By Paul Yung
When you first read it, fear of success doesn’t sound like much of a fear, right? Let’s play a game, I want you to imagine living the ideal life now, you’re in your dream house, driving your dream car, going on exotic holidays. Does it feel surreal? Scary? Far out?
This is what fear of success feels like. Not to be confused with fear of failure, which has to do with beating yourself up when you though you’ve bombed out. Fear of success is about anticipating your price of success and how other people will react to it.
Fear of success exists because our brains are wired this way. Going back in history, imagine if you are hunting for food in the stone age. For survival, we are wired to run away from threat and danger rather than take unnecessary risks and be flattened by what we’re hunting for.
Studies have shown that 90% of the time, we think of possible negative outcomes when we do something as opposed to the probable possible outcomes. For example, when I first started writing this column, I was afraid what would happen if people didn’t like what I wrote, if there was a backlash, if what I write is stupid and doesn’t add value. This is fear of success; it is real and can hold you back in a big way so much so that you might be inadvertently self-sabotaging.
Success is great, but success is also accountable. Success creates expectation and pressure. You might get extra attention, but you’re shy or introverted and uncomfortable with the spotlight. Your achievement might alienate your peers. People might think you’re bragging or self-promoting. You could fear being knocked off the pedestal you didn’t want to be on in the first place. Or worse, success might change you, but not for the better.
A 2001 study on the subject involving athletes and performing artists reported these professionals feeling guilt over asserting themselves in competition, feeling anxiety about surpassing a record established by another performer and pressure over repeatedly having to equal or surpass their own best performance.
Having this fear is very real and affects our anxiety and stress levels. It’s also very lonely, in our society today that idolizes success, this fear would be brushed off. Over the last 5 years with thousands of Fitline distributors from all walks of life, I noticed that there were a few archetypes of fears of success.
The Procrastinators, one who talks about their grand plan of success but never got started. The Disbelievers. One who sets low or no goals to avoid disappointment.
The Saboteurs. One who has self-destructive behaviours including substance abuse and quitting just when they’re on the verge of success.
The Perfectionists. Whatever I do is just not good enough to be published, taken to market or introduced just yet. I can do better!
So where does it come from?
Cognitive behavioural therapy suggests there could be a few origins for this fear. The most common is imposter syndrome. Who am I and why would anyone want to read this column?
Imposter syndrome isn’t a psychiatric diagnosis, but it coexists with depression and anxiety. This fear can hold you back so much that you never get started because of the limiting belief that “this isn’t who you are”.
Childhood experiences could be another origin. I have met people who shun compliments and shy away from recognition because they were belittled for success or scolded for showing off when they were children. They learned to avoid success rather than face the negativity.
So how do we overcome this? As with any fear, acknowledging it is a first step. Next examine where this fear comes from, go back to your childhood and figure out how you got here or think about earlier successes and what happened as a result. Note down ways you may have been self-sabotaging, writing it down helps you put it all in focus and identifying them helps you to counteract them. Then visualize success in the future, and note down all the negativity that manifests in your mind. When you go through the list you may begin to realize that your mind begins to justify this negativity, and you feel uncomfortable and indecisive. Indecision is the enemy of progress!
For me, I just went ahead to write the articles anyway. I still struggle with coming out with the perfect article, I’m a perfectionist. So I set a deadline when I must submit this. Best case scenario, some people get some value from my writings, worst case scenario, I learned something as I was writing and researching. As my best friend used to say, do your best and forget the rest.
Our community, your family, our country needs you and your talent now, more than ever. Don’t let your limiting beliefs stop you from taking the necessary steps to elevate your life and achieve success. As you look at your list of doubt and fear, recognize that if a belief isn’t liberating you, it’s limiting you. So go do what you’ve been procrastinating, reach out to the people that are in an industry you want to pursue but never thought you were good enough for, pick up that sport, instrument or hobby you always wanted to do. The results could really surprise you.