I Spent My Whole Life a Quitter Because I'm Scared of Failure (And Also Success)

I thought by quitting I was protecting myself from the possibility of failure, but all I was doing was protecting myself from achieving my potential.
Publish date:
January 12, 2015
fear, quitting, fear of failure

I grew up a quitter.

I was a kid who had the curiosity and passion to try a lot of things like gymnastics, musical theatre, piano, but not the courage to stick with anything, except of course for wasting my parents money on leotards, voice lessons and a keyboard.

If I didn't see results immediately, if success wasn't instant or easy, I gave up. I didn't want to practice, I didn't want to go through the process, I just wanted to be good right away or not be involved at all because waiting, trying, and possibly "failing" were too uncomfortable for me.

When I'd come home whining "I hate softball, it's hard," my mom let me skip practice so I could stay home and eat a Celeste microwave pizza while watching Benny Hill re-runs (I'm sure those Benny Hill re-runs had something to do with where I've now ended up).

Then stand-up comedy came into my life and it seemed to be the perfect fix. I was in college and bored by the theatre process -- "You mean I have memorize all these stupid lines and rehearse, and then wait weeks, sometimes months to perform in front of an audience? No thanks." The summer before my junior year while visiting my parents in Boston I did an open mic at Nick's Comedy Stop. At the time I thought stand-up was just going on stage with a few notes and winging it, and so that's what I did and it was awesome.

Finally, I found a way to get instant gratification! You write something, you say it on stage, you (hopefully) get a laugh, you feel validated. This is gonna be so easy (for any stand-ups reading this, you know how wrong I was).

After college I ended up in LA then New York, where quitting led most of my twenties. I'd write a script, and the first time I got a bad note, I threw it in the garbage. I took improv classes, and when I didn't make a house improv team on my first audition, I quit. I'd try new jokes on stage, and the first time they didn't get a laugh, I'd cross them out of my notebook while muttering "stupid, stupid" in my head. I was like a bratty child in grade school who instead of just trying to cut a snowflake, I would tear the paper to shreds crying "Art sucks!"

I used to think I was lazy, but the more I examined my quitting behavior, the more I realized it came from fear. I thought by quitting I was protecting myself from the possibility of heartbreaking failure, but all I was doing was protecting myself from achieving my potential.

(Btw no joke, right about here I wanted to quit writing this essay)

Meanwhile the things that I should have quit I didn't, like overspending on my credit card, drinking, and eating too much cheese (I'm lactose intolerant). I even had certain relationships I should have quit but I stayed in them because leaving them to seek out something that could make me happier, such as time on my own to gain some discipline and self-esteem, was too frightening.

Genuine happiness was frightening. I was trapped in a cycle of doing things that made me feel like a failure to avoid doing things that could make me feel good because I was afraid to fail.

It was somewhat of a control thing; if I did things that made me feel like shit at least I was in control of me feeling like shit. However, if I attempted to do things that could feel good and they didn't go as I wanted them to, I was a victim. As a victim I can blame everyone and everything else for my failures rather than take responsibility for my life.

It wasn't my fault; it was that teacher's fault for not liking my writing. It wasn't my fault; it was the audience's for not liking my joke. It wasn't my fault; it was my mom's for allowing me to skip softball practice.

And as a victim I was frustrated and jealous of other people's success, not realizing they were succeeding because they were OK with failing. They didn't get debilitated by criticism or challenges. If anything, they almost seemed fueled by it.

The more I struggled with my quitting habit, the more I realized just how much I am ruled by fear, and not just the fear of failure but also the fear of success. I used to think being afraid of success was nonsense, but it's not. One of my favorite quotes by Marianne Williamson expresses this sentiment so perfectly:

"Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us."

Fuck yes it does! Even though I've had that quote taped on every wall of every apartment I've lived in since college, it's a hard statement to fully embrace. It's hard to focus on your light on days when you feel dark. It's hard to remember how powerful you are on days that you feel weak and defeated. But dammit, I'd rather die trying than spend any more time quitting.

Years ago, I was talking to a friend about all of my regrets. I was feeling shame and guilt for all the projects I had abandoned and opportunities I sabotaged because I was afraid to commit, try, take a risk and possibly even succeed.

It's a conversation I've had often, as if my acknowledgment that I've "done things wrong" will somehow make things right. Meanwhile, there is no point. Regret is an utterly useless thing. Sure, regret can teach you a lesson, but at certain point regret just becomes another habit keeping you from moving forward.

As I was lamenting to my friend about all the "time I wasted," I realized I was just wasting more time. What good was this doing? None.

Now, I am fully committed to quitting quitting. I try my best to quit running from the light and instead run toward it, into it, and own it. Sure, I'll quit something if it's not working out, but only if I'm sure I'm quitting because I truly don't want to do it anymore and not because I'm scared of the outcome. The outcome is out of my control. All I can do is keep doing.

Here's another quote you tape on your wall. This one is from my grandfather told to me via my mom. She shared this with me during one of my "I give up" fits as an adult:

"It's okay if you fall, as long as you get up."

Even if when you fall you stay on the ground and weep for a bit, get up. Even if when you fall, you rip open your pants and expose your butt to hundreds of strangers, get up. Even if when you fall it hurts really really really bad, get up.

And if it helps to listen to a little MC Hammer's "Too Legit To Quit "while you get up, go for it.