Most of us have a huge fear of failure.

There’s very little that provokes more anxiety than imagining the consequences of failing. We can imagine some pretty horrific consequences for ourselves if we allow it.

Our cerebral cortex, in its typical beta-brainwave fashion, allows our imagination to run wild and projects all kinds of bad things into our future. Then we feel shame for those possible failures- the ones that haven’t happened yet.


Our fear of failure is largely based in the images we project, and the shame we feel, about things that have never even happened.


I probably don’t need to prompt you, they’re right on the tip of your “shame” neuron.  These embarrassing incidents haunt us for years.

One of mine was related to a 3rd grade play and being called off the stage by Mrs. Painter, a scary elderly teacher who disliked enthusiastic children. I was trying to help, but she wanted to be the only boss. My “alpha” female ways were shut down pretty early.

And there were so many other moments of shame in my family that I don’t want to recall, much bigger and more damaging.

We all have real-world moments where things didn’t go well. Who hasn’t botched a relationship, career or project?

I’ll claim all those and more. I, too, am sometimes wary of commitment to areas of life that have gone awry.

But mostly, I can look back at all those seemingly-disastrous experiences and see how much I learned from them.

What hurts- and is actually destructive- is when we’re shamed or guilted by others who expected more of us, or “require” us to be something they need. We are projected upon- by parents, intimate partners, bosses – and that shame or guilt haunts us. It becomes a frozen life pattern.

Our fear of failure is basically our childhood voice remembering we won’t be loved just as we are.

And mostly, that’s all we’re looking for in life? Right? To be ourselves and be loved for what we do contribute.

So the fear of uncovering or “finding” your purpose is basically you tapping into that fear again, because you’re so familiar with it.

It’s why we live up to the expectations of our parents, peers, advisors, friends, neighbors, community and society at large. Writ large, we believe:


“I won’t be loved for who I really am.”


So we imagine that life is “easier” if we just live according to others’ expectations and earn the love that we deserve for doing so. We know what the rules or parameters are. The path is pre-determined. It doesn’t require us to dig deep into an internal awareness, or be listening to our own guidance systems.

In fact, you can live a pretty good life while dissociated from your authentic self.

Or so it seems….

…Until you start hearing your rumblings of dissatisfaction with a life that has little meaning, or true joy, or any depiction of the “real you” under the false pretenses of living a good life. These rumblings might look like insomnia, back aches, headaches, irritability, malaise, depression, disappointment, resentment, disengagement, substance use….etc.

So you think about trying to find another way, possibly a life with more meaning, doing work that matters…

And just as soon as you tell your ego that you want to do something that matters, the fear surfaces.


Your ego projects all over you those things that could go wrong, and the shame you’ll feel.

It allows you to believe that it’s not safe in a world where you get to choose your path, or it’s afraid of “going big” and exposing yourself to even more possible failure or shame.

So your ego whines:

  • How will I live a life and work that matters and keep up my financial commitments? Can I keep my current lifestyle and follow my heart?
  • I’ve been so unfocused in life, how can I possibly make sense of the many threads of my life to “find” my purpose?
  • What if you can’t get it right the first time? You know you’re no good at this.
  • etc.

And often the loudest voice you hear is “what will people think of me if I just give it all up, everything I’ve worked for?”


I call these the Myths of Living into Purpose. I’ll share more about those soon.

But back to the Fear….

The most significant action you can take is to shift your mindset about your fear.

When you fear being your real self, or doing work that matters- you’re definitely already without-a-doubt living an illusion.


I can’t even count the number of roles I filled while young where I’d look around at what everybody else was doing and imagine that I too had to be of that mold. And I was miserable, yet proud, because I could fit into the perceived expectations. I was “adaptable.”

Head down, we march forward.

And if your fear is not of being “different”, then it’s likely a fear of being “big”.


Fear shuts us down, keeps us small, squelches our voices and causes us to live with a “dimmed light”.

But your soul doesn’t give up. It’s the voice that won’t go away. And it’s unlikely to give up on you until you submit to letting go of the trappings of your default life.

Many of my clients tell me they’ve never felt “so at home” once they really tap into who they are and why they’re here, and begin to express that.

No expectations to be something you’re not. 

It’s all in the shifting of Mindset. Allow yourself to imagine something different than the projections of your ego all over you.

We can do this, together.


Holly Woods PhD is a SuperPowered Mentor, Master Coach and Healer to Visionary Entrepreneurs and Innovators who are inspired to do more meaningful work and have more impact. Using a proven and rigorous 3-step strategy to rediscover purpose, release resistance and reinvent their way of being, she helps them clarify and focus on what matters, get out of their own way, and activates their powerful life and work in the world.

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