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Are you afraid of success?

Are you Afraid of Success?

Which of these two statements best describes you:

  1. I seek comfort and security.  I like when things are stable.  I like to take on projects that are similar to other work that I have done.
  2. I routinely push myself out of my comfort zone to grow as a professional.  I like to live on the edge and I get excited about big challenges.

Here is the interesting thing: I tell myself that I want the second yet I live my life as if I want the first.  Let me explain.

I tend to get bored with easy projects.  I find it hard to be motivated on projects that don’t challenge me and I have to push myself to just do my job as a project manager and to make progress.  I tell myself it is because I like big challenges and I eschew comfort.  This may very well be true.

In fact, I used to tell mentees that if you are comfortable in your job, you have probably stopped growing.  I used to tell them something like this:

When you first start a new job, you learn a lot in the first few weeks and months.  And you are the most scared at that time as well.  Over time, you tend to learn less and less.  So you will need to get used to being scared.  In fact, in order to maximize your growth as a professional, you need to change jobs frequently.  If you are comfortable, you are not growing.  Seek discomfort and fear, not comfort.

That’s what I tell people.  It is like what my mentor Rich says, “you need to make friends with fear”.

But when I land a new challenge, I usually forget all that business about seeking discomfort and getting chummy with fear.  I get terrified.  Instead of feeling excited, I start to think about how I am not up to the challenge, how I will likely fail, and how embarrassed I will be when everyone realizes that I am a fraud.  My mind wanders to all the downside risks.  At that very moment when I should feel excited, I am feeling scared because I just don’t feel up to the challenge.  My excitement becomes fear.

And there is one other thing, or one other reason for this excitement/fear mix-up.  When I look back to my childhood, there was a pattern to how my Dad treated me when I got excited.  He had a way of bringing me down when I was excited; of taking the wind out of my sails.  I don’t know if my excitement scared him or made him jealous but I know that at an early age I learned to hide my excitement from him or he would use it against me.  The thing I was most excited about was the very thing he would take from me or threaten to take from me.  For example, he made me quit the 8th grade track team as a punishment for some offense I don’t remember.  The track team was something I was excited about.

Perhaps this is why I now get emotionally confused; I get scared when something excites me.  When I start living big and taking on big challenges, I wind up getting scared.  And not just scared, I get terrified.

My pattern goes something like this (I know because I just went through this when I took on a new consulting assignment two weeks ago):

Live Big -> Go for it -> Get Opportunity -> Get Excited -> Get Scared -> Get Terrified


So what do I do to overcome this pattern?  The first thing to do is recognize the pattern.  This is the essence of emotional self-awareness.  That goes a long way to changing the behavior.  Once I know that I will get scared when I should be excited, I can anticipate that feeling and choose to make a shift (emotional self-management).  In the moment when I get terrified, I can choose to do it different.  I can see the fear for what it is and then remind myself of all the reasons I should be excited.  I am not surprised and I don’t beat myself up for it, I just make the shift and move on.

I am not suggesting that I am perfect but I have gotten better over the years.  I have empowered myself to behave in a more effective manner.  I still go through the excitement to fear cycle but now I move through it quicker and get back on my feet more rapidly.

So are are you going for it and living big?  Are you getting scared in the process?  What helps you to push through the fear?  I’d like to hear about your experience.



This Post Has 3 Comments

  1. John Reiling

    Great post. Yes, I think there is a struggle in all of us between comfort/security and risk, where the latter produces growth and the former produces, well, comfort! But as you stated about becoming “chummy” with discomfort, yes, that is a good thing. It helps to realize that nothing is for sure, and that our best security is to use our own wits to make judgements on probabilities, and thus create our own comfort.
    Looks like you have a strong intrest in emotional intelligence. Great topic for so many of us…, and something I do not see much of.
    John Reiling, PMP

  2. Anthony Mersino

    Hi John, thanks for your comments and insights. I agree with you on the comment about security and comfort being found by each individual though I would argue that true security is the realization that there is no security.
    Thanks for visiting and please come back again!

  3. Sean

    Thanks for the great post Anthony. I wonder though; are we really “comfortable” or are we clinging to the familiar instead? Would we not experience far greater comfort experiencing more wealth, better health and the freedom of time to be with and do the things we love most? The risk that any given effort exerted now will be do nothing to advance my position or lead me in the wrong direction or slow the process down, or delay my success by months, if not years, or that if I do this strategy then I cannot do that strategy which may work better … the opportunity cost … is the biggest thing that stops me in my tracks.
    I’ll be asking questions of myself almost all the time; “is this worth doing now, or is something else more worth it”, “is this the right way to go about executing this method of wealth creation”, “is this really the best use of my time right now given all the other things I could be doing to advance my career or friendships, help me get ready for a new week of work, or find what could be more effective ways of reaching my goals sooner?”.
    As soon as my mind can find more reasons to say NO than to say YES, that is where the process stops dead in it’s tracks and has to start all over again.
    Therefore I find that the key to reaching any goal is to pick a system(s) that, if executed well enough, will HIGHLY LIKELY get you closer to your goals or a particular goal. Then stay on track by continually reaffirming to yourself that “by continuing on this path until I can determine beyond a shadow of a doubt whether this system works for me or not, I am FAR more likely to reach my goals sooner doing THIS than I am by doing anything else right now.”
    Hope this can work for you too!

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