So why, or how, would anyone be afraid of it? How could you be afraid of something while chasing after it?
Here are two things that we know for sure about a lot of people— you can let me know if any of these are inaccurate.
- A lot of people work hard. Showing up to work every day, pushing themselves to do more and to do better, even when results are coming slowly or not at all.
- A lot of people set goals. Whether they’re written down or just ideas in our heads, most people have at least a vague idea of what they want in life, a desire for something bigger than whatever they have now.
Now, you would think that, if these two points are as true as I believe them to be, that most people are attacking success — not fearing it. And most people would agree that they are doing just that.
Most people are wrong.
Check the people that you know — and yourself — for the following sings that, while you may be doing everything that represents the pursuit of success, you’re also unconsciously slowing yourself down out of fear of actually catching it.
You downplay or mute your abilities to avoid attention
As a college basketball player, I had the talent and skill to be the best player on my team every year — and I knew this to be true. But, statistically, I was never my team’s best player. And it wasn’t because I forgot how to play basketball once the games started.
There was a small, but potent, fear of success in my way.
I had a picture in my mind of the attention and expectations that would have come with me fulfilling my potential and showing my full skill set when it mattered most. And it’s not that I didn’t want the success and attention — I was apprehensive about my ability to handle it, even thought I’d never dealt with it. I was in fear of the unknown. So I played below my potential; good enough to be a contributing member of my teams, but not nearly good enough to match what was expected of me.
While I cannot diagnose what you’re thinking or your intentions, I often hear from people who have a similar challenge: Self-sabotage when on the precipice of high achievements. And while you may have coaches and friends who see your potential and will do their best to bring it out of you, people — like my college coaches — will try only so much before they chalk you up as a person who’s destined to be less than you’re capable of.
Luckily for me, I figured all this out in my early twenties as a pro basketball player (I think). And started making the most of my talents.
Ask yourself the following questions:
- Have you settled into being significantly less than you know you could be because it’s comfortable? My sophomore year of college, I became a contributing role player when I had to skills to be our team’s top scorer and best player. That role player position was where I was comfortable, even though my talent said “top scorer.”
- Are you toning down your skills to make other people feel comfortable? I once read a story about a college basketball player who was the clear best player on his team but had trouble embracing his position. One day in practice, the team was practicing a play that ended with this best player taking a 3-point shot. The team ran the play several times, with the best player missing his shot over and over again. The player grew frustrated, forcefully imploring his teammates to shoot the ball too, as they had just as much right to scoring as he did. But the truth is, his teammates didn’t have the same right to shoot: This best player was getting the ball more than everyone else because he was better than everyone else. That spotlight made him uncomfortable. Despite his team’s best efforts, they could never make a star out of their best player, which in turn hurt the whole team.
- Do you try hard to make everyone feel as if you’re all equal when you’re not? It is said that all men are created equal. While the saying is true, it’s also true that men do not remain equal. We all have different skills and talents, develop at different paces, and are each best suited for certain roles. Everyone is not the same and should not be treated the same.
If the shining of your star makes yourself or others uncomfortable, that doesn’t mean you should turn it down: If anything, it means you should turn it up. Your talents are more than a gift — they’re a responsibility to share them with the world.
How well have you been doing that?
You aim at low-hanging targets — and reach them
I tried out for my high school’s varsity basketball team all four years of high school. Each of my first three years, I got cut on the first day. My junior year, a student who hadn’t even tried out for the team mocked me for not making the team. I responded with the fact that the guy hadn’t even tried out in the first place. He replied that, despite not trying out, he was still in the same position that I was, not on the basketball team.
My classmate hadn’t even tried out for the team — whether I made the team or not had no bearing on his life. But my not making it had further validated his decision to not try out. He had company in the form of everyone who’d been cut, and he was quite proud of it.
Setting goals is not about being realistic or showing respect to your perceived limitations. Goal setting is when you think about what you really want in life, with no limitations, and make a plan for making it happen. The biggest challenge people have in doing so is the magnetic pull of the day-to-day “reality” which keeps people from thinking big about life’s possibilities.
The worst mistake we make in goal setting, and life in general, is not falling short of our goals — it’s setting goals or going after accomplishments that don’t stretch or challenge us and actually reaching them, leaving us with both an unfulfilling achievement and nothing to aim for.
Do you only try things that you know you’ll succeed at?
Do you abstain from “stretch” goals and challenges to save yourself from possibly losing or failing?
Do you have ambitious ideas that you’ve contemplated for years, but never took action on?
Do you consider not-trying an achievement, because at least you didn’t fail?
You give up the first time things don’t work for you
Some people do set big and ambitious goals, and even initiate action in going for them. But as soon as they face any setback, or things aren’t going quite so easy, these people quit, falling back on the half-fact that they “tried.” No one can tell them that they never gave it a shot, they tell themselves, knowing that they really didn’t.
The bigger and more ambitious your goals, the harder it will be, and longer it will take, to make them happen. Failures and setbacks should be expected as part of the process, not used as excuses to give up.
The person who’s afraid of success knows this point quite well — but because their fear of success precludes them from putting real effort into real success, the ambitious goal is just a front: As soon as there’s a setback — and there will be setbacks — their effort stops, the goal is thrown away, and any new goals are of the easily-obtainable type. These people purposely play life on a smaller level just to feel that they’ve “won” — when they’re really losing.
It’s hard for most of us to admit to fear, especially fear of something we’d all expect to want to obtain. Our egos and, well, fear of exposing ourselves — to failure, to attention, to expectations — causes us to find other ways to sneak our success fear in the back door of our minds. Regardless of how it gets in, the fear eventually, and continually, shows itself in myriad ways. Check yourself now for the signs of a fear of success, and take my Bulletproof Mindset Course to get rid of it now.