The thing about the fear of success is that it doesn’t manifest in an obvious way. Very few people sit around and think, “Success? Oh, yeah, I don’t want that! That sounds awful! I’m afraid of it!” That isn’t how it goes — it’s much more insidious than that.
As part of my birthday celebration, I went and saw the latest Harry Potter movie in the theater (and thoroughly enjoyed myself). It got me thinking about the series’ author, J. K. Rowling, and the wild success she’s had as an author. She was only 31 when she sold the first book in the Harry Potter series, and much younger when she wrote it. She has been phenomenally, incomparably, unprecedentedly successful as an author. I don’t presume that my future will ever look anything like hers, but still, I believe that my future success may, in fact, lie in the same area: writing. As soon as my brain makes that connection, I start to fantasize about getting a flash of divine inspiration and becoming a world famous (and unbelievably wealthy) author.
And then the very next thought is, “But I wouldn’t really want that.” I’m thinking about the fact that she probably needs a security staff, she may have to be away from her family for press events, managing all that money would be so much trouble, and the pressure that it would be to have to constantly improve on the fantastic storytelling she’s already created.
Really? Really?!? Even in my fantasy about what kind of success I could achieve, I’m shooting myself in the foot. I’m shifting my sights lower before I’ve even taken the first step. I’m not saying that this mental sabotage is what’s going to make the difference between seeing me on the New York Times bestseller list and not, but it surely isn’t going to help my progress.
Frankly, if I end up creating the next Harry Potter or the next Twilight, I really, truly, sincerely believe I could overcome whatever downside there might be. I think I’ll find the solution. And if I can’t, I’ll hire someone else to do it. (Duh. That’s what all that money is FOR.)
If I set that kind of thinking aside, though, a truly scary thing happens — the next thought is, “Ok, now what?” Well, now, I’d better get going. Because if I can even imagine something like that for myself, and I don’t cut those thoughts short with my own fear of success, then there’s nothing to do next but to DO something. Move forward. Start down the path. Make something happen. Now the burden of failing or succeeding is on me — but only if I actually do something I can fail or succeed at.