Legend has it that one day a man was walking in the desert when he met Fear and Plague. They said they were on the way to a city to kill 10,000 people. The man asked Plague if he was going to do all the work.
Plague smiled and said, “No, I’ll take care of only a few hundred. I’ll let my friend Fear do the rest.”
Can you actually die from fear? Most likely not. What fear kills is your spirit, your ambition, your confidence.
Several years ago I wrote a column about “The Second Ten Commandments.” Commandment Two: Thou shall not be fearful, for most of the things we fear never come to pass. Every crisis we face is multiplied when we act out of fear. Fear is a self-fulfilling emotion. When you fear something, you empower it. If you refuse to concede to fear, there is nothing to fear.
Success usually depends on overcoming your fears: fear of taking a risk, fear of asserting yourself, fear of exposing your deepest self to other people, and ultimately, fear of failure. But for some people, the real fear is — believe it or not — success itself.
Fear of failure can be crippling, but fear of success can paralyze your efforts just as severely. Avoiding success may seem irrational, but success brings change, and change is often threatening.
We fear success because success can bring expectations of continued success. Achieving a major goal is hard work. What happens if people expect you to keep doing it indefinitely? Can you continue to produce?
Another concern is that co-workers may look to you for advice or assistance once you’ve proved you can succeed. You may lose control over your time or your privacy. Or you might offer advice that doesn’t work as well as hoped. Then your achievements might become suspect.
And you certainly don’t want to make enemies of the people you work with. Some delight in taking down successful people. Envious or hostile peers can make life miserable. Can you bring them on board on another project so they can also celebrate some success?
The prospect of actually reaching a goal can be terrifying: What comes next? How will people react? What if your goal turns out to be meaningless? These worries can lead to procrastination and self-sabotage. To overcome them, and achieve the success you were meant to enjoy, follow this advice:
• Face your fears. Explore the emotions you have about success. Analyze what you’re really afraid of, and it will usually lose its impact.
• Focus on the process. The end result may be important, but as with any journey, the individual steps can be more meaningful than the destination. Concentrate on what you’re learning, the people you meet and the experiences you collect as you move closer to your goal.
• Analyze past successes. Look at projects or achievements from your past. What obstacles did you face? How did success make you feel? What changed as a result? This will help you sort through and clarify your fears and your ability to overcome them.
• Anticipate the changes. Ask yourself, “What will happen when I succeed?” By confronting fears, you take away their power, and you’ll be able to identify strategies for moving beyond them.
• Select worthwhile goals. Pursue goals that address your needs, not anyone else’s. Take the time to think through what success will really mean before committing yourself. You’ll only be excited about success if it’s what you truly want.
• Think about the rewards. Don’t let concerns about the future distract you from the positive benefits of reaching your goals. Visualize the upside: the final product, a satisfied customer, a check, or some other tangible results.
• Create new behaviors. After you’ve looked through the issues, start devising strategies for moving forward. How can you reinforce your self-confidence? What excuses do you need to eliminate? How can you sustain your motivation?
• Be realistic. Remember that success won’t solve all your problems, but the feeling of accomplishment can make everyday irritations easier to tolerate even if you can’t erase them.
Benjamin Franklin had some timeless advice for those who are afraid of success and failure: “The man who does things makes mistakes, but he never makes the biggest mistake of all — doing nothing.”
Harvey Mackay is the author of the New York Times best-seller, “Swim With the Sharks Without Being Eaten Alive.” To comment, visit harveymackay.com.