One has heard so often in the world out there about fears of failure. It was presented perhaps a decade ago as this revelatory understanding that there is fear of success.
And it became something of a catch phrase, something of a buzzword. ‘Your problem is you have fear of success.’ And it’s true for many people. Ironically, for many people the fear of success is much bigger than the fear of failure. You have learned through conditioning, from the time you were a very small infant, to cope with and deal with failure. Everyone has faced failure many times. You can and do cope with failure. Likewise, you have come to face success as well. However, the ‘conditioning’ to deal with and cope with success is never as thorough or as frequent. Therefore, truly so, success is more frightening than failure is.
However, the FEAR OF SUCCESS became such a catch phrase, such a witty, wise thing to say, that no one stopped to look at … ‘Well, what does that really mean?’
The psychological concepts come forth in terms of contractual arrangements with parents. They are contracts like: ‘I will follow your footsteps, and I will never be better than my dad.’ Or they come in living up to the parental expectations, the slot that you were put in, your place in the family constellation. Lots of psychological concepts were presented, and again, they were very correct.
But here is what to look at now in this monumental decade, the 1990s. One could elaborate for hours on each of these dynamics, but briefly the mechanisms are as follows:
ONE First of all, success is scary because of the weight one gives it, the weight one places on what it means.
If you hold it inside that success means you’re smarter, craftier, wiser or ‘slicker’ (in the negative meaning of the word) than others, then success is very frightening.
If you hold that because you’re successful you are therefore superior to or ‘better-than’ other people — that you are ‘entitled,’ that you are ‘endowed,’ that you have a right to be arrogant — then success is scary.
When you hold that success validates you as being good and whole and right and true — or when you hold that success exonerates you from things that would make a less successful person have to work with forgiveness (which truly does relieve the past) — then success is scary.
If you attach these kinds of meanings, you weigh down success. Here’s success, this thing, this essence. If you hang onto it all these weights of better-than, smarter, craftier, you make it far too heavy. And if you make it so very heavy, it begins to wobble, and indeed it can collapse. Therefore, success is scary because of the weight one gives it.
Further, it’s scary because it never does any of those things. It never does make you smarter. It never does vindicate or validate you. It never does exonerate you or make you a perfect person. And if you hold that it will, success becomes very frightening.
So the first thing that makes success really scary is the weight that is attached to it.
TWO What’s also frightening about it is that success is part of a creative dynamic. Whenever something is created, there’s always something else that is destroyed. This is why Rollo May referred to the courage to create — because there is always that conflict. As you create something, something else is destroyed. If nothing else, ignorance is destroyed. And this very dynamic of creativity also applies to success. It’ll often be followed with guilt — feeling guilty that you’ve done something, that you’ve changed the order of things, that you’ve stepped outside the normal range.
There may even be a feeling of doubt: ‘Have I done the right thing? What if I’m not heading in the right direction?’ It’s so very strange. We hear so many people who are succeeding wonderfully well, but their fear is: ‘Yes, but what if this wasn’t what I was meant to do? What if I was supposed to become something else? Suppose my destiny was something else? What if I’ve somehow managed to land in this arena of success, and I’m flying along like crazy, and one day will wake up and realize I’ve missed the boat?’ Doubt and the concern around that — that’s part of the creative function. Therefore, we would suggest here it’s frightening.
THREE Success is also frightening because success carries chaos with it. We call success Light Chaos. But in your world, you’re geared and conditioned to have no chaos at all. It’s an outgrowth of adolescence where life is so absolutely, unbelievably chaotic that you try to stabilize it with the absolutes — the always’s and never’s, the black’s and white’s — of adolescence.
And you have come out of that period with the belief that, above all, you should not have chaos. Above all, have things orderly and smooth. And success has chaos. It brings chaos.
Success therefore erupts and brings forth what we call the ‘root emotion.’ Whenever success occurs, it brings out the dark side of self, turmoil and trouble. Therefore, of course, whenever chaos exists, chaos brings the eruption, or at least the disturbance, of the dark side. It brings out the Dark Law — that basic, unbelievable truth that you hold onto. ‘I can never be happy,’ or ‘I will never be successful,’ or the various negative beliefs that you’ve now made into a Law.
Chaos brings questioning and the issue of reviewing self. All chaos does, whatever kind, be it physical or emotional, mental or spiritual. It also brings up issues from the past, issues from childhood.
So there are a number of reasons success is scary, in and of itself. And if you can understand that it is scary, and you can anticipate certain of these fears, then we would suggest you can resolve them.
FOUR One of the biggest reasons success is scary is because of what we call a faulty foundation. When you build a house, you lay a foundation and do all the things that are proper according to code. Then upon it you plan to erect a two-story residence.
Well, if in the midst of waiting for that foundation to dry, you decide, ‘I think I’ll make better use of the space and build a ten-story skyscraper on top,’ the foundation won’t hold.
What we mean by the foundation is the motivation. Why do I want to be successful in the first place? If the reason is not solid, if that’s not the proper foundation — solid or not — then it’s going to lean, to tip, to crack and crumble. And success, like a house of cards, will come down.
And what we mean by faulty foundation is: If you’re trying to be successful in order to punish someone, that’s a faulty foundation.
‘I’ll show them. All those kids in school who said I’d never amount to anything — I’ll show them, and I’ll go back and rub their noses in it.’ Or, ‘I’ll show my father,’ or ‘I’ll show my mother.’ Or, ‘I’ll get ’em and make them suffer. I’m going to be successful and then walk all over them.’
