Fear of Success is a Thing Too

The stoic approach has a lot going for it.

Contrary to “name it and claim it”, Law of Attraction kind of practices, stoicism admonishes not to fill your head with visions of utopia.  It takes the opposite tack.

Mentally explore the worst case scenario and familiarize yourself with it.  This prepares you emotionally to handle whatever comes.  By preparing for the worst you’ll be unshakeable when anything less occurs.

It’s a valuable life philosophy for dealing with fear of failure.  When you’ve already experienced failure mentally and realized it’s not all the bad, you gain a kind of invincibility not devoid of reason and realism.  You become what my friend TK Coleman might call a “Tough-minded optimist.”

But failure is not the only fear that holds us back.  Fear of success is a thing too.

What if you launch your blog or produce your movie or sell your new product and it actually takes off?  What if you go viral?  What if you have more demand than you can keep up with?  What if people start writing news stories about you?  What if your success presents you with the decision of whether to quit your day job and redefine yourself?  What if you threaten the status quo?  What if people start suing you?  What if people write articles about how much you suck?  What if all your acquaintances start asking you for jobs and money and favors?  What if big investors want to fund you but only if you move to a new city?  What if your quiet evenings at home with your loved ones and Netflix become impossible to maintain along with your new endeavor?

If you really succeed some of these things will happen.  They are at least as scary as failure and the stoic approach might cause you to avoid imagining them ahead of time.  It’s arrogant to close your eyes and feel the experience of wild success, right?  It’s delusional and might keep you from being able to handle failure, right?

Maybe if that’s all you ever imagine.  On the flipside, if you’re only every braced for failure you might be blindsided by success and crumble, or worse yet never go hard after it due to latent fear of its unknown rewards and challenges.

One of those cheesy evangelical phrases I grew up around is pretty accurate here.  “Another level another devil”.  Maybe now your problems and fears loom large.  If you don’t get the job you won’t know how to pay rent.  Yet if you succeed in a big way your problems and fears become more, not less serious.  If you don’t land the deal you’ll have to fire thirteen good employees and they won’t know how to pay rent.  Success can be scary stuff.

If the stoic experience of mentally living through the worst-case is the antidote to fear of failure then I suggest the opposite is the antidote to fear of success.

Envision your best-case.  Envision having millions of fans or dollars.  Envision wild success and its attendant obligations and challenges.  Really, seriously explore what you would do right now if you had it.  It presents more challenges than most are willing to acknowledge.

I don’t know about the effectiveness of envisioning your goals as a way to achieve them, but I still think it’s important to envision success as a way to overcome your fear of it.

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