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2021 Jul

Fear of Success

Lindsay shares how we can sometimes be our own worst enemies.

When you’re trying to make a dream come true, it’s good to have a road map of what to expect. Our dreams for the future originate in hopes and fantasies, but we also need practical guidance. If we’re lucky, we have people in our lives who can direct and advise us while supporting our excitement and inspiration. And if we’re really lucky, we will have people who secretly know how tough some of these quests can be and who will steady us through moments of disappointment or cold feet if we start to lose our nerve.

While we don’t want to be discouraged by hearing about everything that could go wrong, it is invaluable to find supporters who know how these things go and aren’t fazed by some setbacks. These people can show you how to make plans and keep moving forward even when you don’t feel like it. They are there to remind you that perseverance and endurance are developed on-the-job and that these skills are usually in short supply when we start out. We need to seek out people who believe in us and keep telling us that we can do it, that even though it gets hard, we should keep going because it’s the only way to make a dream come true.

But sometimes our biggest obstacles are strictly interior, especially when we are on the cusp of success. Going after something you’ve always wanted is an act of high creativity, revealing yourself like never before. This can be scary, even for seasoned risk takers, because the desired goal can feel personal to the point of exposure. It’s the rare person who sails ahead confidently without any fears about how their creativity will be received. It’s like laying your artist’s heart out on the examining table and then soliciting everyone’s opinion on what they see.

Sometimes, when the dream is very dear to us, we can even develop a totally irrational fear of success, of what might happen if we got what we want. This might take the form of deep fears about something terrible happening as a result of going forward with our plans. Some people literally have a sensation of doom or imagine someone might get sick or die, as though fate might intervene just as they were about to reach their goal.

If your goals are big enough and meaningful enough, these fears are very common. It’s as though there is a child part of us who worries that if we get too big for our britches, we’ll bring down a comeuppance on our heads.

This is often the case if we didn’t receive enough encouragement for our goals as we were growing up. Without this support, we might fear arousing envy or attack, as opposed to approval. Whatever the source, the fear of success can make us pull back just when we need to be pushing forward. This is when it pays to know the road map and to realize that big fears are a predictable part of going after big dreams.

Actually, on the journey to making your dreams come true, these sorts of fears are a good sign. First of all, they only happen when it’s something that you deeply, deeply care about, something that can take you where you want to go. Secondly, because they arise out of taking the risk to be your true self, they challenge you to become stronger in your self-support. Thirdly, because big fears tend to occur late in the process, they mean that you are getting much closer to making your dream come true in the real world. It’s only when we are about to succeed that our biggest fears come out.

My hope is that you will welcome success on your vision quest without the big fears. It might just happen that way. But just in case that big fear does come up, now you’ll be ready for it. It’s a normal obstacle on the path to success so you needn’t be thrown by it. The big fear of a cosmic knockdown right before you make it big becomes just one more road sign on your way to making your dreams come true. Just give it a nod and keep following your map.

Lindsay Gibson

Lindsay Gibson, Psy.D., is a clinical psychologist in practice in Virginia Beach. She is the author of Adult Children of Emotionally Immature Parents and Who You Were Meant To Be. Visit www.drlindsaygibson.com for more information.

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