder to overcome because it’s so deeply ingrained within us and allows us to hide it better.

That’s that busywork. It’s when you’re constantly working and writing off what you did as “par for the course” and moving on to the next thing. Without pausing. Without acknowledging what you did. Without sharing it. Without celebrating. You just keep… going.

Do you see the common thread?

Practice makes progress

I stress to The Fiery Well community to pause and share their work with everyone on Slack, and celebrate. And often. To the point that I now check in weekly with the prompt “What are you celebrating?” In part, because I have such a hard time with it! And in part, because it’s a way to combat the desire to stay small and safe: say the thing out loud.

Don’t shrink. Shout.

And this is the practice I mean. We have to practice saying “Hey, I did this thing and I’m really proud of it. Here it is.” and pausing before moving to the next thing.

We have to practice saying “this is a goal I’m reaching towards, and this is my progress” and pausing to reflect, rather than going through the motions of what we feel we “should” be doing in our business.

Now, this can bring up a lot of childhood stories about work, praise, giving and receiving compliments, and more. This goes much deeper than just being afraid of success and I suggest lots of talks with a therapist, many journaling sessions, and even consulting with your cards.

But especially, I suggest you practice pausing & praising yourself: your effort, your work, your finished projects, your failed attempts, and your lessons learned.

Pause and acknowledge yourself and your actions in your business.

Practice celebrating what you’re doing until that becomes the habit, and you’ll notice how you used to shrink instead.

Build that awareness.

Start small. Pause often. Write down your praises. Track your wins. And do it regularly. Start a spread in your bujo, a list in ClickUp, or a page in Notion, and jot down your accomplishments as they happen.

And revisit this list often.

As small business owners what’s going to keep us going is our Why and our Wins.

Because if we won’t celebrate ourselves… who will?

Join me in 2023 in building a better habit of, not just setting and tracking goals, but actually acknowledging the work we’re doing and pausing to celebrate the fact that we’re doing it.

Tags: affiliate-link, small business advice, success

Patty Ryan Lee is the site, systems, and spacious productivity witch behind The Fiery Well, the original tech and business support space just for service-based witches. Read more about her and The Fiery Well journey.
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