Are You More Afraid Of Success Than Failure?

GroupDecisionMaking2 Timothy 1:7 (AMP) For God did not give us a spirit of timidity (of cowardice, of craven and cringing and fawning fear), but [He has given us a spirit] of power and of love and of calm and well-balanced mind and discipline and self-control.

This past Sunday my pastor started a new series title:

JUST DO IT! (Don’t allow yet another year to go by and have not discovered your purpose, pursued #egmnt_3-_61your passion and fulfilled your dreams. This year make it happen!) It really had me thinking about why I have not always finished something’s I had started? Why didn’t I make it happen in years past? You guessed it its FEAR! But not like you would think. Some people have a FEAR of failing. If I’m honest with myself (what’s the point of lying to myself right?) I had a FEAR of succeeding. In a Wall Street Journal article, the Director of DARPA, Dr. Regina Dugan, argued that “you can’t lose your nerve for the big failure, because the nerve you need for the big success is the exact same nerve.

But up until taking the quiz  Do You Fear Success? , I didn’t know I had this fear. I nearly peed my pants by how much I could relate to the Fear of Success. It’s strange to think that fear of succeeding could be much of an issue or do much damage. It is and does.

However, when confronting the myriad challenges we face in life, one oft-overlooked limiting factor might just be what some have called the “fear of success.” Fear of success and fear of failure can be very closely aligned. On the surface, this notion might seem ridiculous — what on Earth could be scary about success? But if you dig a bit below the surface, you might discover some powerfully limiting aspects of your own mindset, of your own approach to life. Let’s do a little digging.

People who suffer most acutely from a fear of success are usually not even aware they have it. Who the heck would fear success, it’s like avoiding the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow because you’re afraid a leprechaun will come out and bite you. It may sound like a weird fear to possess, but fear of success is something that stops a lot of people from going after their dreams and reaching their potential.

This is one that actually hits close to me, so I ask: have you ever worked your butt off on a project, finished about 90% of it, then decided to quit because you’re not sure you actually want the success? Are you uncomfortable with the lifestyle shift or possibly feel that you don’t deserve to be successful? Let’s examine the idea and find the best way to combat that biting leprechaun while we’re at it.

My Fear of Success

I admit it. I have had the fear of success. I have not been able to recognize it at first. Initially, I had misinterpreted my obstacles as insufficient strategizing, marketing incompetence, lack of technical skills, insufficient support and so on. Sure, these could have played a part. But what it eventually became clear to me was the subconscious dread of doing well.

In my case, I would thwart my intention by putting one out to the universe about my big dream, only to send another conflicting one that says, “nah, I don’t really want it all that much”. The second intent cancels out the first. I find myself having to deal with a part of me that wants it and a part of me that does not. I recalled the tymes when I clinched a large bonus but I was not necessarily happier, because I had to work much harder

I used to have a lot of fear, too. I was afraid of being myself. Fear was nearly a constant companion throughout my formative years. It wasn’t enough to shut me down or send me into total isolation, but it did keep me on the run; running away from, not to, my true self.

Interestingly though, my fears in early life also gave way to some brazen behavior as I grew older. Discovering parts of myself that had become drowned by fear over the years helped me see that moving through fear was the quickest path to feeling fulfilled. I’ve faced the fear of heights by jumping out of an airplane, a multitude of tymes now. I’ve also faced down the fear of being accepted socially numerous tymes in my life, and I have found that it’s liberating to show up as me, 100%, regardless of the views that others hold about ‘people like me.’

Facing Fear by Facing Yourself

Part of the process of facing down fear is stepping away from the computer, turning off the TV, letting the mobile phone sit idle for a few hours and just spending tyme enjoying the company of others, or even spending quality tyme alone. Reducing the stimuli we are barraged with gives us the opportunity to breathe a little easier and get in touch with our true selves more readily without messages of fear lurking just a click, tap or commercial break away.

