What is Fear of Success? And why do we have it?

I would like to start this article with a quote that literally changed my perspective on life. Yes, that’s right. That quote was a game changer for me. And it goes like this:

 

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? (…) Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. (…) It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”

… Pretty intense stuff, isn’t it?

Fear of Success – a common problem.

Now, this might get a little personal, but I would like to tell you, why this quote was such a game changer for me. And I’m doing it because, as I travel around the world, I meet a lot of people who I find brilliant and inspiring and with so much potential. Yet, these brilliant, inspiring people with so much potential are too afraid to ever let it show.

Here is why: Fear of success.

Fear of success actually feels very much like the fear of failure. It causes anxiety and a racing heart. It leaves you numb and it causes you to procrastinate. To make plans for years, but never actually make them come true.

For years and years it was like that for me. I would go through tons of ideas – which I still believe to be great ideas that would have worked out, if only I had followed up on them. Problem is, I never did. I was simply too afraid to try and every time when things got serious I came up with a completely valid reason why it wouldn’t work out anyway and why the whole thing was doomed right from the start.

I sabotaged myself. I failed before I even tried.

Why did I do that?

Because at least the state I was in was a state I knew well. Fear of success was my friend. Because actually being successful with an idea that I was responsible for scared the hell out of me! Because it would have meant to show people who I really am. It would have meant change. Change I wasn’t ready for.

It would have meant putting myself out there and we all know that “out there” is a place where not everybody likes you. In fact, there are a lot of people out there who take pleasure in being mean to you and who will try everything to take the wind out of your sails before you even manage to get out of the harbor. Why? Because they are too afraid to try it themselves. We live in a society in which, sadly, most people don’t grant the success of others – on the contrary: a lot of people begrudge you the very air you breathe.

But you cannot let these people get the better of you.

If you always do what is expected from you, you will never come up with anything original. Your ideas will wilt in the back of your head like flowers that don’t get watered. It happened to me before. It happened too many times actually.

And the worst part of it is that I have seen other people come up with ideas similar to mine and actually being successful with it. You have no idea how much this hurts (or maybe you do?) – seeing other people sailing into the sunset on the waves of success that could have been yours if only you had the courage to start, to really start, as well.

There is another famous quote that I’m sure you’ve heard before:

And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom. – Anais Nin

I believe we owe it to our ideas that we make them come alive. I believe we owe it to ourselves and the world we were born into to do all those things that we always wanted to do, but are too afraid to try.

And we must ask ourselves honestly, when that fear started. In most cases it started at a point deeply buried in our own history, when somebody told us we couldn’t do this or that – for whatever reason. It started when someone told us that our ideas weren’t good enough; that we ourselves weren’t good enough. It started when we were brave enough to talk to someone about our biggest dreams and that someone wasn’t eager to understand; to support or just to listen.

They say that we cannot blame other people for our own failings.

But in this case I think we actually can! We can acknowledge the fact that in the past nothing ever quite worked out because we didn’t have the right people in our lives who believed in us. The trick is though to not remain in that miserable state of blaming people for missed chances. The trick is to acknowledge the fact that we were afraid in the past and that we will probably still be afraid in the future, but at the same time realize that this fear doesn’t own us.

After all, fear is just a feeling. And we are not our feelings. 

We cannot risk any longer to stay inside our shell, just because we are afraid of what people might think. Playing small does not serve anybody. It is only when we do what we know deep down we are meant to do that we can give back to others and infect them as well.

…And as for those who are trying to bring you down?

Let me tell you a little story by Steven Pressfield, author of “The War of Art”:

Pressfields first blockbuster movie script that hit the big screen turned out to be a complete disaster. Nobody wanted to see his movie and it was out of cinemas sooner than you could even say the title. After this immense failure a friend asked Pressfield:”So you’re gonna quit?” Pressfield replied: “Hell no! I won’t!” And his friend said: “Then be happy. You are where you wanted to be. So you’re taking a few blows. That’s the price for being in the arena and not on the sidelines. Stop complaining and be grateful.”

Yes, you will take a few blows. And there will always be people sitting on the sidelines who will try to throw rotten tomatoes at you. But the fear of those tomatoes cannot be your justification for inaction any longer.

Feel the fear of success – and do it anyway.

I am still learning this lesson myself. But for the first time in my life I am not on the sidelines anymore. I am in the arena, really taking a chance. And it is scary. And it is overpowering. And it is unsettling. But at the end of the day it is so worth it.

…Who do you think you are, not to believe that we need your talent, your passion and your ideas?