The Fear of Success

by Rebekah Rhys

In the summer of 2006, I started a career as a singer/ songwriter. After a few years of playing locally in the West Michigan area and finishing my first album, I felt like I needed to move to Nashville to expand my audience and increase my chances for success.

My dad took a road trip with me and we scouted out “Music City”, looked at apartments for rent, and I applied for a few day jobs so I could pursue my career in music. Everything seemed to line up. I found an apartment in my price range with a couple of really nice roommates, and the restaurant I applied to was ready to hire me. My dreams were being realized!

But just as I was getting ready to launch, something unexpected happened. Somewhere in the process of packing up boxes, cleaning house, and saying goodbye, I was promptly talked OUT of moving by well-meaning family and friends who insisted I could stay right where I was AND play music. And while they turned out to be right about the West Michigan music scene, not moving to Nashville then is still one of the biggest regrets I have.

I felt poised to take a big step forward in my life and career, and when I was close to realizing my dreams, what happened? I encountered, in a big way, the monster known as self-sabotage.

Like preparing for a big move, going through the process of starting a new company, working on a rebrand, or embarking on a new project sets into motion some predictable stages. These stages are not only practical, but have a psychological element, too:

  1. The dreaming stage – A dream is recognized and begins to excite.
  2. The planning stage – A plan is put into place with a general idea outlined.
  3. The work stage – The phone calls, emails, projects and behind-the-scenes heavy lifting take place.
  4. The execution stage – The plan is put forth into the world, the announcement is made, the project is complete.

In the midst of most projects I manage, something strange starts to happen somewhere at the junction of Steps 3 and 4. Just as the dream or vision is about to become reality, things can start to get weird. You may all of a sudden try to change direction (which is a form of procrastination), blame those around you for a potential disaster, lash out at those closest to you, and experience anxiety, sleeplessness, frustration, isolation, and depression, and many other behaviors that donʼt feel quite “like you.”

All this weirdness is rooted in fear. Your animal brain is telling you to step back, self-protect and stay in the safe zone. But fear doesn’t always have to be a bad thing. It is a necessary part of our evolution, and helps protect us from harm. An idea in the dreaming stage is exempt from fear, because we are designing our ideal future in a safe place inside our brains. However, once the path towards a dream becomes more tangible, a feeling of dread begins to slowly creep in.

So what are we afraid of? A lot has been written about the fear of failure, which is ever-present in any new venture. However, a fear of success can be as equally devastating, and can even sometimes derail a project to the point where it will never recover. Iʼll never know if I would have found wild success in Nashville, but the reason Iʼll never know is because not only was I asking ‘What if Iʼm a massive failure?ʼ but also ‘What if Iʼm a wild success?ʼ

The fear of success is really a fear of the unknown. Todayʼs reality, no matter how frustrating or imperfect, at least is known. We know how to navigate our relationships, our bills, and our reality today. What if we had a

substantially larger income? How would that change our lives? Would we lose our friends, become self- absorbed? How would this effect our tax bracket, the way our family treats us, the neighborhood we would live in? Because we donʼt have answers to those questions (because, letʼs be honest, thereʼs no way we can predict the future), weʼd prefer to remain in our current state, because itʼs known. Our brains will work tirelessly to keep us safe, and theyʼll do it by convincing us to stay in our cave rather than go out and explore, for fear of being eaten by a saber-toothed tiger.

How do you get past this fear and into realizing your hard work? First, recognize these self-sabotaging behaviors in yourself and your team. Then, I recommend following these three steps.

Look backwards

First, look backwards. Remember where you came from, and examine the process that led up to where you are today. Re-affirm the team you chose to take you on your journey forward. Remember why you chose to trust the team that you did. You and your team have worked hard to get you to where you are now. Continue to trust them and the process to keep you going down the path youʼre on.

Look forwards

Look to the future. After you launch your project, business orcampaign, where are you headed? Why did you want to create your goal or build the business you have in the first place? Looking ahead to the finish line helps you focus on whatʼs next. If your goal feels vague, this is a great time to shore up your specific
measurables and hone in on that goal.

Embrace the process today

The slog of deadlines, deliverables, and communications is never exciting. Look to the future, and use your vision to help you focus on what you’re doing today. Re-invigorate your excitement about crossing the finish line and it can help make those daily emails a little easier. Itʼs easy to tune out of small decisions, but being involved in the process ensures youʼll be happier with the end result. If you can get through some of the fear of failure hard stuff by looking back to how far you’ve come, keeping your eyes on the goal you set in the beginning, and embracing the small details of today, you’ll avoid stopping your project in its tracks and keep moving forward.

Some of the best ideas never move past the idea stage. But when they do, they have the chance to change the world. So, move to Nashville, overcome your fear and cross the finish line.