To be sure, I don’t dwell on fear, but if there is one fear that won’t stand to be ignored, it’s that I won’t live up to my true potential as an agent of positive change with the years I’m fortunate to spend on this planet. Unlike many of the other fears I’ve faced, this one inspires me to reach further and dream bigger than I would otherwise imagine.

Fear that Once Success is Reached, the Drive to Succeed Will be Lost

I’ve totally been through this one. I call it What’s Next Syndrome. When I finished writing Becoming A Soldier In Christ (B.A.S.I.C) Training, I wasn’t overwhelmed with joy by any means. I was actually kinda bummed. Why? Because I fell in love with the process of writing it, I didn’t really want to finish it. I was addicted to the sense of focus, drive, and attention the writing process gave me.

After I wrote B.A.S.I.C, I went through a phase where I didn’t know what I wanted to do with myself. My mind was all over the place. My brain went from intense focus to complete chaos! Enamoring yourself with the process of fulfilling a dream  can result in the letdown of actually completing it — that is, if you can’t find some sense of continued meaning in succeeding. It was the first tyme I had a personal purpose in life. Consciously I want to my book out to the world, but subconsciously the idea of succeeding becomes a threat to the very process of achieving. Or as Pillay writes,

“the challenge of being starts to erode the achievement of becoming.”

Why do we fear success?

I honestly believe that we fear success because it means change. As creatures of habit change is scary and could result in a whole new way of life. It could also mean more responsibility or stress because of our success.

When you become successful in whatever arena you’re shooting for something happens. You become a leader and you gain the responsibility that comes with being the best, being the strongest, and being the one those who aren’t successful (yet) look towards for guidance. Some people really don’t want to be leaders, but they want to be a success. Can you have one without the other? When we become successful we embrace the ideas and beliefs we’ve created in our minds and convert them to reality, but this reality has side effects.

How to overcome this fear

Before you start any endeavor you have to foresee the events that come with that choice. If you’re not okay with performing in front of 60,000 people every Sunday, don’t become a pro athlete. If you’re not okay with high risk situations and having others shoot at you, don’t become a fighter pilot. You also have to feel like you deserve to be successful. If you don’t feel you deserve it you will often sabotage yourself by living a self fulfilling prophecy iterated by thinking:

I can’t because I’m not good enough and I don’t deserve it.”

I often wonder who am I to have people listen to me, or who am I to have wealth come into my life, I’m convinced that many ask the same questions because it almost becomes a burden to be successful because there is so much associated with it. Realize the work you’ve put in compared to others, the sacrifices you’ve made, and accept that you’re just as deserving as anyone else to be a success.

Obviously, the earlier you can detect the fear of success, the better. You already have what it takes to succeed. What remains to be done is addressing any impediments that prevent you from enjoying the faster attainment of your goals.

When you start to acknowledge your resistance, acceptance takes place amazingly. Fear dissipates. As you can probably sense, there’s a lot more to this, and we have only begun exploring how fear of success might be in your way. In the meantime, keep asking yourself what you want out of life and why you want it. What have you told yourself about taking the risks necessary to create what you want? What have you found useful in overcoming obstacles, in creating your own version of success in life? You Do Deserve It! Not because I said so, but because God ordained it:

Deuteronomy 28:5–6,12 Your basket and your kneading trough will be blessed. You will be blessed when you come in and blessed when you go out. The Lord will open the heavens, the storehouse of his bounty, to send rain on your land in season and to bless all the work of your hands.

*Photo credit/Resources: Ryan Schmitz, Sean Croxton, Sean Croxton. Quiz, adapted from a questionnaire developed at Boston College (and published in The Success-Fearing Personality, by Donnah Canavan, Katherine Garner, and Peter Gumpert)
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One thought on “Are You More Afraid Of Success Than Failure?

  1. Thank you for sharing this. The power of your words encourages me to make it through a tough time I am facing, where I am not letting myself enjoy any success.

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