The invisible obstacle to success
If you were building a fire, would you pour water on it? Not if you knew that’s what you were doing. Many of us work on building our inspiration, motivation and passion (our fire) and then subconsciously douse it. The dousing is caused by fear of success, which is probably the most cryptic and prevalent fear that blocks success.
Here are four examples of the fear of success:
1. A 30-something entrepreneur says, “I don’t think my family [of origin] will accept me if I’m wealthy.”
2. A 15-year-old female swimmer was afraid to swim a senior national qualifying time, saying, “People’s expectations will just be so much higher. I don’t want the stress of higher expectations.”
3. A salesperson was afraid to have a really good year because, “They’ll raise my goals, and I don’t know if I can sell this much again.”
4. Hundreds of business executives I’ve talked with recently are constantly concerned about being successful in their business life and with their families. They see it as an either/or, black/white situation, “Either be successful at work or be successful with my family.” This used to be almost exclusively a female fear, but now it’s both male and female.
Here’s the setup for fear of success. Success achieving one of your important goals (first goal) creates failure for another of your goals (second goal). Thus, either consciously, or subconsciously you sabotage your own success in accomplishing your first goal for fear of not being unsuccessful accomplishing your second goal.
Let’s review our examples.
1. The 30-something entrepreneur who didn’t think her family [of origin] would accept her if she were wealthy: One goal is being wealthy; the other goal is having her family’s love and acceptance. So she had a conflict with the belief that she could only either be wealthy or loved by her family. She resolved this with an imperfect, but effective, strategy. She created wealth but kept the knowledge of it from her family of origin.
2. The 15-year-old swimmer who was afraid to clock a time that would qualify her for senior nationals because she didn’t want people’s expectations to increase and cause her stress: One of her goals was to reach senior nationals, which is an incredible accomplishment for a 15-year-old; the National and Olympic teams are chosen from the senior national group.
Her other goal was to just be a 15-year-old kid, hang out with friends, have fun and do the stuff that 15-year-old girls do. She was afraid that if she swam too well, she would have to go live and train at the Olympic training center and lose her childhood. She resolved this conflict with some in-depth work that resulted in her deciding to make senior nationals but, even if selected, not joining the national Olympic team until she wanted to.
3. The salesperson who was afraid to have a really good year because they’d raise his goals and he didn’t know if he could sell that much again: One of his goals was to make a lot of money, and the other goal was to meet his revenue target. So this type of fear of success also involved fear of failure, because if he had a really good year, he raised the expectation of how much he would sell, and he was afraid he would fail to meet the higher expectation in the subsequent year. He solved this with a process that resolved his fear of failure.
4. Business executives who are constantly concerned about being successful in their business and personal lives: One goal is career success, and the other is family success. Again, so many people see this as an either/or, black/white situation. The goal and resolution involve how to be successful at both. I’ve witnessed many solutions to this, and the one that overall greatly benefits everyone is learning to be completely present, in the now, wherever you are.
Fear of success results in anxiety, fear and underperformance. Here’s a good general approach to gaining control of the self-sabotage of fear of success: When you’re viewing a situation as an either/or conflict in which you can be successful accomplishing one goal, but need to fail at another to do so – slow down and fully commit to success in accomplishing both goals, ask for input from your most respected friends and colleagues to stimulate your innovative thinking. The solution is usually not obvious and takes creativity and a mindfulness to find.
Don’t give up … keep committed to both goals … solutions evolve.