When I quit my job in the corporate world recently, most of my colleagues were excited for me. They assured me that they knew I would succeed at any chosen path. It was a confidence-booster. I was grateful for their kind words.
There were people who seemed very worried and concerned for me, leaving the “mother ship” as I used to call my former workplace. What would I do if I did not find another “gig” right away? Or if it did not work out to be self-employed?
To be honest, fear of failure was not on my mind. I am more concerned about decisions I will make about which direction to pursue. Since I was a young girl I wanted to do LOTS of different things in my life. I still remember being very distressed when someone asked what I was going to be when I grew up (around age 6). I listed off a bunch of things: teacher, writer, doctor, actor, store owner, etc.
The woman who had asked the question had good intentions, I suppose, but she laughed and said, “Oh honey, you can’t do ALL those things. You will have to choose one (or two).” I was immediately sad and surprised too. Seriously? You could only do ONE thing in your life?!? Crap!
I suppose that was much more true then than it is today. So she was not really trying to burst my bubble. She just did not understand my intention. I got bored easily when I mastered things. And I suppose that might have been a clue that I had an active imagination and could create compelling visions of possibilities in my life (and maybe a sign of a.d.d.)
It never even occurred to me that I might try one of those careers and fail. My parents, bless their hearts, had helped instill confidence in my abilities, and in my resilience. I still remember my Dad teaching me about “meta-cognition” when I was in grade school. Thinking was important, he said, but understanding HOW we think (or learn) is even more important.
Recently as I was completing an application for a fellowship I had a major realization – sometimes I have a greater fear of success than I do of failure. Huh? Who is afraid of success?
As an introvert, I have often looked to leaders or people who are very successful in their careers (say, in public speaking) and thought: that’s so awesome. But I would hate to be surrounded by all those people all the time… yikes. While I like some professional acknowledgement, fame has never really been a goal for my life. I value my privacy and solitude too much.
It did not occur to me that success can look a lot of different ways, or that I could succeed in a career and set appropriate boundaries around my time and space. When you are successful, people seek you out. I guess another of those fears has to do with the future – if I succeed, people will have even greater expectations of me. I will have greater expectations of myself as well.
Where does that end? Oy! The thought makes me tired.
Right now I am considering my definition of success, first of all. For some people, that means money, a nice home, a fancy car, a corner office. I am not the kind of person that craves a lot of material things. I feel pretty weighed down by things, actually. I love going on vacation adventures, so regular travel is part of my success definition.
I love time and space. I love the ability to think, learn new skills, take classes, design workshops and collaborate with my favorite people. The spaciousness of my days has been a distinct benefit to this sabbatical, and I am trying to figure out how to build this into my new gig.
My hubby might say that success means I can retire early and do whatever I want. While that is a lovely idea, I actually enjoy working, when I do the kinds of things that make my heart sing. Success is about giving back, because to some extent, I feel I have already succeeded in my life. Sure, I failed at certain things I tried. But I learned so much along the way.
Truly I am happy in my life, right now, and I appreciate the wealth of my relationships. Ultimately is that not the best measure of success?
5 thoughts on “Fear of success”
Well said, Julie! As a fellow introvert, this post and Julie’s comment really spoke to me, Lxx
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As a fellow introvert, this post really speaks to me. I think you make such an important point about defining what success looks like for each of us – for me it’s about balance so that life feels rewarding and meaningful without being all about achievement. Like you, I need time alone to recharge and reflect. I think part of the fear of success is the risk that that boundary will slip away and life will be too demanding. That coupled with the sense of expectation from others and ourselves, as you highlight, can feel overwhelming. It helps to remind myself that, while I have responsibilities to other people, ultimately I’m in charge of my life.
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Julie, it sounds like you really get what I am trying to say! I worked with a lot of extroverts who loved being around people and did not always understand why I shied away from being the center of attention. It’s not a lack of modesty – I am proud of my accomplishments! But I definitely don’t like the feeling of being “on stage” for too long, even if I can perform when needed for an audience when I’m in my area of expertise. Learning how to set boundaries has been SUPER critical for success in my most recent role – it helped that I had a great boss that understood my need for introvert recovery. Thanks for your comment!
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