Fear of Success
This is a reprinted article from September 2012.
Unfinished projects. Unpacked boxes. Incomplete story-lines. Unpublished works. Story of my life.
The book, Captive Heart, that is currently being published has been sitting on my shelf for years. Untouched, unloved and unseen by the public.
It is really easy to hide from success if you stop just short of it ever becoming a possibility. Thus, all of my unfinished projects become a protective wall to hide behind so I never know how success could change my life for better or worse.
Why would anyone fear becoming successful? Doesn't everyone dream of a small amount of fame at some point in their life? But what happens when you get it? Will you be ready for everything that goes along with it?
Granted, success comes in many levels (not everything has to be the paparazzi kind, it could be something as simple as losing weight or, I don't know, publishing a book...). It also depends on how much value you attach to it. If you give your end goals too much weight, it can in turn, weigh you down.
If you are hoping that your success validates who you are making you feel that you are finally smart enough, thin enough, rich enough or popular enough the weight of success can become more of a burden than a reward. Not only to achieve it, but to maintain it!
If your success is just another check mark of things to do before you die, then you will be able to enjoy and relish every moment that comes from it. You will feel Success- Full.
But , more likely, it will come and go like many of our successes (promotion at work, winning the bowling championship, quitting smoking) that we don't take the time to acknowledge or celebrate therefore creating the stress that comes from a bigger success. We don't know how to handle it! We never feel Success-Full.
Add to that, all those details that come with success. The ones you don't really think about when you're picturing the accolades. Failure. New responsibilities. Time constraints. Criticisms. Being in the spotlight. Maintaining. It's no wonder we end up subconsciously sabotaging any success we might have.
I personally tend to put a lot of weight on success. I feel I have to prove something to myself and to others, that says, "I CAN finish something. I CAN turn my mistakes around. I CAN learn from my past and create a better future."
So for years, I have engaged in, what I recognize now as self- sabotaging behaviors to make sure I would never reach the levels of success that would make me have to face such challenges. It's easier to sit back and dream of the "someday I will..." than to actually go after it and possibly fail while the world looks on waiting to see the outcome.
I had become a Master Procrastinator. Cleverly thinking of ways to do anything but what will take me closer to my end goals. I would compromise my goals and tell myself things like, "I was probably going to fail anyway so why bother trying?" Have you been there? Not going to apply for that job... join that gym... open that savings account... Most of the time, this fear happens subconsciously. We don't realize exactly WHY we aren't trying harder, just that it's easier to find other distractions.
Failure, or rather, incompletion, I can deal with. Success was too terrifying to even attempt.
After all, everyone faces failure. That makes it a common denominator. And it IS true that you will learn more, gain more long lasting wisdom from failure than you will from success, but is staying in that "comfort zone" of failure enough? We all have that gene in us to WANT success, and DREAM of a better life even if it means something as simple as getting a degree, buying a new car, being debt free... But success... who teaches you how to deal with success?
You've heard the saying, If at first you don't succeed, try, try again? But what happens when you DO succeed? Where's the clever saying for that? Who teaches you how to deal with new-found resentment and labels from others? How to juggle the new responsibilities that come with the outcome of your success? And what if you don't like it?
Don't get me wrong, I consider myself Success-Full. I have learned to acknowledge and appreciate the smaller, daily successes. (It lead me to create my How to Feel Success-Full lecture series.) So it doesn't have to be an all or nothing feeling that could very well rob you of the pleasure of your accomplishment!
But the publishing of this book, my very first, is stretching me to a level of success that I have not had as yet and a whole new list of "consequences" that I'm not so sure I'm ready for!
I had subconsciously trained myself to stop short of becoming too successful for any number of the above mentioned reasons. And while my past has taught me the lessons that I now pass on to others, and I wouldn't be who I am today without it, I don't know if I'm ready for the scrutiny, the judgement that comes along with decisions I've made long ago, and just my works in general.
My friend Mary Spezia pointed out that maybe God is using me for this very thing. He wants me to face this fear, and teach others... But when I tell her that I'm not ready for that (already making excuses for avoiding success), she assures me that God will make me ready. Simple as that.
I am a born-again Christian and believe me, I fought Jesus every step of the way. But He saved me for a reason, and if my mistakes might be able to prevent others from the same, that's not so bad right?
So, here I am at the crossroads. This is where many of us sit. Regret for the past and fear for the future. I can either push forward and greet success without fear or stay on the same path, hiding behind my wall of unfinished projects... regretting it forever.
I choose to move forward. Face my fears, keep procrastination at bay and see what God has in store for me. I'm putting my book out for people to read, I've created this website to widen my audience, I've added new topics to speak on...
Then again, my book may not even sell, no one will read this website and no one will hire me to speak anymore and all this fretting will have been for nothing.
Oh well, if at first you don't succeed....
Ten Years Later...
I'm sorry to say, I still struggle with procrastination. As we approach the 10th anniversary for the release of Captive Heart, my very first novel, I have to admit that I haven't found the secret to combat the fear of success. I still catch myself before allowing my reach to go beyond what I feel I "deserve", and stop short of launching programs that I feel can bless others.
I am a constant student and continue to search for the final answer that will heal everyone's anxiety about facing fear and dare I say, even embrace it. I'm still searching. A few more novels under my belt and a podcast, I know that I am called for more. I have to learn to trust in my capabilities and trust in my purpose. But it is not a magic pill, or a motivational quote. It's a daily, constant work.
Ten years later, I say again... don't give up, roll with the punches and don't be afraid to try again.