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Fear of Success

Posted by Chanelle Schneider on August 8, 2009

Fear of flying

For as long as I’ve been aware of myself, metaphysically speaking, I’ve been conscious of the existence a fear-influenced duality of thought in my mind, which is responsible for my paralysis when attempting to move forward with goals. It causes me to think so much about my next steps that I develop a mild headache and desire nothing more than to lie down, go to sleep, and wake up hoping that the fear has moved on. It is so paralyzing that I devolve from the determined, confident person that I have become back into the apprehensive, insecure person that I was. This is more than fear of failure, though.

I could move forward if I were simply afraid that I might fail. I am no longer worried about fulfilling the dreams of others, or disappointing the people who had so much hope for me. Now, the realization that my life is based on my successes is my motivation to persevere. If I do not pursue my dreams with the ferocity of a predator on its prey, I will not succeed. My happiness is directly linked to my success. It is a causal loop that has been set to iterate ad infinitum. I have to succeed, and, yet, I’m scared. What happens if I do get the job? I’m going to be partly, if even on the smallest of scales, responsible for the success of an entire brand. If I do well, I’ll get even more responsibility. Can I keep producing good work? I don’t want to be a one-hit wonder in my own life.

When there is nothing to inspire you to get motivated, where do you look? Some people say “haters” inspire them to succeed. These are the people whose life goal it is to bring you down to their level or lower because they don’t think you deserve your success. Still others are motivated by the prospect of succeeding. I want to meet these people and ask them, “Why aren’t you afraid that once you do well, you’ll have to keep doing well?” No one can predict the future. They cannot know that they will continue to thrive in their chosen profession. When you do things well, people rarely notice. Break that pattern, though, and it’s all they can talk about. The only way to prevent negative attention is to keep succeeding, but that develops into perfectionism. If perfection and success cannot be guaranteed from every attempt, why try? Avoiding success equals less expectation. Less expectation equals less pressure to do well. The decrease in pressure results in less tension and headache, which leads to happiness, right? Wrong. It leads to mediocrity.

The pursuit of happiness cannot occur on the road of mediocrity. The road may be paved with a zero incline but reaching happiness more quickly will not give you greater satisfaction. Further, the happiness you reach is likely an illusion because mediocrity seeks just enough of everything. If you desire all the happiness you want from life, you must run around potholes, climb steeply-inclining paths, and beat back a few branches.

How are you going to find the happiness you seek if you don’t get on the right road?

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8 Responses to “Fear of Success”

  1. dj young said

    First of all – I feel very badly for your generation that is being rushed to complete all these ‘goals’ and I feel badly if you are convinced that ‘keeping up with the Jones’ – so to speak – is the only way to stay ahead. I think this is the heart of your fears: that you are not allowed to be ‘you’ in these circumstances or explore the fullness of who you are and maybe swallowed up by the work-related entity (if I’m reading all of this correctly).

    It is the worst of truths in our society that we do not appreciate the individual and set goals that are either to high or too vague, goals that do not take into account that everyone learns, comprehends and succeeds at their own pace. The ‘machine’ as it were, is only intent in churning out more product. How often do you read a headline these days that talks about the latest innovation/advancement in some area? How often do we read about the turnover of technologies (Twitter is already ‘dead’ in some circles)? This rush to the future maybe possible for some, but like that great quote from Jurassic Park – just because something can be done, doesn’t mean it should be.

    We are on a precipice in this world and we are pressing closer and closer to the edge. There are those who dive off and go sailing, others just crash. But I do not feel there is a need to be pushed along by the crowd. You can hang back and assess where you are and what you really want to do. You are young yet and the goals you have today maybe completely different a year from now or even ten years from now. The added complication is, we no longer live in the world the textbooks still describe: something fundamental has changed and while we are still in the grips of a deep recession, the way business is being done is being re-written.

    I think the most important gift you can give yourself is patience and seeking out ways to turn off some of the background noise in your life – whether you try something like meditating or just going for a long walk – there is a zone you have been locked into and you need to get out of it. If you want inspiration, sometimes you have to look where you would never think to look. We all need to get out of our heads sometimes and just relax with what is going on around us – let it fly by.

    I am nearly 40 and one thing I have learned is that there is nothing you cannot walk away from – and once I realized that, for myself, so much stress about work fell away. I was not locked into what other’s would expect of me – after all, this is what you’re talking about. Someone else’s idea of success that you are marching in time with, not your own. These sound very simplistic – but how often do you get outside, for a walk, even just on your own? How often do you volunteer, maybe at a school or a shelter or things of that sort? I’ve found that success has nothing to do with happiness. Ask yourself how is it possible for children to be happy when they clearly haven’t accomplished anything? Maintaing a sense of what is childlike (not childish), I believe, is incredibly important. Make time for being childlike, for experiencing the world away from the world – away from all the trappings (social/media/political/technological/etc)that are just that – traps.

