I have recently set off down the path of achieving one of my lifelong dreams, and I battle the fear of success daily.
What does it mean to fear success? Don’t we all want to be successful? The answer lies in the wiring of our human nature.
We like stability, comfort, and routine. But success is often found outside of these parameters and requires some tenacity (and a lot of work) to achieve.
Sometimes we shy away from success because we worry that we will turn into someone else along the way there. Fear not, there are ways you can face your fear of success and achieve your wildest dreams!
“Only those who dare to fail greatly can ever achieve greatly.” – Robert F. Kennedy
Stopping the fear of success and achieving everything you want
My dream was a forgone conclusion in my high school days. I was going to be a writer. I wasn’t sure what kind (but I was enrolled in a journalism program at USF), and I don’t even know that it mattered to me what I wrote.
At seventeen, I had the opportunity to write an article for the local paper, and I dabbled in blog posts on a site called Suite101.com. I have always said I would write a book about the craziness that was my childhood. It will be a page-turner for sure, its got a kidnapping, trauma, a biker gang, and witness protection, to point out a few highlights. Whatever I ended up writing, I just knew I would be a writer by trade someday.
Like most teenagers, I saw the world as a place filled with endless possibilities, just waiting for me to come along and achieve my goals. I don’t think that the fear of failure even touched me, and I didn’t even know that fear of success was a real thing. As a high schooler, I was already an overachiever and didn’t doubt my ability at all. Fear of success has been something the adult version of me has had to tackle.
“Fear of success is far more dangerous than fear of failure because the subconscious mind works to prevent that which it fears. People may have fear of success because of low self-esteem and feeling of not deserving it; because it will increase what others expect of them. Fear of success shows up as anxiety, indecision, avoidance, procrastination, or acceptance of mediocrity.” – Joe Tye
Real success comes with change (and uncertainty)
I have been in management for nearly all of my adult life. I didn’t end up going to school for journalism (another series of crazy events happened), and instead, I ended up married with kids and completing a Bachelor’s in Business.
I can comfortably exist in a room of board members, analyze detailed financial reports, train, and develop people all day long without breaking a sweat. I crave a challenge, so I decided to get a Masters’s degree in Management and Leading Teams.
Three classes from the end of it, I decided I hated all things Business and didn’t understand how my life ended up here. I am creative. I like poetry and reading, not spreadsheets, and math. On a whim, I decided to publish some writing and look for freelance writing jobs.
My initial success was exhilarating. I was making great money from my few income streams, and my work was well received. I have gotten to the place where I struggle to balance my job and my writing workload. Enter the fear.
I find myself at a precipice. Work is steady, and I’m good at what I do. I make a decent salary. Someone else cuts me a check every two weeks. I don’t have to go searching for clients or market myself. It is the “normal” way of life…go to work and get a check. I have a family to feed and bills to pay. Given the potential with my writing clients, I can do so much more than I do now if I had the time.
“One who fears failure limits his activities. Failure is only the opportunity to more intelligently begin again.”– Henry Ford
Therein lies the problem. I can’t feasibly continue to do both long term, without either thing (more likely both items) starting to suffer. The day will come when it is time to pick one.
Picking a career in writing means changing the whole system. I will work for me, which means I can grow my income exponentially, or I might get lazy and not make enough. Or I might lose a client, and then what? Or maybe, suddenly, no one will want to read the things I write, and we might all starve. Starving sounds awful, so I should probably stick to what is safe, right?
Except, I could be more successful than I ever even dreamed as a teenager if I keep doing the work and doing one thing to further my dream every day. It is scary to leave the familiar and risk achieving so much more. I can tell myself I am afraid of all these other things happening, but in reality, there is more going on.
“When you take risks, you learn that there will be times when you succeed, and there will be times when you fail, and both are equally important.” – Ellen DeGeneres
Am I ready for more? What if my dreams come true, and I become a well-known writer? I could end up on the Ellen show, but I don’t think I want people to see me on TV…I think it would be so freaking cool to do some motivational speaking, but then I would have to stand in front of a massive crowd. Its a lot less scary if I tell myself I am not that great a writer and get dressed to go to work.
Who will I be if I succeed
Let’s say for a moment that I risk it all, and it pays off. I am flying around the country promoting my book, meeting Ellen and Obama and Oprah, and I have actual FANS. Will I like myself? Is it wrong to profit off of one’s art? How will my family feel about this extra attention?
The biggest question is, will I still like me? Will I be who I have always been, or will I be unrecognizable when I stare in the mirror? I’m a Leo, and we do that a lot, so it’s essential that I like who I see.
Stop Self Sabotaging
The key to not letting the fear of success keep you from following your dreams is recognizing self-sabotage and anxiety for what they are. They are things our minds do to keep us from failure, but they can backfire and keep us from greatness too! As I write this, I can see the self-sabotage trying to creep in and convince me to stay safe. The most prevalent form of self-sabotage I participate in is procrastination.
“Procrastination is the fear of success. People procrastinate because they are afraid of the success that they know will result if they move ahead now. Because success is heavy, carries a responsibility with it, it is much easier to procrastinate and live on the “someday I’ll” philosophy.” – Dennis Waitley
What can you do today to stop the fear of success and keep going after your dreams
- Pay attention to what the root cause of your fear is. Recognizing fear of success and self-sabotaging behavior is half the battle.
- Find ways to build your self-esteem. Believe that you deserve the life you envision in your dreams.
- Acknowledge that success requires risks, and then permit yourself to take those risks
- Have a clear definition of what your goals are and what success looks like for you.
- Write down the steps you plan on taking and include a timeline. Read this frequently until you can envision yourself living the life you want
- Enjoy the process and all the great things that happen along the way. Life is a journey, and there is beauty to be found in the route and not just the destination.
- Keep a journal and fill it with things you are grateful for every day.
- Make a list of your strengths and add to it daily
I believe in you and me
Take the shot. Write the book. Learn a new skill. Bet on yourself. You will be glad that you did, whether you reach your end game or not. Knowing that you had enough courage to face your fears will give you the strength to do it again the next time you are at a crossroads. The crossroads will come, the negative self-thoughts will tell you aren’t worthy of success, and your brain may play tricks on you. Remember these last few words:
“I’ve missed more than 9000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. 26 times, I’ve been trusted to take the game-winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.” – Michael Jordan