Confronting Fear of Success

Part two-Self discipline Module 5

Yes, you like to be successful, but you may shudder at the thought of being trusted with the top-leadership of your organization or congregation. You may say that you know who you are what you are capable of. You may laugh about the very thought of it. But if a companion of yours becomes successful in his career and life , you may also feel a biting catch in your stomach. The paradox of the longing for and dread of success plays a part in the issue of our self-discipline.

Confronting Fear of Success

 

Webster’s New World Dictionary defines success as “a favorable result.” Nothing frightening about that, right? So what’s to fear about success? Doesn’t everyone want “a favorable result”? Oh, if life were so simple. Unfortunately, however, it isn’t.

Like a double-edged sword, success cuts two ways. We’re all so enthralled with its good side that we tend to overlook its bad side. Subconsciously, though, our feelings regarding the negative side of success are very much alive. A subconscious negative perception about success can overpower our conscious desire to attain it. Naturally, when this happens, our powers of self-discipline operate at half strength; after all, a subconscious part of us does not really want success because of all the responsibilities and complications that go along with it. With fear of success, as with all subconscious forces, we’re powerless to fight it as long as we are not fully aware of its existence. We all know of at least one person who is his own worst enemy; who seems to do everything imaginable to keep himself at a safe distance from success.

Like him, we all to some extent wish to spare ourselves from the negative consequences of success. But, these negative factors from which we wish to spare ourselves are nothing more than shadows; when exposed to light they disappear.

Let’s put a spotlight on a few anti-self-discipline shadows, the things we subconsciously tell ourselves that keep us from

exercising the necessary self-discipline to achieve success.

Following are examples of negative self-talk that make it difficult to throw our full forces behind our pursuits.

“Maybe I don’t really deserve success.”

This type of attitude stems from feelings of low self-esteem, and is frequently related to feelings of guilt. We tell ourselves that we are not worthy of the happiness and satisfaction that come from personal accomplishments. We feel unworthy because of past or current behaviors, thoughts, or actions. This unworthy feeling usually is related to the unfulfilled expectations of others (family, friends, lover, etc.). Our transgressions can be either real or imagined.

Frequently such feelings grew from occurrences that we couldn’t possibly have controlled. Then again, sometimes we

feel guilty because we are guilty. But regardless of why a person feels guilty and unworthy, such feelings are responsible for much self-defeating behavior, subtle but effective self-sabotage.

“If I’m successful, people will judge me with a more critical eye.”

Many people fear success because of the attention, both positive and negative, that would go along with it. They fear that they would feel a tremendous pressure to live up to their success. Many artists frequently go into panic immediately following a well-received novel, song, dance, or play. They say to themselves, “How can I possibly live up to it. Now, everyone is going to expect my next work to be just as great, even better.”

This feeling has thrown many artists into such a panic that they experience a creativity or productivity block, unable to work because of the success of their latest effort.


Anxiety about success affects everyone. We subconsciously tell ourselves that if we ever hit a homer we will always be expected to hit a homer. Then we tell ourselves that if we strike out after hitting a homer the boos will be louder, the disappointments greater, the humiliation deeper. So, rather than risk the strikeout, many of us find reasons justifications, rationalizations, excuses) for not going to bat. Or if we go to bat, subconsciously we don’t put everything into the swing for fear of hitting a homer and having to experience all the attention, pressure, and responsibilities that go along with being successful.

“It’s lonely at the top.”

How will others react to my accomplishments? ” Will they be jealous or resentful?” We frighten ourselves into inaction by convincing ourselves that there are people who will react negatively to our achievements.

Many famous people had to combat the fear of success when their talents got public acclaim. Becoming a celebrity can be quite frightening for some people. Leadership in religious and ecclesiastical circles has become an unpopular choice and is seen as a loners lane. Some major superiors report that after their election even their close friends kept a distance. Some people who are gifted, but dependent on the support of relationships may unconsciously keep a low profile for fear of success and the consequent alienation from close people.

“If I am successful someone close to me will suffer.”

A wife whose husband completed only high school doesn’t follow through on her college degree program. A husband whose

wife is noticeably overweight doesn’t complete his diet plan. A man feels uncomfortable about a promotion over his fellow

workers. A woman worries that having her own successful business will cause her friends to act differently toward her. A

son experiences anxiety about out-earning his father. Each of these persons fear that their success will somehow hurt someone. This aspect of fear of success is particularly difficult because it is based on compassion for someone else, a trait that most us think of as positive. Some religious are afraid to be better off in studies or ministry than their companions or superiors for not causing them jealousy or uneasiness.

“I’ll be overcome by responsibility and pressure.”

Subconsciously we tell ourselves that when the success starts, the fun stops. We tell ourselves that life will lose its joy if we began a daily exercise program, a diet, or any other organized routine. We tell ourselves that we will lose our spontaneity, that we will become boring and drab. Top positions in the church and congregations are dreaded by some because of the pressure of responsibility. Religious top positions are perceived as enemy of fun and pleasure. Notice the watch words of some: “Why to get into trouble” , “keep to the minimum”, or “simple life and no thinking” that keep one to stick to minimum productivity. Some religious superiors say that they are tired of giving good examples to their subordinates.

Get the idea?Each of the foregoing thoughts, actually self-talk statements, are based on imaginary catastrophes. They

hardly represent the whole truth. Even so, they take a heavy toll. We all harbor secret, subconscious fears about the dark side of success.

We imagine untold pressures, overwhelming responsibilities, and many other frightening by-products of success. And so it follows: Subconsciously, we know that self-discipline leads to success. Therefore, we subconsciously fight against self-discipline so we won’t have to face the hobgoblins to which success might deliver us.

 

Exercise #2 Exploring Fear of Success

The following exercise is designed to help you discover your hidden concerns and emotions regarding fear of success. It will give you some insight about your personal feelings. On a sheet of paper you are going to explore three past successful experiences that also created a problem for you. The only rule here requires that these situations or events must be what you considered successes at the time they occurred. As you write about your three experiences, emphasize the problems that came with the successes. Take them from your earliest memories. Explore your childhood. Be specific. Name names. This will give you an awareness about how, when, and where your attitudes and beliefs about the negative side of success originated.

Note: Spend no more than fifteen minutes on this exercise.

Hyde will be peering over your shoulder and giving you a load of reasons to simply think about it rather than write it. Don’t

listen to Hyde!

As you write take notice of yourself both physically and emotionally. Physically: Do you clench your teeth? Do any of your muscles tighten? Your stomach muscles? Neck muscles? Do you notice any changes in your breathing rhythm? Faster? Shallower? Emotionally: Do you re-experience the hurt? Do you feel frightened? Angry? Hostile? Embarrassed?

Again, it is important that you take note of your reactions as you complete each of the exercises throughout this self-discipline program. Your reactions will give you valuable insight into how much your current behavior is affected by the past experiences you recall.

Start writing NOW

For prayer and reflection:Think of a time you shirked responsibility to avoid attention and the weight of responsibility. Reflect on Jesus’ attitude to those who confronted him on his authority.And they said to him, ‘What authority have you for acting like this? Or who gave you authority to act like this?” (Mk 11.28). What do you learn from Jesus’ way of handling both popularity and rejection to fulfill his mission?

Home work to be sent: Write down and send the important insights that you gained from this module.

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