    Whatever you decide to do in this life, and I hope you explore as many venues as possible, do not forget the most important thing: this is your one and only life here. Do not let a failing system, a system that has been built for the privileged few, dictate who you are and what your happiness is. The life you maintain within is just as important, if not more so, as the one you maintain outside. This is where you start. ‘All roads lead to Rome.’ You are Rome. Everywhere you go must always lead back to you. If it doesn’t, don’t be surprised when you get lost – but don’t accept it, either. Observe and learn what you can – you will find your way back to your own road.

    • Wow…that is amazing insight. Thank you for sharing that. People always say life gets easier to manage when you forget about trying to be successful and just be who you are.

      Children have that amazing level of happiness because they have no responsibility. Everything they need is provided by someone else. When we’re older, we have to take on those responsibilities, and provide for ourselves, creating the need to be successful. How do you maintain a childlike ease in spite of these circumstances?

  2. dj young said

    That’s a good question and the best insight I can give you is this: spend time with some kids. Just because they don’t have responsibilities doesn’t mean they don’t have pressure, especially as they get into school age. What you can carry away with you isn’t that they are just carefree or simple (many children most certainly are not), it is how they approach being carefree and simple. If you can find that, I think you can find ways to apply it to yourself.

    For me, having eight (!) nephews and a niece, ages 9 months to 9 years, I get to see up close not only how they interact with one another (this can be hilarious) but how they solve problems. They are more methodical than you might guess, but they are also more intuitive. They know, just by watching others, exactly how to get what they want, but they know how to be creative when they need to be. There’s a great joke by Bill Cosby about one of his kids, after being told no about a cookie, built a sophisticated – albeit wobbly – ladder-system to reach the jar.

    When I was in college I volunteered at my school’s daycare and they were the best two hours of my day. I could get down on their level and in many ways, just forget everything else. I’ve practiced this ever since, whether I’m around kids or not. I know there must be playtime and there must be other ways of coping with stress and expectations – not being so literal sometimes is one. If you can let go in your body and mind, really relax (I find meditation can be helpful too), maybe learn to see things as a kind of adventure, not over-analyze, be patient – you can see who you really are.

    • That is very true. I remember feeling a lot of pressure when I was growing up. It’s actually similar to the pressure I feel now with the addition of financial and personal responsibilities. Maybe the problem is that as a child, we can make a mistake, and no one will judge us as incompetent or unskilled. As an adult, making a mistake is a sin. Lol. It’s much easier to take a risk or follow through on a task when you’re not afraid of the repercussions.

  3. Sometimes I think people try to classify success as one or 2 specific things or they try to measure their own individual success by other people’s standards. As in, you can only be successful if you do it this way and follow these steps. I went to college studied a major I didn’t want to, started an MBA in a field I wasn’t interested in and held positions that I dreaded showing up for in the morning. And it got to the point where I didn’t care if I never reached the top. It was frustrating especially since I thought I had done all the things that would make me successful.

    I finally had to truly get in touch with myself, what I wanted, and what my purpose is in life. When I started doing that, I realized what I really like and what I really have a passion for. And I knew that I would never settle for just getting by when it concerns those things. I think when people tap into what they want to be successful in, they will get off the mediocre road and onto the steep hill.

    • I love when folks get my metaphors. Excellent use “get off the mediocre road and onto the steep hill”!! I’m clapping over here because not only did you have the courage to state that you did “the right thing” and hated it, but you have found your passion. Excellent, excellent, excellent!

  4. I remember being in college and thinking that success was defined as having a job that made people’s eyebrows raise in quiet jealousy or that makes you a lot of money. I think part of that was instilled in me because neither of my parents went to college, and they wanted what was best for me. So if you invest that time and energy, it better have a big payoff.

    However, now I think of success really as being happy. I don’t necessarily think it means you have to go all out to achieve and to continue to meet others expectations. Now if you are going to do something, do it with excellence and fervor; however, I think that it can be overwhelming because in this society we look at success as being defined by what other people think at the end of the day of our work and contributions to society. For instance, if I say “I want to make a movie” and I do that, put my all into it, and critics say it was the worst piece of work since the straight to TV BET Movies, then does that mean I was not successful? I mean I accomplished my goal, and did what I set out to do. Something I will not live my life regretting because I shied away from pursuing a goal because of what people might say or how they might feel about it.

    It is a world in which we live to meet others standards when really, success is all about the standard you set for yourself and should be about what it means to you.

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