Overcoming the Fear of Success
By Tope Popoola
F.E.A.R – False Evidence Appearing Real Fear has torment – 1 John 4:18 The man who is afraid to die is unwittingly forfeiting his patrimony – Yoruba proverb.
Welcome to the second half of 2010. I trust that the first half has been very eventful for you. May all your losses and defeats in the first half be reversed in the second half. God will make the bounce-back factor work in your favour. So much more can be accomplished in the second half that can dwarf every achievement of the first half.
The title of the series I begin today will no doubt raise questions in your mind. Can anyone really be afraid of success? Is there anyone on earth who does not want to succeed? Everyone I know wishes to succeed but I have found out that there is a world of difference between expressed desires and pursued aspirations.
As we begin the second half, what are your greatest fears? Are they new ones or carried over from the first half? If you do not get rid of, or go ahead in spite of them, you may not have any significantly different results at the end of the year. Trust me, trembling by the river-bank for fear of crocodiles and blaming everyone who did not build a bridge over the river when they should have will never guarantee your arrival on the other side.
Fear is arguably the most paralysing influences on human achievements. It is in fact the scourge of any significant achievement.
People ruled by fear will never see even the best of their intentions become decisions. The implication of this is a life of complacency and slothfulness borne out of the fact that, as long as the fear is not mastered – and can in fact be justified – nothing gets done!
Fear produces in us an aversion to risk that encourages us to be careful where and when we should be daring. An enviable life is epitomized by risks. The life of faith is a risk and it is very risky not to take risks! Great achievers will tell you that while they were doing the things that made them succeed, a great proportion of the time, their heart was in their mouth. It was not that they were not afraid, it was that they defied the fear and went ahead to do what they felt they needed to do! If the venture fails, they simply learn the lessons inherent in the experience and move ahead again until they succeed. Thomas Edison was an unrepentant risk-taker. It got so bad at a point that his financiers actually pulled the plug on him because they thought he was going too far with his “crazy” research projects. In spite of that, he went ahead and gave the world over 1000 patented inventions!
Let’s take a quick look at the common fears that we all experience at some point. Fear of death This happens especially if the venture will involve moving from one point to another. People who are victims of this always imagine themselves being involved in an accident even before they have embarked on the journey. When they hear of accidents along the route they would follow, it becomes their alibi for not venturing. Consequently, their sense of adventure is highly limited. They are like the man described in Proverbs 26:13 not wanting to leave the house because he is convinced there is a lion on the street waiting to destroy him! They will not be caught dead doing certain jobs that entail risks, no matter how mouth-watering the pay packet may be.
A friend of mine would never be caught dead in an airplane even if you bought him a first class ticket. The mere mention of flying makes him go on a creative imagination of air crashes and how no one usually survives it! To people like this, it is as if the fear of death is an insurance against death itself! Truth be told, death is a reality that will happen to all, young or old, whether or not you fear it. In accidents, many people have been known to die from fear-induced heart attacks than the actual accident itself!
The story is told of a king who signed a pact with death to the effect that whenever death would come calling in the village, he was to take away only those above the age of 90.
However, on death’s first visit after the pact, about ten people died who were far younger than the prescribed age. Incensed by deaths’ inability to respect an agreement, the king confronted him to know why he was such a terrible covenant breaker. To which death replied, “In accordance with our agreement, I only took one man who was 93 years old. Fear of my presence in town took the rest!”
Yours truly had cause to address the topic THE LEADERSHIP IMPERATIVE at the maiden edition of the monthly LEADERS AT LUNCH which held recently in Lagos. It was exciting speaking to Leaders representative of different spectra of society. If you are interested in being part of this monthly event that seeks to address critical issues on Leadership and its role in personal and national transformation, you can indicate by sending me an e-mail. I will be more than glad to supply details on how you can participate. We continue our discourse.
Apart from the fear of death discussed last week, we also have:
Fear of the unknown
I have no doubt you are familiar with the expression “The devil you know is better than the angel you do not know”. Well, I do not know anything good or desirable about any devil, even if you were next-door neighbours! People possessed of this type of fear would rather stay within the confines set by status quo. They are resolute establishmentarians for whom change is practically anathema. They have an idea or even a clear picture of a more desirable future but cannot take responsibility for the disciplines and risks necessary to access it. So even when present location or situation is not the ideal, they hesitate to move because they are constantly afraid of the unknown. The familiar is their own ideal. Such people would rather tread well-worn paths than chart a unique and unprecedented pathway.
