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:
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”.