What Can Stop Your Career From Ever Starting

Aurelio Asiain / Flickr

Aurelio Asiain / Flickr

Today’s guest post is by Emily Latham. Emily has been one of my students this past academic year at the University of Cincinnati and will graduate soon. In response to Jonathan Fields’ new release, Uncertainty, she wrote the following. The honesty was so remarkable that I asked her if she’d allow me to share her thoughts here.

I wasn’t sure if I should laugh, cry, slap myself on the forehead, or just nod erratically in agreement to this book. I relate to the fear of uncertainty, worry of judgment, and the suppression of creativity—and to the overall inclination to just play it safe.

I also couldn’t help but notice (not judge) that a lot of my peers act the same way in the face of uncertainty and judgment.

“I feel the fear of uncertainty stinging clear.” Those are lyrics to one of my favorite songs, “Drive” by Incubus. I don’t think that I’ve ever thought about how much uncertainty plays a role in how I make decisions. The dark unknown is something that humans are not very comfortable with, and sadly I am not exempt. We are constantly searching to define the unknown. Not many people are complacent with not knowing.

What makes uncertainty hard for me is the possibility of failure. Not to succeed is a very hard reality to deal with. Will I be able to rebound if I do fail? Do I need to change my life goals if I do not succeed? Does failure mean I am doomed?

Those questions then lead to: If I do fail, how am I going to deal with telling people I failed? What are friends, family, coworkers going to think? What kind of judgments will people be passing on me? The fear of uncertainty certainly stings clear in my mind when thinking about the future.

I commonly deal with this fear of uncertainty and public scrutiny in two ways:

  1. Try with minimal effort.
  2. Don’t tell anyone until you succeed.

The age-old minimal effort deal is something that I have perfected. My peers also employ this method. It looks something like this:

I only studied for 30 minutes for the test.

I wrote this response right before class.

This class is stupid.

These are things I hear a lot from my peers, and I find myself doing it too. Studying a week for a test, or actually working on papers in advance, or admitting that classes are not stupid is probably the first step to recovery on this one. I tend to put in minimal effort to minimize the fear of failure. If you only try a little bit, then the failure isn’t so great. Furthermore, you make it known to everyone that you aren’t trying, so when your C- or B is handed back to you, it was because you didn’t try—not because you weren’t good enough.

The fear of trying your hardest and being rejected is ego crumbling. But how can I really improve if I don’t put myself out there?

The real mantra should be: “I don’t know the outcome, but I’m going to use whatever outcome there is to make it better.”

With the other tactic I employ—don’t tell anyone until you succeed—no one has to know I have failed, and better yet no one can judge me for it. But, as Fields discusses, I don’t have a certainty anchor. With no one to rely on, or without input, I might as well fail before I even try. It’s important put the ego and fear aside to learn to lean on people.

I don’t have all the answers—and clearly, after writing this, I should be thinking that I don’t need all the answers. My anchors won’t have all the answers either, but without support, facing the fear of uncertainty is a lot harder.

Posted in Creativity + Inspiration, Life Philosophy.

Emily Latham is a blogger with Roadtrippers.com and served as their primary writer during the start up of the company. Recently she was in Santa Fe and climbed Diablo’s Canyon.

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Chihuahua Zero

I’m guilty of putting in minimal effort into my schoolwork sometimes too, but in a different way. I only put the right amount of effort to get an A, because I think that it doesn’t matter if I try my best, that what matters that I get a good grade.

This kind of behavior might kill my academics as my schoolwork gets harder, but I’m still trying to deal with work ethic and social skills.

Matthew Turner

Fear is a killer and I certainly emphasis with this. It is easier to just plod on by and never fail, but great things don’t happen without some risk and hard work

It’s tough, but sometimes you just have to man up

At least that’s what I keep telling myself

Matt (Turndog Millionaire)

Amy Burton Storey

Fear is my #1 dream killer. You explain that feeling beautifully. Thank you for your article.

Perry Block

Great points that have applied to me all my life.

