Many people clearly articulate a fear of failure, but when you drill down, some may actually uncover a fear of success.
This quote was dead on for me:
Procrastination is the fear of success. People procrastinate because they are afraid of the success that they know will result if they move ahead now. Because success is heavy, carries a responsibility with it, it is much easier to procrastinate and live on the ‘someday I’ll’ philosophy.
I feel that success brings about personal exposure. You become known. Even if it is just in your circles, your community, or your specific industry. And once you become known, and hopefully known for doing something well or meaningful, you are now open to other people’s criticism.
And even if it isn’t verbalized criticism, you feel like you are being held to a new standard now. A bar is set that you must continue to perform at the level of your greatest accomplishment. Even more often than maintaining the bar, the world expects you to strive for an even higher one.
Deeper Meaning v. Higher Expectations
This is where the struggle comes in. The normal person:
- wants a life that counts – wants to do things that have deeper significance.
- desires to glorify God in a meaningful way with their life.
- has at least a sub-conscious need for recognition and awareness of other’s judgement.
Yet, to achieve these floating intangibles simultaneously, creates the new bar of expectation from others.
In some cases this attention is unwanted and may be true humility. “It was God, not me.” I don’t deserve the credit I am getting for this success.
In other cases it may really be a close sister to “fear of failure.” (I wrote about overcoming failure here.)
- I may not be able to duplicate the success.
- I may be too afraid to capitalize on the momentum and eventual let other down.
- I may fall on my face, thus tumbling from the now high pedestal I have been placed on.
We see it in celebrities all of the time. They do great work and gain significant accolades and fame. Rather than use this as a foundation to build a body of work and sustain their creative contribution, many tumble under the pressure. Whether it is alcohol, drugs or some other out of control life style, or retreat, seclusion, and withdrawal from the lime light, many crash from the attention and high pedestal in which they are placed.
The Burden of Success
The other main deterrent from our own success is the change that occurs once we achieve it. I know it is different for everyone, and it absolutely depends on the endeavor of your success, but for many small business owners it seems like we have a next level step up in responsibility.
For some of us, this responsibility can be daunting. More employees to worry about. More investment and financial worries. Higher customer expectations and requirements to meet their needs.
This can be tangible or intangible.
A tangible concern may be worrying about having enough energy to do the work on a bigger scale. More spinning plates are inevitable with growing and taking advantage of the momentum you are creating.
An intangible concern is just the weight of being responsible to more people and for more people. Employees counting on you for their livelihood. Clients depending on you. The real concern is not the activity of additional responsibility, although it may be, but the subliminal weight of more people needing you or counting on you.
Five Mental and Spiritual Ways to Prepare for Success
I think the best way to deal with fear of success is to work on our mind and spirit rather than our success. Here are a few things that I recommend to myself and others.
- Share the Credit. Acknowledging that God is really behind our success reminds us that he is also there to help us with the burden or fear that may follow. He created us and tells us that His Holy Spirit is alive and working in us. He reminds us that He can, and does, even work through our weakness. Although we need to have a heart and mind of obedience and stepping out in faith, we are not alone. Nor are we in control. Be thankful that God has chosen to work through you, even if only for a moment of success.
- Keep Your Perspective. God’s measurement of success is different, and more important, than the world’s. With God, our success is not measured in trophies or profits. It is not necessarily on a single event or a string of events. In many cases, it isn’t on the results at all. He measures us on our heart. Were we obedient in following Him? Did we try our best? Did we plant a seed, regardless of the harvest?
- You’re Not Alone. In most cases, our success isn’t a result of just us or even God working just through us. He uses many other people in our paths. In business, if you are able to obtain some success, whatever your first rung looks like, you can add to your team to help build a foundation for ongoing achievement. Maybe alone you can’t keep up the accolades, but find others who can help, and expand your capabilities to do more.
- Go Slow and Steady. Building momentum requires consistent, daily decision-making, investment, and risk taking. It is sad when someone has an initial success, and then suddenly the pendulum swings. They either, jump in at a much higher level than they and their team were ready for, or they don’t follow through and retreat back into anonymity. Success is not a sprint.
- Focus on Serving. Rather than obsessing over your own success or failure, focus on how well you are meeting your customers’ needs. We build business on a demand for our product or service. Therefore there is an implied need. If we focus on meeting that demand, and not the cumulative results of our efforts, we may thereby eliminate our concern for our own success or failure. Plus, it feels a lot better to remember it isn’t all about us. Focus on the vision you have for your business, and think of your continued efforts as achieving the vision, rather than just obsessing on the world’s definitions of success.
There is much written about fear of success in many different arenas but I feel like it is an insidious evil to business owners. It sneaks up on us in such a variety of forms:
- poor work
This is just a few. And many happen simultaneously. So if you feel like you are not moving forward toward your vision, consider that what you may really be suffering from is a “fear of success”.
Stephanie Calahan says
Sue – Wonderful suggestions to work through fear of success. I don’t know that I agree with Denis that all procrastination is the fear of success. I have seen and helped clients with way too many other reasons, but it is certainly one of the big reasons.
For a number of years early in my business I struggled with fear of success and had no idea that was what was going on. I would make amazing strides in my business only to self-sabotage (and not recognize the self-sabotage either.) That was when I focused on only tactics and strategy. Once I started really looking at my inner mindset and going deeper into what might really be going on I recognized that I was the cause of my business’ ups and downs. That I was not as consistent as I thought I had been. It was painful to acknowledge, but oh so helpful. Once I was able to see that my actions were the cause, I was able to go deeper still to identify the why. I thought for sure it was fear of failure and began studying different techniques to rid myself of those thoughts. Then, a good friend slightly suggested that it might be fear of failure. I brushed it off at first. “I don’t have a fear of failure! I’m super driven!” But her words kept in the back of my mind and I came to realize that it was my driven nature combined with my value system that was actually creating a fear of success. One of my biggest goals when I started my business was that my son would have the benefit of a stay-at-home-mom. In the back of my mind, if I got as successful as my goals indicated, I would not be able to be available to my husband or son. I saw myself being pulled away from them like I was when I had been “successful” in my corporate career.
At that point I realized that my business was my own and I set the boundaries. So, in addition to the points you mentioned above (all very good by the way) I took time to strategically outline how I could have success and still maintain every value that I hold dear. They did not have to compete against one another. To do that, I had to let go of black and white thinking. I had to be open to seeing different ways of working. I had to have faith that it was possible. I’ll be forever grateful to that friend for the whispering in my ear that led me to that discovery.
Sue Miley says
Hey Stephanie – thank you for sharing your experience! You hint at a very important point here, which is defining success. You and I may fear success as it had been defined and realized earlier in our career. One of the paradigm shifts of owning your own business is that we get to define our own success. In both of our situations, future success required some balance with our family values. As a Christian in business I have also learned to set success factors based on my Christian values, rather than just metrics and numbers.
I love that your friend spoke truth to you and that you were able to receive it. It is hard sometimes, but those are true friends!