Fear of Success?  It’s a Myth

“Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work.”  Thomas Edison

I’ve heard some people claim they have a fear of success. When I ask what they mean, they often reply that they never follow through on their goals because they’re afraid of what might happen if they were to actually achieve them. My sense is they’ve made faulty assumptions about successful people and the process of succeeding. Let’s look at some of these assumptions that lead them to believe they have a fear of success, along with some questions to ponder:

“Successful people just got lucky.” Was it luck, or hard work? The Edison quote above seems to apply. Most unsuccessful people want to blame the “luck factor” as the reason others make it and they don’t. Question:Are you unlucky, or have you just not done what it takes to succeed?

“I’d lose all of my friends if I made it big.” Ah — that’s an interesting thought: “It’s lonely at the top.” Questions: If none of your friends are successful, and you want to be, why would you want to hang out with them anyhow?  And don’t you think you’d make new friends along the way who would support you in stepping up to a higher level?

“To get a lot of money you have to become stingy like Scrooge.” Sure, there are tightwads among the rich. But most are supporting our economy by spending the most in our society, which helps other people become successful as well. Question: Are you stingy because you feel you don’t have enough to give?

“If I had a lot of money, people wouldn’t love me for who I really am.” A few of the tragic stories of lonely rich people are true — the media wants to sell more advertising by promoting the notion that this is common. Questions: Do people love you now because you’re poor, unsuccessful, underachieving?  How would you know the difference unless you got a lot of money? And, wouldn’t you like to find out?)

“Big shots are jerks, arrogant, snobby, aloof.” While the media may portray someone like the late Steve Jobs in this way, Jobs had highly talented people loyal to him for years in his business. No one would stay with him that long if they didn’t benefit from the experience. Question: Do you believe you’ll become a jerk if you make it big?

“To become successful I’d have to lie, cheat, steal.” While a very few people make it by cheating, the vast majority of success stories are about people who played by the rules. Question: Do you know anyone who has done very well without cheating?

“Wealthy people are heartless.” Au contraire, these are the exact people who give the most to charities, causes and foundations. Question: When do you think you should start the habit of being generous?

“Successful people step on other people on their way to the top.” A lot of movies portray people who ruthlessly climb over others, but successful people usually cultivate a vast network of contacts who they get help from and who they help in kind. Question: How much effort do you put into helping others become successful?

If you think about what I’m asking in my questions you’ll get what I think is really going on — a lot of rationalization. These thoughts are perfect excuses for what amounts to a “sour grapes rap,” although many (most?) may be unconscious. With this kind of underlying pattern it would be hard for anyone thinking this way to become successful, let alone take the responsibility to make the effort. Only when people begin to examine their underlying motivation can they overcome their mythical fear of success.

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