Terrified of success

It’s worth reflecting why we systematically under-prepare for things: big speeches, job interviews, presentations to the Board of Directors, asking for a raise.

We’ve heard all the talk about not losing spontaneity, about being in the moment.  Phooey.  All the best jazz musicians – professional improvisers – practice like crazy.

If there is foundational work that you (systematically) don’t do when the stakes are high, that is fear speaking.  Fear of spending time today looking the thing that scares you right in the eye.  Fear of putting in the time now, because when we put in that time we’re making an emotional commitment to a successful outcome.  Fear that if we try our hardest and then fail, we have no excuse – whereas if we wing it, we always have an out.

It’s surprising, ironic and a little sad: we under-invest in our own success not because we’re afraid of failing, but because we’re terrified that we might succeed.

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POSTSCRIPT to yesterday’s post: I was half right (or, if you prefer, half wrong), as Dean Karlan posted the results of his experiment on the Freakanomics blog.  The results are that prior donors who’d given less than $100 to Freedom from Hunger gave 0.9 percentage points LESS when presented with more facts/data; those who’d given  $100 or more gave 3.54 percentage points more.  So more facts made some donors give more, and some give less.  Dean shares an interesting observation in the post: “Freedom from Hunger is known amongst its supporters and those in the microfinance world as being more focused on using evidence and research to guide their programs.”  So these donors might be some of the most likely to be interested in evidence, and it still was a coin flip on whether more data resulted in more or fewer donations.

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