Fear of people’s opinion
This is a product of a terrible self-esteem that only measures achievement from the binoculars of others. Victims of this type of fear, even when they have a conviction about a matter, routinely subject it to other people’s opinion because they so desperately need the validation that such people give. People in this situation hardly take the initiative for anything. Like rolling stone, they gather no moss. Even when an idea is so real, they would usually wait for someone else to blaze the trail before they attempt to make their own move. As a Trainer/Public Speaker, I have noticed that whenever people are asked to ask questions after a presentation, you find people looking around for the first person to raise his hand. As soon as someone has done so, you suddenly start seeing so many hands now wanting to ask questions.
To the man who is captive to others’ opinion, what is popular is more important than what is right! He would rather be popular than be relevant. He impresses more than he impacts. For him, image is everything. For this reason, he cannot take a stand for anything that puts him in opposition to the very people whose validation he so desperately seeks. He constantly seeks to be “politically correct” because he does not want anything that pitches him against other people. Even when he is right and has superior argument on his side, he cannot afford to fall out of favour with people.
Fear of failure
People who are under the grip of this dimension of fear have an aversion to venturing because they do not want to ever make a mistake. Result? They end up making nothing! They constantly live in the illusion of waiting for conditions to be perfect. They would rather wait to get it right than get it going.
Yet the Bible clearly indicates that those who wait for all conditions to be perfect will never get anything done. They will readily manufacture excuses for validating inaction and procrastination even when it is obvious that their fears are misplaced. Their favourite mantra is “I don’t’ want to do anything now until I know exactly what needs to be done. I can’t afford any mistakes”. They justify their inertia by an abundant repertoire of stories of failed ventures to assuage their own coward minds. They constantly invent disaster stories, market crashes, accidents, business failures etc. as their great excuse for not venturing.
Having identified these fears, I submit that they are actually nothing but the disguise worn by the real fear; the fear of success. The truth is that many people have withdrawn their own permission to succeed by the kind of mindset they have about success. They cannot bear to see themselves bear the responsibility of adopting the lifestyle and disciplines that go with success since they had in time past criticized those who had dared to take the risks involved in succeeding. If for instance, you had concluded that everyone who rides a nice car and lives in a fine house is either a drug-pusher or criminal, you have misguidedly and unwittingly edited yourself from that bracket of life especially if you have no plans to do any of those things you accuse them of.
Take a good look at yourself. Can you convince yourself that you truly deserve to succeed? The real issue in the fear of success is about this; What if it works? Strange but true. Many of us have lofty visions for the future but have withdrawn our permission to succeed because we cannot see ourselves differently from the way we are now! Everything is in our mind and by extension becomes our reality. Here are some of the debilitating beliefs that fuel our fear of success:
I don’t deserve to succeed beyond a level.
Who am I to aspire to the highest position in the organization? That’s only for dreamers. I’m a realist and I don’t fool myself.”
“I don’t ever see myself riding that kind of car” (even though in the inner recesses of your mind, you see yourself behind its steering!)
“There is nobody in my family or circle of friends that has experienced that level of achievement, so why should I be different?”
“As long as I can pay my bills and I don’t owe anyone, I’m content.”
These are some of the subtle, disempowering messages many of us feed our subconscious with on a regular basis. Before I had my first Mercedes Benz, I had always believed it was only for the stinking rich. But one day I convinced myself that if anyone could ride a Benz, so could I? So I went to borrow one from an associate. Without telling him what I needed it for, I simply took a drive around town just to experience the feeling. I loved it and from then on began to tell anyone who cared to listen about my next car, down to the colour even when I had no clue where the money would come from. My dream came true a few weeks thereafter.
‘Success attracts envy’
This thought gnaws at your very soul whenever a part of you wants to strive for the lofty heights in the labyrinths of your dreams especially if in time past you had treated with disdain, people who dared to attain those heights that your mind is now offering you. Shivers run down your spine because you are suddenly hit with the possible reality that this may be payback time? You cannot even bear to accommodate the thought. So you conclude, maybe it’s not worth it afterall!
‘Success exposes one to undue publicity and exposure’
To you, your present obscurity is a form of insurance against public scrutiny. You therefore convince yourself that being in the public eye is not for you. Who wants to hug the headlines and become subject of papparazzi gossip? Well wake up and smell the coffee, no one throws stones at a tree that has no fruits on it! If you recognize that your success is not just about you, you will recognize that this is too small a price to pay. No matter how much you hate publicity, if you are doing anything that touches the core of society at any significant level, people know about you. Even if you try to cover a fire, the smoke will betray its presence!
‘Success exposes one to early death’
This thought pattern convinces you to tread softly so you do not expose yourself to the risk of premature death from people who do not like your face (village witches!) or from the stress of success! Who wants to go through all those endless hours of travel? Too risky you conclude. Well it is better to live one day as a lion than to live 50 years as a dog!
