What’s Holding You Back? Fear of Failure and Imposter Syndrome

With ever-changing COVID restrictions, birth businesses are struggling. We can’t work the way we used to. The whole way we interact with society is in flux. But is the shifting cultural climate the only thing that’s holding us back?? Or is there something else?

Let me share with you “A Tale of 3 Gyms”. These are real businesses in my community whose owners all responded differently when we went into lockdown last spring.

  • Gym #1: Looked at their in-person classes and thought “how can we reimagine this in an online format?” It was new, it was a risk, it took a lot of trying and tweaking, but they kept at it! The gym thrived.
  • Gym #2: Put up a couple of online challenges to keep in contact with their members, but were afraid to mess with their in-person classes. They crossed their fingers that things would reopen quickly. The gym recovered in the fall, but it was a very close call.
  • Gym #3: Completely froze. Communication stopped. No attempt was made at any virtual option. Fear prevented creativity; it prevented taking any new risks. Staff members circulated heartfelt Go Fund Me campaigns, but the gym went out of business.

You can see in these examples, the difference was NOT the changing circumstances. It was the internal beliefs of the business owners. Some adapted and thrived. Some panicked and froze.

I’ve seen these same fear responses happen among birth professionals. “I can’t go into hospitals, and I don’t know any other way of doing my job.” “I’ve always done in-person classes, and I don’t know if I would be good at online teaching.” “I don’t think parents want virtual support, so I’ll wait until things open back up.” “My business was going really well. I’m worried if I change things, I’ll never get back to where I was.”

So, before we launch into tips for doing virtual support, or tricks for teaching online, we have to take a look at what else may be holding us back. All the tips and tricks in the world won’t do any good if our internal beliefs have us stuck in panic and freeze mode!

This fear that stalls creativity and prevents us from stepping out in our businesses often goes by two names: (1) Fear of Failure and (2) Imposter Syndrome. These are both incredibly common. I think most of us have struggled with them at some point – myself included! So, let’s take a look at each of them.

Fear of Failure

What it looks like:

Do you ever worry what other people think about you? Worry that people will have no interest in your services? Or worry that you will let down someone who has backed you and believed in you?

Have you ever told people (or told yourself) before starting a new venture that you don’t expect it to succeed in order to lower everyone’s expectations?

Do you have an “all or nothing” mentality? If a project fails, there’s no consideration of tweaking it and trying again. It didn’t work; we’re done with it. Move on to the next thing.

Or have you been known to quit a project midstream if it looks like things might be going downhill?

What to do about it:

Practice Failing – Once we fail a few times, we find out it’s not really that scary! Intentionally put yourself out there, try new things, be willing to try and fail – and then make yourself tweak it and try it again! But here’s the twist – the more things you try, the greater chance you have of finding the ideas that will SUCCEED. Be willing to break some eggshells in order to make your omelet.

Follow Your Own Advice – Write your negative thoughts down, and read them back to yourself. Or even better – have someone else read them to you. Respond like you would if a friend were sharing those thoughts with you. Then take your own advice! I often think “what would I tell a client or a student if they asked me this question, or voiced this complaint?” We always have much better advice when it comes to helping other people! We just need to follow our own advice.

Take Just One Step – If fear has you frozen right now, just start doing SOMEthing. Anything. One thing. There’s an incredibly important phrase: “Action precedes motivation.” We often think it’s the other way around. But taking that first step can get us motivated and excited about a project. Send that first email, order your business cards, pack your doula bag, brainstorm a list of virtual class ideas, or pull up your certification checklist and complete one item. You don’t have to do ALL the things. Just do one thing, and you may find the motivation and the enthusiasm to keep the ball rolling.

Imposter Syndrome

What it feels like:

Afraid of being “found out” – the feeling that at any moment, people will realize you have no idea what you’re talking about.

Feeling like you (or your profession) are nothing special – if YOU know this information, it must be common knowledge. So, sharing it would be ridiculous. It’s basic and no one is interested.

Feeling that you will never know enough, be smart enough, or have enough qualifications to live up to people’s expectations.

Attributing any successes that you have to external sources. No matter how many successes you experience, it doesn’t change what you believe about your lack of abilities.

Being very sensitive to criticism – even constructive criticism – because it feels like confirmation that you are not good enough.

What to do about it:

Name it – lots of people struggle with imposter syndrome! Even people who have been at the top of their field for many years. There is nothing to be ashamed about – and shame is often an undercurrent in the feelings listed above. Naming it and talking about it takes away the fear of being “found out”.

Separate feelings from fact – Remind yourself of your qualifications, of your accomplishments, of the fact that you *definitely* know more than your students or clients, even if you just completed your training last weekend! You have so much to share!!

Recognize that no one has all the answers – there will always be new topics, new information, new areas of your field to explore. No one is an expert in everything. If there are things you don’t know, it’s an opportunity for learning and growth. BUT don’t let that keep you from putting yourself out there today!

Reward yourself for your successes – give yourself the credit! By rewarding yourself, you are acknowledging a job well done. You are internalizing the success, which will give you confidence in future ventures. So, go on and treat yourself!

It’s important for us to pause and take look at our internal beliefs about ourselves and our businesses. If they are holding us back now, they will continue to hold us back even after Covid restrictions are lifted. Start taking steps today to overcome anything that’s preventing you from being creative and adapting. If we can thrive during this difficult phase, we will be ready to soar in the next one!


About the Author

Laura Speece, Doula & Educator

I am a pregnancy and nutrition consultant and a CAPPA faculty member. I have been a part of the professional birthing community as well as the natural health community since 2008. I am currently living the beach life in Murrells Inlet, SC with my husband, my five wonderful children, and my awesome, new German Shepherd named Thorin Oakenshield. Previously, I lived in Charlotte, NC for 11 years. I continue to hold trainings in the Charlotte area and I manage the Charlotte Birth Collaborative – a group of 20 professionals that serve families all over the Charlotte area. I am very blessed to be able to continue supporting individuals and families in multiple states!

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