The Fear of Succeeding


I have many demons. This probably doesn’t surprise you one bit. We all have them. We are human...it’s a given! A new one popped up recently and it was rather shocking. It was a devilish demon I didn’t even know existed, but now that I’ve spent some time with it, I am starting to understand it’s subtle deviousness and longevity. This guy is not new, but he’s often hard to recognize.

I bring you…..

The Fear of Success.

Sounds weird, right? Many of you might be thinking…”I would LOVE to have some success to be afraid of!” It might sound rather strange, but it is definitely a real thing. It will keep you up at night, cause panic attacks, disrupt your work patterns, it can paralyze you. It’s currently causing me to pick my fingers raw. Yep, I’m a nail picker and biter. (Don’t judge!)

How did this demon come knocking on my door? Well, it started with Cherry Creek this past July. It was a fantastic show and I sold more paintings than I could imagine. That’s when I started getting these pesky doubts:

“You’ll never be able to do that again.”

“How will you find time to make more work? You can’t recover from this”

“What if I never get back in again?”

“What if the buyers change their minds?”

“What if….”

Success can be terrifying because all of a sudden, people are looking at you. They are expecting you to rise to the occasion. They expect you to stay at this summit and thrive. YOU expect you to stay at the top and keep performing. And the possibility of failing to fulfill these internal and external expectations feel very big and very scary.

Success brings with it a hefty weight of responsibility. I noticed this component after have two exhibition proposals approved and two large corporate projects also get approved. I now had to come through on my part of the deal. All of a sudden, I had to produce and it had to be really good. Que the fast breathing, racing mind, and sleepless nights. “How am I going to pull this off?”

So if you see someone that has just landed in a pile of accomplishment and big-dream realizations, please know that they are probably shaking inside, wondering how this is going to turn out. Be gentle, supportive, but treat them as you always have. My guess is that they don’t want to constantly talk about this big break through until they get their fear under control.

With that being said, how do you deal with this demon so you are not afraid to put yourself out there and risk being noticed? Here’s what I’ve learned so far:

Find a friend-- Holding it all inside because you are afraid of what people will think simply gives this big old demon more power, so find someone to talk to. A friend that will listen and not judge or downplay your very real fears. It's not helpful to have someone say that your fears are irrational or unfounded. Hmm....I need to put this into practice at bedtime with my boys.

Write out a strategy-- one of the most powerful tools I’ve come across in dealing with large tasks is to break them down into smaller steps. One thing at a time. When you see the small steps, you see that it is composed mainly of things you already know how to do. There might be some unknowns or things you will need to struggle through, but that will not be the majority. Then, rather than freaking out at all the steps, take them just five at a time and don’t pay attention to the rest if you don’t have to. Make a timeline so you can stay on target for your proposed finish date or exhibition.

Do the work--sometimes, the best way to deal with this demon is just to face it head on, get your head down and start working through your task. My guess is that you will find out in the end that your fear is unfounded. And if you do fall, guess what? You can get back up and try again with a lot less fear because you know you can survive both outcomes, be it failure or success.

What do you think? Have you ever dealt with this kind of fear? Share your comments!

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