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Fear of SUCcess

The worst kind of sabotage is self-sabotage.

One of my favorite movies is Good Will Hunting. It’s about a young genius named Will Hunting from Southie, which refers to South Boston, Massachusetts. His name is Will Hunting. This young man who has photographic memory and amazing talent to solve complex math equations refuses to take advantage of opportunities that will allow him to fully maximize his gifts and talents. He is very guarded and doesn’t trust people because of the abuse experienced from his upbringing as a foster child. As I reflect on the story line, I can’t help but think of a phrase that many people struggle with – the fear of success.

Here are some of the questions that the fear of success provokes:

-What if I’m not able to keep or maintain my success?

-Will people think I’m a fraud?

-What if people have higher expectations of me than I do?

-What if I’m accused of being a sellout because I no longer have the same life struggles as the people I once shared them with?

-What if I become someone I never wanted to be?

And one of the most intense and powerful questions I’ve ever heard:

-What if people ONLY love me because of my success and not for who I am?

These are questions that I have asked myself over the course of my life when I would be on my way to accomplish many different milestones, like graduating college or getting my CPA license, and even while writing this book. For some time, I thought I was the only one. That wasn’t until I began working as a social worker. The age group of these young people I worked with was 16 to 21. One particular situation stands out; a young man was on his way to passing his GED and going to college, but he failed the test intentionally. I discussed the case with another social worker. She said that the young man had been in foster care his entire life. He formed bonds with the social workers and other homeless youth. These were the same people who loved and accepted him unconditionally. As a matter of fact, what made him so close to the other residents was that they oftentimes got in trouble and failed together. Their common bond was their struggle. If he transitioned into a new life, he would no longer share that struggle and lose fellowship with the people he considered his family. It becomes dangerous when we become bonded around our struggle because the struggle might become more important than finding a way out or working your way through it. What you want to do is normalize winning and succeeding and help others do the same. When you walk around with people who are losing, you normalize losing. When I say losing, I’m talking about people who continually settle for being less than their best.

He could not stand to be closer to the point where he would be independent and less connected to his peers. Or so he thought. I thought long and heard about this situation, but I came to some conclusions about success and failure as defined by the culture by measures of performance, popularity, and possessions. Sometimes failure isn’t all bad and success isn’t always fun. Sometimes failure helps you to see who is really on your side and success can attract people who may not really care for you and only about what you can do for them. These are the realities that we all have to acknowledge and sometimes, wrestle with. Ultimately, we should not let these fears keep us from being the best we can be. In order to live well, we have to face our fears. Most of our fears are learned including the fear of success. If it is learned, it can be unlearned.

Here are a few things that I believe we must do each time we struggle with those fears.

1. We must not see success as a destination but a journey. If we keep this perspective, we will be able to maintain emotional equilibrium. It requires a restructuring of your mental framework when it comes to success. If you succeed, see it as a springboard to the next achievement and work on improvement. Don’t let the fear of success keep you from developing as a person. Don't believe you're the best thing since sliced bread when you succeed and if you fail, don't think you're the scum of the earth. Take it all in stride and keep moving forward.

2. Know who’s in stadium. When you step out to do anything vulnerable like chasing your goals, you’re like a boxer entering the ring. There are 4 kinds of people that you have to keep in mind. In our society, most people’s mantra is, I don't care what you think. That’s really not true. You do care, but you don’t want them to know because it makes you vulnerable. You need to care about what people think because you don’t want to be disconnected from your community, but you don’t want to be defined by what people think because you need to have courage to be unorthodox in the pursuit of your calling. I believe you should know who is in the arena and classify them properly to move out in an informed and courageous way. They are as follows:

a. Cheap seats – These people are those in the nosebleeds. They haven’t invested much time to get to know you, but they will voice their uninformed opinions and judgments. Acknowledge they exist, but don’t invest too much stock in their opinion because they are ignorant.

b. Referees – These are the people who represent the rules of the fight. They hold you accountable when you violate the rules. Remember who they are as well. You need them to maintain order.

c. Critics Section – Judges – They let you know whether you passed or failed. They don’t care about your feelings or your well-being. They only exist to keep score. Remember who these people are.

d. Support Section – Family – These people love you unconditionally and will ride or die. They care for your well-being. Some people in this section tell you the truth but at the right time and in the right way in order to help you improve and not harm you.

Having knowledge of who’s in the stadium will save you a lot of heartache. When you get these people mixed up, you will be in a heap of trouble and unnecessary pain. Classify them properly. Take some time to assess who is in your life and make the hard decisions.

3. We have to reaffirm and meditate on your major motivating forces, your WHY’s. Our WHY’s help to bring our mind, will, and emotions into alignment. That alignment will be the source of power that will help us overcome our fears or keep them at bay when they show up.

In Chapter 11, I discussed my 4 Why’s – major motivating force for achieving your goals. My 4 F’s:

Faith, Family, Forefathers, and Fears

#1 - Faith in God – You life is God’s gift to you. What you become is your gift to God.

#2 – Future Family A good person leaves an inheritance for their children’s children. Proverbs 13:22, NIV

#3 – Forefathers – If history is your teacher, the future will be your friend. Honor the legacies of those who came before you.

#4 – Fears – I have something to prove – that I could live my life without fear. The only thing we should fear is fear itself.

If you have not done that, please go back to chapter 11 and come up with your WHY’s. This is not something you can rush. The Why’s can be unlimited.

Right now, wherever you are in life, do you have self-imposed limitations? What specific things do you do to get in your own way or self-sabotage? Be honest here.


-Spending over budget once you’re about to get out of debt.

-Cheating on your diet when you’ve been eating right for 2 weeks.

-Taking nights off from practice or studying for the LSATs, the medical boards, or other professional licensing exam when you know consistent work is key.

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