I’m familiar with the feeling of being so afraid of failure (or success) that it keeps you from even getting started.
This was once a crippling feeling that kept me from embarking on countless ideas and projects.
And I know I’m not alone.
This is a human experience you’re probably familiar with too.
Here are 10 common myths about success that may be holding you back:
1) Success is linear
You may be feeling frustrated with yourself because you’re not where you thought you’d be by now.
Maybe you’ve experienced setbacks or feel stuck in one place.
I had my quarter-life crisis at twenty-four, when I thought I should have been much further along in life spiritually, emotionally, and career-wise.
Shouldn’t I be closer to God? Shouldn’t I have better relationships? Shouldn’t I know what I want to do for the rest of my life?
These were the questions that plagued me.
The more I learned, the more I discovered all the things I didn’t know. It took me a long time to accept this wasn’t a bad thing.
Success isn’t always forward progress. Sometimes it means staying in one place and growing roots. Sometimes it means letting go and starting again.
2) Success means never quitting
Quitting tends to have a bad reputation with those who preach success.
But the truth is, it’s good to know when to let go of certain goals, careers, and relationships that aren’t working for you or aligned with your values.
Is your career contributing to your poor health and high stress levels? Can you take time off or find other work without jeopardizing the income you need to support yourself and anyone else who might be depending on you?
Are your relationships affecting your mental health and wellbeing and making you more sad than happy? Can you leave or draw boundaries to better protect and take care of yourself?
Is your weight loss goal jeopardizing your health and leading to unhealthy habits and self esteem? Can you accept your body the way it is and/or adopt healthier habits that don’t push you to extremes?
These examples might involve quitting something, but I think a better way to look at it is letting go.
Knowing when to let go can be the thing that catapults you to greater success and happiness.
3) Stick to the plan
If life has taught me anything, it’s to be more flexible.
I’ve had so many plans that haven’t gone my way but looking back, I don’t regret things not working out.
After graduating from a school in New York, I couldn’t get a work visa to stay in the U.S., so I came back to Ethiopia, even though I really didn’t want to at the time.
I was just starting to feel at home in New York, and I felt it was the best place to focus on my writing career.
I had options that didn’t really feel like options:
- apply for another student visa and go back to school when I was already so burnt out;
- stay in the U.S. undocumented until I could find another option or;
- come back home to Ethiopia.
I have good friends and family in Ethiopia, and the means to live a good life here, and I ‘chose’ to come back. Looking back I can’t remember ever feeling so happy with something I didn’t want in the first place. I feel lucky, knowing many people leave and don’t have the option of a good life to come back to.
This was a lesson for me in letting go of plans I’d held onto so tightly, and allowing my vision to change with the seasons of life.
4) Success ≄ failure
If failure is not meeting certain plans or expectations you had for yourself, you may be more familiar with it than you’d like.
This is normal.
Failure is a normal, even integral part of success.
And it’s not a bad thing.
Failure can give you clarity on what isn’t working. It can teach you and move you closer to your goal.
5) Have everything you need before you start the journey
If you’re a perfectionist, you’re probably familiar with this one.
This is the belief that you have to have everything you need to start pursuing a new goal or idea. You have to have the knowledge, skills, money, connections, and confidence to succeed.
This was once a huge limiting belief in my life.
As I got older, I started replacing it with another belief:
I started believing that I could get started and things would fall in line and come to me along the way.
This is the philosophy I followed when I moved to New York in the first place, not knowing exactly how I would support myself. It’s the philosophy I use in my writing practice now, choosing to write even when I don’t feel I have all the tools I need.
Living this way is scary at times, but it’s allowed my faith to grow and made room for others to help me along my way.
6) Your success is your responsibility alone
It’s hard to miss the personal responsibility messaging around success.
It’s not that personal responsibility plays no role. It’s just that we put too much emphasis on it, especially in more individualistic, capitalist societies.
It’s also true that our family, friends, and communities play a significant role in our success.
It helps too when our societies value equity, and have a safety net to catch you when you fall.
Even if you feel you weren’t given a fair chance at success, you can improve your chances by leaning on a support system.
Make friends and join communities that value the same things you do. Approach people you admire and ask them to be your mentors.
Ask for help when you need it. We all have our moments.
7) You have to know what you’re doing
There’s this feeling that you have to know what you’re doing and be totally confident in order to be successful.
But even successful people have doubts and don’t know what they’re doing at times.
Even successful people can feel like imposters, like they don’t deserve to be where they are.
Truth is, you don’t have to know everything or be 100% confident.
You can start that project even if you have doubts.
You will learn along the way and even if you fail, it will be a good learning experience.
Adopting this belief can give you the confidence to get started, even when you’re harboring doubts.
8) You have to be passionate
For the longest time I didn’t know what I was passionate about.
I could see myself doing so many things.
I wanted to study media, anthropology, international development, and social justice…
I was interested in psychology, theology, and film…
I could see myself as a writer and at one point, a teacher…
I don’t think my interests were wildly random or different from one another, but I felt this pressure to just pick something I was passionate about and specialize in that.
I felt bad and even a little embarrassed that I wasn’t passionate about one thing.
Do you feel the same?
Instead of antagonizing over not knowing your passion, you could try your hand at different things that interest you, and then commit to something for long enough to find success, whatever that means to you.
9) Success means one thing and one thing only
You have to define success for yourself.
What do you value and why?
For some people, success means accumulating wealth and living comfortably or lavishly. For others, it’s simply doing something they love for work.
For some it’s having the luxury of time and freedom of location. For others it’s having a stable, loving home and family.
These things aren’t mutually exclusive–your definition of success could involve almost any combination of things.
Examining your personal values and living in alignment with them on your road to success can spare you the unhappy business of comparing yourself to arbitrary definitions of success that just don’t fit.
10) You can’t have success without pain and suffering
Have you ever been so set on a goal that you don’t care how you get there, and end up hurting yourself in the process?
It could be a weight loss goal, and you deprive your body of the rest and nutrition you need.
It could be achieving a certain lifestyle, which you work countless hours to obtain at the expense of everything else.
I’m not talking about circumstances where you practically have no choice but to work hard to meet your needs.
I’m talking about compromising your own health and happiness today so you can meet a goal that may not add much more value to your life and may be hurting you in the process.
I have a cousin who drives the busy streets of Addis Ababa for a living. He has many dreams and aspirations. But his one definition of success is ‘to be happy everyday.’
This definition is what will always stay with me.
It’s a beautiful reminder to live each day intentionally so I don’t lose myself in the process.