‘You can’t succeed without being crooked’
This mindset is reinforced by the many stories of corporate disasters around us, especially when we find out that they were orchestrated by individuals we thought were the ultimate role models because of the values they projected. If people like that could be corrupted, do I stand a chance you ask?
Afterall, as the Yoruba would put it, behind every story of wealth are some murky, putrefying issues (Isale oro l’egbin)! The real interpretation of that proverb is that if you are going to succeed significantly, you will have to get your hands dirty (not soiled) through hard work and paying the price of applying yourself to certain time-tested principles. It has nothing to do with cutting corners and wrecking others to succeed.
‘Uneasy lies the head that wears the crown’
This is the mindset that convinces you that the responsibilities attached to prominence are too numerous especially when you seem to be the lone island in an ocean of poverty. Siblings, family members, the larger community would suddenly swoop on you and start making demands ranging from what to eat to being the Chief Launcher at every public event. However, are these enough reasons for you not to aspire? How do you permanently conquer this terrible psychological Goliath that is nothing but a destiny saboteur?
Convince yourself that you deserve to succeed.
God’s original plan is for man to succeed. My definition of success is the progressive internalization and realization of God’s purpose for an individual. It’s not about a chain of cars or lots of real estate or the billions in the bank. Those are consequences. Purpose is the cause. If you can discover why you are on earth, and pursue it, your success is only a matter of time. If you make money and have all the big toys without defining your raison d’etre, the frustration of the acquisitions will kill you!
Align your God-inspired purpose with a vision and a compelling desire to make the world a better place for all.
Your discovered purpose is the platform of your significance. Imagine yourself solving problems for humanity with your unique peculiarities and skills. Think of lives being saved, people changed, communities developing, smiling faces, children having good education because of something you did. How does that make you feel?
Be comfortable with the reward of relevance.
The world delivers success to you as the reward for your contribution. The universe has been programmed to deliver rewards to you based on your input. Every day of your life, you are living in a harvest. Success is therefore not a pursuit. It is a reward for purposeful living! The only control you have over the degree of your success is limited to your decision to actualize your discovery and the price you are willing to pay to deploy it for greater good.
Be comfortable with people’s reaction.
Whether or not you succeed, people will still talk about you anyway. Your refusal to succeed doesn’t insulate you from the scourge of the mouth. The key issue is, is what they are saying true? If they accuse you of scandal, can the charge stick? To lead the orchestra, you must turn your back to the crowd and face the music. After a good performance, you can face them while they stand on their feet to applaud an excellent performance. It is ok to be envied, maligned as much as it is to be applauded. Don’t be conceited with the applause and don’t be distracted by the disdain. Just keep moving!
Be comfortable with loneliness.
When God gives you a picture of your destiny, He does not call a council meeting with all your family and friends in attendance! It’s just you and Him. Get used to the fact that those who did not see what you saw cannot be expected to do what you ought to do. Rejection is therefore part of the package. A man of purpose is like a mad man dancing to music that others around him cannot hear. When Paul had his Damascus road encounter in Acts 9, the people with him only heard “a voice (Paul’s I presume) but saw no man” even when two people – he and Jesus – had been speaking. You may be lonely, but you are not alone!
Be comfortable with a new circle of friends.
There is nothing that more effectively edits your circle of relationships than the pursuit of a clearly defined destination. When you resolve to pursue purpose, you are also sending notice to those not relevant to the pursuit to exit your life. If you expect all your old friends to be comfortable with your new status, you joke! The good thing about that is that as you go along, you meet fellow travelers whose hearts are, like you, set on pilgrimage. They don’t speak like your old friends. These ones speak the language of your destination, not the language of your history or your frustration. Initially you may feel strange in their company but not to worry, if you stay around them long enough, you will get used to it.
Be comfortable with opposition.
The only thing that does not encounter opposition is a static object. The enemy is not after your reality but your destiny. The battle is over your future! When you choose to follow the destiny path, opposition will come with a disguise and a sign that says STOP WORK! Don’t oblige him! There is far too much involved!
Death is a universal reality.
Even if you wear an armour to bed, you will die one day. Physical death is the guaranteed end of all flesh whether you fail or succeed. Your ancestors died. Younger people than you die, even infants do. So why don’t you pack adventure into your life while it lasts? You have only one life to live. It’s not a rehearsal, you are on stage for a live performance and your audience is already seated waiting on your every move! Between now and when the curtains are drawn – and there is no room for an encore! – you are the one they came to watch!
How can you waste the applause that is waiting for you?