Last time we talked about fear of failure and, for me, the most natural next conversation is about fearing success.
This one is big for me. Far bigger than fear of failure.
Here’s why (the notes that follow assume failure exists, which is a notion my highest self shakes her head at disbelievingly):
- Failing is a common denominator. It connects me with the human race.
- When done a certain way (i.e. not too often or inellegantly and without too much self loathing), it endears people to me.
- It intimidates no one.
- It triggers no jealousy.
- It sets the bar low for future success.
- It keeps my life small and (more or less) manageable.
- It allows my outer experience to match, rather than conflict with, my deepest places of shame. (Conflicts between these two make me feel like an imposter.)
See? So many wonderful qualities!
On the other hand, here’s what success can do (cue ominous soundtrack):
- It can set me apart.
- It can make peer relationships harder to find.
- And make me feel lonely.
- It can make people resent me.
- Or trigger jealousy.
- It can cause people to feel bad about themselves.
- It can bring me more opportunities than I can healthfully handle.
- It can crowd my inbox.
- It can increase my internal pressure to succeed again…and again and again. And ever more wonderfully than each success before.
- It can cause me to need to own some opinions.
- And have to talk about them publicly.
- It can strain my private relationships.
- It can grow an unwieldy, blind-spot-producing ego.
- Or make me feel like I’m living a life that isn’t really ME – that’s somehow more confident/polished/articulate/creative/etc. than I ever feel myself to be.
Do any of these resonate for you?
It looks to me like there’s safety in failure. There’s a smallness to it that successfully (!) avoids all the risks inherent to space-taking.
So how to tend trust around these risks? They’re real, and some of them inevitabilities. And not just for me! Whether you’re conscious of these risks or not, they’re lifelong partners with success.
Here are the pathways I’m noting tonight:
1. Explore my places of shame. Getting more familiar with these places and helping them heal can help so much with the imposter syndrome I mentioned above. (Brené Brown’s work is an excellent resource for this – her book The Gift of Imperfection as well as I Thought It Was Just Me (But It Isn’t): Telling the Truth about Perfectionism, Inadequacy, and Power. I can only assume the course that she and Jen Lemen are running here will be an excellent resource, too.)
2. Consciously nourish peer relationships all along the way. To me, this means relationships where there is mutual give and take, and where honest feedback is invited, welcomed and offered both ways. This feels particularly important to do with people in my same field – people doing the sorts of vocational things I’m doing. I see this as a safeguard in the ego department, as well as in the loneliness department, and a way to remind myself that proactive work is being done to address the risks on both of these fronts. (My fears relax at the thought.)
3. Engage regularly in activities that awaken me to and from my ego. Meditation, reading of spiritual and psychological books, and the poetry of David Whyte, Mary Oliver, Khalil Gibran, Hafiz, and Rumi all have this effect on me. Mindfully spending time in nature does, too.
4. Look the monsters of others’ jealousy, resentment, and shame-in-relation-to-me in the face. Greet them. Set aside some time to consciously sit with them (these imagined monsters) sometimes. In passing, and in moments of devoted attention, try to practice maintaining a soft, open heart toward them (I wrote more about this practice here). I have an intuition this could transform these monsters into something else entirely, and remove the motivation that they are for me to avoid success (or too much of it) altogether.
5. Find mentors who are good at practicing the kind of lifestyle and boundary-setting that I want to practice. If all of my heroes are living lives that would totally do me in were I to try to live them, it’s probably time identify what about my heroes I *do* want to emulate, and what about them I need to bless to be *other* than me. Getting conscious of the difference here seems so important. And too, finding heroes and mentors – or just peer inspirations – that embody the lifestyle choices I want to make.
6. Visualize the amount of space I want to take up in the world. Initially see this as an empty container. Daily visualize myself filling up this space with the kind of energy I most want to have: strong, vibrant, grounded, humble, powerful, creative, innovative, awake. On certain levels, space itself feels like a fabrication to me, but if I see it as a game that everyone is playing, this kind of visualization feels like a helpful part of it. Or at the very least, a helpful stepping stone to take me further along this game’s path (much like the stages of development I talked about last time).
And you? Do you fear success? Have you discovered any tricks for growing trust in relation to it?