Those are faulty motivations. We didn’t say they’re wrong or bad. We’re not judging them. We’re simply saying that they can’t weather the weight of success.
If you’re doing it to vindicate yourself, it’s a faulty foundation. Vindication is a fascinating thing, because your consensus reality tells you to do things to vindicate yourself. It never works. Vindication has never worked. ‘I made a mistake, so now I’m going to do it right, and that will somehow expunge the record.’ No, forgiveness works, vindication doesn’t.
Therefore, if you’re trying to succeed to vindicate yourself — ‘I really screwed up in my 20s and now in my 40s I’m going to be a triumphant success and that will expunge the record’ — it won’t work. It never does. Even if you have a magnificent success, it never erases anything. Forgiveness can, but not vindication.
If you’re doing something as a way to win approval, to win praise, to win the acceptance of another, it’s a faulty motivation. Again, we’re not saying it’s a bad motivation. We’re saying that it’s too weak. It can support ‘this much’ success for approval, for praise, but it can’t support ‘this much more’. When you pile this much on, OK. But more than that, and it starts to wobble and crumble. Indeed you can sabotage yourself and end up punishing yourself simply because the foundation, the motivation, the reason you want to be successful is faulty.
So from the weight of what you attach to the success, to the very foundation underneath it — from the creative process to the chaotic process in between — those are four very specific reasons (and there are others) why it’s scary.
Now, if you can understand that for yourself, then you can change your motivations. You can rebuild and restructure a whole different foundation for being successful. You can take the weight off and realize that it’s not going to make you smarter or better-than or give you license. You can be prepared for the chaos, and when it comes, you can work with it. You can handle it. You don’t have to freak out and run away. You can be prepared for the guilt and doubt that’s going to arise in the very dynamic of creativity.
So now when success comes, it doesn’t have to be scary. And what fear is remaining, you can right. You can have the confidence to know that you can overcome it.
Now, certainly, there are a certain number of approaches and techniques one works with, but that, in a nutshell is what we’re talking about when one looks at the fear of success.
Similarly, we have talked about fear itself. Fear is scary, yes? Everyone knows that, but no one really stops to look at why.
Certainly indeed fear is scary because it threatens not so much death, although the threat of destruction is a part of it. Mainly it’s scary because it threatens impotence. An example: Perhaps you’re not so much afraid of dying as you are afraid of pain in the process of dying. And even scarier is feeling that pain and not dying, and therefore having to live the rest of your life with that. That impotence — that’s the threat that fear offers.
But more than that, fear threatens the withdrawal of affection. Fear threatens the exposure of the Dark side of self. Fear also threatens the exposure of the Light Side of self, the positive qualities that people have that they’ve similarly learned to tuck away. It’s what psychologists call the Shadow, the Dark Shadow and the Light Shadow. Fear threatens to expose them both.
Fear threatens also to produce or generate destruction. It threatens that you’ll be totally obliterated, totally demolished – and short of it that, you won’t have the gift of death, but that you’ll have to survive.
And fear blackmails. Fear says, ‘If you don’t watch out, we’re going to cause you to have love withdrawn, and you’re going to end up all alone and lonely.’ Or, ‘We’re going to expose you, and everyone will see your ambition, and your aggressiveness, and the pride and hostility, and all those ugly things you thought you had hidden so well.’ Or, worse yet, ‘We’re going to expose you, and they’re going to see your power and strength and talent and all the beautiful parts that you’ve hidden away.’
It’s blackmail, just as if someone said, ‘We’re going to expose something, so pay up.’ Well, that’s what fear does. It says, ‘If you don’t cooperate with us, if you don’t be afraid of us, then we’re going to do something, and you’d better pay up.’
And as with any blackmail, if you expose it, you’re safe. Why would love be withdrawn? What would happen to intimacy, the caring? What is that Dark Side that you’re so afraid of, or the Light Side that you’re even more afraid of? What could be the potential physical damage or maiming or impotence that would be there? What is the loneliness that would be there? What is the loneliness that it really threatens?
And as you can expose that to yourself, then you reduce -not eliminate, but reduce — why fear is so scary. Once you reduce it, then fear can once again become that instinct that is a natural part of you — the survival instinct of fight, flight, reproduce and feed yourself. It can become the teacher.
Fear was your first teacher, the very first one you ever had. The fear of mother withdrawing the nursing, the love, the nurturing. It is a great teacher. It is a motivator, certainly so. If necessity is the mother of invention, then too often the father of invention is fear. It can be a great motivator, and we would suggest it also haunts and looms. But it can also warn you, cause you to remind yourself and to keep within the boundaries of your own self and your own direction. Fear can be the boundary to let you know when you’re getting off course.
So it can be very positive if you can take away the blackmail. And in that scope, once you remove the blackmail then you can learn to work with fear, and it doesn’t have to be so frightening. It doesn’t have to be the enemy. In fact, it can become a strange, but nonetheless very valuable, ally. And in this time, it is so important that people really not just say the words and let them pass on by, not just pay lip service to ‘fear of success,’ but that they also dig into it and really resolve these issues.
In this decade the greatest of fears and the greatest of joys will be there for humanity — in an individual and a collective way — to embrace. As you learn to handle both your right of success and the mask or the shadows of fear, then you can more readily choose the greatest joys and greatest of dreams, and work with and use those fears to implement them.
With love and peace …