So don’t tell anybody that I read this.  After all,  I only read it very quickly!

Mieke Zamora-Mackay

Someone’s figured me out.

Lynne Spreen

Dear Emily, here’s some advice from an old broad.  In sales, they say you have to hear “no” 12 times for every one “yes”. Whether exactly true or not, the message is, GET OUT THERE AND FAIL! If you ain’t failin’, sister, you ain’t trying. Be proud that you had the courage to try! It’s a character-builder. Get used to failure and you’ll be set free.I sometimes ask myself, what would you do if you weren’t afraid of failing? Like if a fairy godmother gave you one “success guaranteed” ticket? Well, here’s the deal: if you don’t try, you’ll never… Read more »

Vaughn Roycroft
Vaughn Roycroft

I tried to use ‘don’t tell until you succeed,’ but now too many of my friends, neighbors, acquaintences know I’m trying to get my books published. I’ve been at it for too long to use the minimal effort schtick. I feel like I’m still growing as a writer, but how do you explain to someone you see twice a year socially that you wrote a well-respected blog post, or that you got some meaningful critiques from literary agents when they rejected a partial? How do you explain that you’re actually still revising a book they know you finished three years… Read more »

Shirley Sorbello

You express your feelings very well. Failure, however, is a natural part of life.  Without it, we cannot grow—emotionally, mentally, or  spiritually. Failures can be life-changing events that put you on a wonderful pathway that you would have otherwise never found. A life without failure, is a life that’s not-lived to its fullest. 

Sharon Bayliss

That’s a great post. I have had to make the decision that I want to do this even if I fail miserably. Accepting failure and consciously deciding to do it anyway, just sort of puts it at the back of your mind. Still scared though. 🙂


Funny, I was thinking about this moments ago while reading an interview with the editor of Good.  I’ve been doing some writing here and there for extra cash, but have been too scared to pitch to the real magazines that pay well. Partly it’s that I don’t believe I’m good enough yet, but I also think the fears mentioned in this article play into it. Today I was featured on a writing site for work that I had been keeping to myself for six years. It’s a solid example of how getting out in public where you can be held… Read more »

Adriana Ryan

Wow, I’m picking this book up. I used to be such a huge believer of “If I don’t try hard enough, it won’t hurt as bad.” I’ve gotten over that, but now I’m all about not telling anyone anything until I succeed. Thank you for this post–just what I needed this week. 🙂

Yvette Carol
Yvette Carol

Emily, Jane, this was so jaw-droppingly good I had to cull quotes from it for my ‘great quotes’ file! Exquisitely rendered….and so true of all of us. The ego is terrified of being exposed as a sham. I’ve been guilty of the not trying hard enough bit in the past. Now I try really hard to write well…and putting my work out into the public forum is sheer torture. As the wonderful Ollin Morales blogged recently, ‘writing is impossible but it will get done’.
Yvette Carol


Emily, you were writing about me. Thank you for reminding me that I must keep the promise I gave myself not to slink back into avoiding failure through not trying.

Annmarie Banks
Annmarie Banks

The fear of failure is the key here.  you have to ask yourself why you even care what other people think.  Your own idea of success and “failure” should be your own, not dependant on another’s opinion.  How many times have you mentioned a personal success to someone who then cuts you down by minimizing your triumph or immediatly launching into a story of their own greater victory?  You can see that the people you may be trying to impress with your successes are not really interested, or may even  feel threatened by them.  Set your own goals and pursue them… Read more »

John Wiswell

Thank you for sharing your thoughts, Emily. There is some heavy resonance, in a few of my experiences, and for many of the kids I’ve mentored and tutored. I’ve always been the sort to put too much into a project and destroy myself even before failure or success came around, and it did lead to some gut-punches when failures came around.


[…] Kommentare zu diesem Post waren sehr interessant zu lesen. Lathams Post, und damit Jonathan Fields Buch, […]


Emily thank you for your honest post. Recognizing our fear is the first step toward conquering it.