You may be more afraid of success than failure


Only those who will risk going too far can
possibly find out how far one can go.
– T.S. Eliot

Sometimes, failing is easy. Success is hard. Failing is status quo, back to the norm, maybe even farther back to slackville. Success can bring envy, jealousy, hurt, notoriety, limelight, pressure, confusion. Success takes courage.

Yes, failing can be terrifying when the stakes are high. It’s why I no longer hit those big jumps in the ski park. I crashed hard once, and the ski patroller who picked me out of the snow indentation said to me solemnly, “You know son, these jumps are a young man’s game.” Actually, I just lied. After three years away from it, my son recently coached me to jump again. Feels awesome.

But sometimes the thought of accomplishing your audacious dreams can be just as uncomfortable as dreading failure. It’s the same emotional trigger. This is The Fear of Succeeding, and it can be just as nerve-wracking.

Succeeding creates change. Change, by definition, is unfamiliar and uncomfortable. And succeeding can make you stand-out, make you different than your peers.

Some say you are the average of the five people you hang out with the most. The five people you hang out with the most is your posse, your peeps. And the most uncomfortable idea in the world can be the threat of social and emotional isolation from your tribe. It’s terrifying that actualizing your dreams might alienate those closest to you, simply by stepping outside of the group’s comfort zone.

Fear of social and emotional isolation is the first hurdle to overcome on our way to taking on, and crushing, our own audacious challenges. Start by demonstrating to others they are safe in following their ambitions. Cheer on and support your friends and colleagues when they step out and try something bold. True, they might bomb anyway, but make sure they don’t bomb because you made them feel like they don’t deserve to succeed.

Guilt over asserting yourself in competition is another big one. You know how your game elevates when you play someone better than you? It feels good when someone pulls you up a notch, but the inverse can be uncomfortable. When you are the one elevating the game, when you are the one quickening the pace it can feel like you are dropping your pals, betraying loyalties.

We also sabotage ourselves by fearing that we may discover higher potential. We might feel unworthy or unqualified. The secret here is focus on competence, not confidence. Too often we clench our fists and try to summon confidence on demand. However, it is true, as Amy Cuddy demonstrates, when we make power poses and take an assertive posture it allow a release of dopamine, and a burst of confidence. But true, profound confidence comes from deep competence. Your true potential comes from the tenacity of pursuing excellence.

Finally, there is the pressure to constantly match or exceed one’s own previous best performance. There is a 10k road race I do every year. And every year I try to post a personal best. Usually I don’t beat my previous performance, but I try to. It’s getting tougher every year to beat myself, but I still believe it’s possible. Last year I posted a personal best I posted over 9 years ago. It’s hard, but it can be done. But here’s the funny thing. I exceeded what I thought was my own capacity by approaching the problem differently. I used to train in volume, now I train in quality.

The same is true in many aspects of life. Pursue quality, not quantity. Because we can explore new outputs only by changing the inputs.

When in doubt, get pronoid. Pronoia is the opposite of paranoia. Pronoia is the belief that the world, and everyone around you is conspiring for your success.