I was 12 years old when Mr Saatchi (yeah, of the mega-rich Saatchi’s) asked for my help. I was a geek at the time (some things never change), having got my first computer a year earlier and getting into trouble for hacking the school network, and my Dad was doing some work for him.
I guess they got to talking about their kids, and the next thing you know Dad comes home and tells me that Mr Saatchi wants me to teach his son all about computers. He’d pay me and send a car to ferry me to and fro, how about it?
Opportunities like that rarely come up for your average 12 year old kid. So I said no.
I regret that now, of course I do, but at the time it felt like a lot of pressure. It felt like my attempt to teach Mr Saatchi’s son would be scrutinised, and while I was sure I could teach his son a couple of things I also knew I’d need to put effort into figuring out some kind of program or structure or we’d just end up playing video games. I had no idea how long I’d be expected to teach, and the safety of my normal routine pulled at me hard. I didn’t want to miss my cartoon shows. And then if I really nailed it, I was scared of being sucked into an orbit that wasn’t my own, where Mr Saatchi called the shots.
I was scared of what doing it—and what succeeding at it—would mean, and it was the first time I experienced the fear of success.
It’s safe to say I’ve experienced it many times since then, and I’m willing to bet it’s not unfamiliar to you either.
It’s one of those unspoken, insipid fears that drives you towards being small and saying no, when a little bit of courage or faith just might change your trajectory for the better. Which, of course, is exactly what’s so damn scary about it.
There are 3 places that the fear of success come from…
Fear that you’ll lose what you have right now
You might have a steady job, a comfortable lifestyle, a great partner or a rich social life. Perhaps you’ve got an awesome balance between work and life. Or maybe you finally have a bit of security; something solid and known under your feet.
So it seems logical that any shift towards greater success will take you away from what you have today.
Say yes, and everything you’ve worked so far for might crumble away.
Fear of unsustainability
Let’s say you get there. You succeed. You’ve nailed it.
Now all you have to do, is keep it going.
The thought that you can fleetingly get where you want to go, only to watch it all slip away or watch it get taken away from you, is enough to create a stomach-plunging anxiety. It’s like wanting to run for President but then becoming terrified that you’ll screw it up, get impeached or lose your second term by a landslide. Or like seeing your business take off and then saying yes to everything because you don’t want it to go as quickly as it came.
The pressure of expectation is huge.
Fear of being found out
You did it! Awesome. Good for you.
Now, better hold your breath because it’s just a matter of time before everyone discovers what a fluke it was and how much of an imposter you really are.
How embarrassing would it be to get called out or found out? What if your new peers see who you really are?
The fear of being found out is the fear that you were never really good enough to have success in the first place.
What might be…
You might have noticed what these 3 fears have in common, how they’re all based on assumptions and stories about what might happen.
Other things that might happen in the future include:
- the discovery of Atlantis and a whole new race of fish-people just off the coast of Wales
- Jimmy Fallon cage fighting Putin for his freedom after being kidnapped by the FSB
- God appearing drunk, live on Ellen, and telling the world he might swap around our arms and legs for shits and giggles
- the Internet becoming sentient and taking a sabbatical in Thailand to get away from the crowds, then dropping out and starting a folk duo with Joaquin Phoenix.
Many, many things could happen, but have you stopped eating fish and booked your personal submarine tour of the Irish Sea yet? Have you put any money down on Fallon vs Putin? Are you recording every episode of Ellen just so you don’t miss the moment when everyone starts walking and eating upside-down? Or have you dug out that fax machine because it’s only a matter of time before the Internet packs its bag and fucks off?
No. You haven’t (at least, I hope you haven’t). And nor should you base your decisions and consequent behaviour on your assumptions about the potential impact of a success event.
Any moment of change, whether that change is one you label success, failure or whatever else, means a shift between what was and what is. Change always involves loss.
Confidence at the point of change
Which is why confidence is nothing unless it’s applied right at the point of change.
Trust. Faith. A deep breath. A gentle smile. A graceful welcoming.
These are the things that help you to acknowledge that you are not “no good”. You are not “not good enough”. You are not “not up to it”. You are not “not worthy of success, or love, or belonging”.
Beating the fear of success is just choosing where to put your trust. Do you trust the stories you make up about what might happen, or do you trust your ability to approach a moment in time in as someone’s who’s already whole and has nothing to prove?
What would it take for you to take trust in the latter?