Ever been paralyzed by the concept of success? This whole concept makes us our biggest enemy and the only way to overcome is to turn our fear into a superpower. Think about a time fear of success held you back.
How did you overcome it? Or did you? I would love to hear your story too, but on the chance that you don’t want to share, I’ll give you one of mine.
At Orange Nebula, we spend a lot of time talking about “thinking bigger.” Our podcasts break down different aspects of how we continue to push ourselves to learn new things or unlearn negative patterns. I’ve used this battle cry to address impostor syndrome and identify opportunities to inspire creativity.
Let’s use this ethos to inspire us to turn fear on its head. Break down the strongholds we create. Turn fear into a superpower that works for us.
My Holding Pattern
Let’s flashback to Valentine’s Day 2007. The previous December I graduated from college and was working for Red Bull. At the beginning of my shift my coworker, Helena looked at me and said, “I’m going to change your life today.”
Thinking she was full of it, I rolled my eyes, probably sighed, and put the branded Mini Cooper into drive and headed toward the highway. During our two hour drive to our assignment, this amazing friend of mine adopted an atypically adversarial role. The conversation began simply, with her asking, “What are you doing here?”
“I’m driving to Bakersfield.”
“No. Here? In America?” Highway 99 flowed past us as she continued her planned assault, “as long as I have known you, you’ve said once you graduate you’re moving to Japan and teaching English.”
She was right, but I couldn’t let her know that. Instead, I petulantly fired back with an area where she allowed fear to restrain her. We’d pause our argument long enough to hand out Red Bull to emergency room doctors and EMTs, only to get back into the car and start back in on each other.
At the end of the night, we pulled up to the office not speaking to one another, both with tear-streaked faces.
I refused to talk to her for two weeks. My first words to her were, “You were right. Since I last saw you, I have filled out three job applications.”
She called me out and changed my life, as she said she would. By challenging me, she pushed me out of my comfort zone and forced me to take a chance. I had to embrace fear and this caused me to realize a couple of crazy things.
Fear of Success
My friend was right. I allowed the fear of success to keep me in a holding pattern. I avoided reaching out and applying for the opportunities that would require me to be vulnerable.
Truthfully, at the time, it was easier to think I could always reach out for Japan — actually taking steps toward Japan scared the snot out of me. I was afraid of taking the same steps I knew would accelerate my growth.
I am not alone.
We’ve all had moments where we sabotaged our own lives. At the root, success means change. I was comfortable working at Red Bull. My comfort levels prevented me from pursuing taking the next steps in actualizing my dreams of moving to Japan.
We all do this. We spend all our creative energy creating a new board game, writing a book, or painting. Then we hide these amazing creations to avoid facing the consequences of criticism, feedback, or the possibility of success. We allow mediocrity to continue to define us because we recognize that person. If we take that next step we face the need to modify our identities.
Success then becomes a fear-inducing specter forcing us to rewrite how we view ourselves.
Fear is a Superpower
What if the fear of success didn’t need to be frightening? Stick with me here. I know fear=frightening, so the concept of fear not equating to fear is an oxymoron.
Think of a frightening memory. Really go through the entire thing. What did fear do to your body? How did it affect your brain? Heart rate? Energy levels?
Hold that thought.
Now, think of a time you got super excited. How did your body respond? What happened to the speed of your thoughts? Were you suddenly flooded with energy? Wait, you mean to say your body produced the same results as fear?
How does this help us reframe our thoughts on fear of success? What if we use this idea to change our thoughts the next time we start to freak out about succeeding? Your heart starts pounding. Your thoughts start racing. “This is exciting. This isn’t fear.”
Even Doctor Who recommends this. Fear helps us think faster, jump higher, and run quicker. Fear is our superpower.
Our perception of the event dramatically changes how we respond. Think about needing to avoid rear-ending a fantastically horrific driver on the freeway. You have two choices.
1) Spend the adrenaline thinking about how they could have killed you and curse their poor eyesight.
2) Celebrate the adrenal response that allowed you to hit the brakes and maneuver to a safe place. Imagine that rush came from a video game and your skills allowed you to win this level.
Would this work? Have you done it before? If you have you recognize the impact this has during your day. I’ve avoided some accidents and spent the day bashing the other driver’s abilities through gritted teeth. I’ve also celebrated the near miss and felt enjoyment when I reflected on my body’s quick reactions. The entire day I felt my body celebrate the escape.
We can apply these same principles to the same stressful situations that could lead to our success.
Don’t Hide Success
Pretending we’ve mastered fear as a superpower by converting it to excitement, let’s move on. While we’re talking about fear of success it’s important to realize that fear doesn’t disappear once you do the thing, publish the book, or launch the Kickstarter for the game. Once you get to this stage now you need to reconcile completing the goal to your identity.
How many times have you downplayed your success or flat out not mentioned it? We don’t want to be seen as a braggart but how does not sharing our success affect our relationships?
Think about a time when you hid your success. When I hide my success, it’s normally coming from an honorable place. I don’t want to damage relationships by making them feel inferior. Most of us don’t want to boast, but how do people feel when they learn about your achievements from someone else?
Studies show, hiding your success actually damages your relationships. People feel slighted that you wouldn’t share with them. You take that awesome moment that you are proud of and rob others of chances to celebrate with you. This requires us to take that fear of how others perceive our success and lean into it. This is truly conquering our fear of success.
Now, this doesn’t mean you need to rub everyone’s nose in whatever achievement you have, but we should treat these moments as opportunities to deepen our relationships.
As someone who faces the fear of success, overcoming these feelings is twofold. I need to reframe my fear of success to an excitement for the potential in front of me. By changing my mindset on the physiological reactions my body has regarding the change, I shift from fear to excitement and grant my mind more energy to dominate my goals.
To continue my growth, I need to continue to lean into my success and share it with others. Sharing these moments allows me to strengthen bonds with others showing them who I am. Who knows? Maybe my success will trigger them to attempt something they have been afraid of moving forward with.