Combating the Fear of Success

keys, yes, no

I’m going to get a little personal right now and talk about something I sometimes struggle with. It’s attributed to the fear of success. More specifically, I call it the fear of Yes.

A client asked me to do a project that was completely out of my wheelhouse. She knew it was out of my wheelhouse and believed I could do it anyway. It was a dream opportunity- but I immediately had a knee-jerk fear of saying yes. 

Somebody else wanted to hire me for a 3-month-long project that WAS within my expertise and WOULD be perfect for me. I STILL had the fear of saying yes. WHAT’S HAPPENING?!!

By the way, I said yes to them both anyway- but I had to use some tools I have learned along the way.

Fear of Success is actually Fear of Failure in disguise

If you’re not familiar with fear of success, it’s just a facet of the more common fear of failure. So lets start there:  People who have perfectionist tendencies can experience stress and anxiety when things are just not going the way we’d planned.

We often feel ashamed, and since we want to avoid any feelings that make us feel uncomfortable, our brains build an escape hatch. We start to avoid that feeling and sometimes avoid starting something new. We fear that we will have the same negative outcome and so we don’t try. Luckily, there are a lot of great strategies to combat this.

I’m pretty good at facing that particular demon. I chalk it up to my years as a teacher and imparting positive mindset skills onto my students. I have the tools to remind myself that failure is just another opportunity for growth. There is no struggle I have faced that was insurmountable, and I’ve always learned to work with it. During the struggle, I remind myself to be like Dory from ” Finding Nemo” and just keep swimming. It happens to work for me, but I’ve been at this for a while. 

A Closer Look at the Fear of Success

Facing failures is not a scary task for me anymore. What scares me is what if I AM successful, and my strengths ARE being noticed, and people trust me MORE because I have done well? I feel anxiety about pushing myself to do things I enjoy and am skilled at. I can be overwhelmed by ideas of responsibility and expectations and perceived downsides to success that don’t even exist yet: 

  • What if this turns into a long term thing and I lose sight of my original purpose.
  • What if this does well and people want more from me and at some point I let them down (fear of success AND failure?) 
  • What if somewhere down the line I get burned-out and stop writing? 
  • What if my kid resents me because I have let freelancing take a front seat?
  • What if I get unwanted or unwarranted attention from this?

 My friend Kim says I like to buy trouble. She’s right.

Sometimes I actually feel MORE comfortable with rejection because A- I have learned it’s not personal, and B- I don’t have to stress about the things listed above. I know… I’m working on it.

So- These clients both asked me to do things they believed I could do. And the truth is I KNEW I could too. But Imposter Syndrome is a thing, guys. And for all the wonderful things that come my way- I still go right into questioning whether I’ve earned it, or if I am achieving something at the expense of something else important like my family or interests. 

Objectively, looking at a person who fits my description, talents, and work ethic- I can say HELL YES I have earned it. And I can balance the important things because I have prioritized them. But my brain immediately resists the growth and tries to make me believe the lie that I’m not enough, it’s a form of misguided self preservation that exists in a lot of us.

How Do I Fight My Fears?

I’ve spent a huge part of my professional career understanding growth mindset and understanding how different brains are wired. I’ve got a toolbox of tricks to help guide me.

I talk out my ideas and fears with people both inside and outside of my industry to get subjective feedback. Also because I still feel like I’ve got something to prove. If I put it out into the universe, then I’m obligated to follow through. The people I turn to tend to pump me up because they understand my skill-set and know there is a logical next step and that is to do the damn thing already!

I also work at identifying that specific feeling well enough — which means I sit in my own discomfort for a minute and don’t ignore it, and I don’t push it away-  so I can recognize that feeling as growth resistance. Then I give myself a beat, and it’s gonna be a YES from me. And not so scary after all.

Acknowledge Your Fears as Growth Blockers

Internal resistance is a basic survival instinct in our brains that is part society and part evolution and is trying to keep things safe. That which is known feels safer than that which is unknown. But nothing great ever happens by playing it safe. So trust yourself, get uncomfortable, and say YES!  No matter what the end result is, you WILL grow. And you will be better for it.

I’m working on some content from all kinds of perspectives to help people work on facing fears and challenges. It’s important to know that so many of us have different mindset blocks that we CAN overcome in order to keep working toward our own success. So what do you think? And what are the tricks you have learned or would like to learn to face mindset struggles?

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