Fear of Success, Not Failure.

Many are quick to reject a fear of success. It sounds like a crazy concept. Why should we be afraid of climbing the corporate ladder or achieving fame and fortune?

It all comes down to how we define success.

Each of us has a purpose, a calling, that beckons to us. For some, it is a loud voice, and for others, a soft whisper, safely buried under years of avoidance and excuse. To contemplate answering this call, and to succeed at doing so, is to recognize a tidal wave of trepidation and even outright panic.

Whereas, the fame and success sold to us as worthy of pursuit is quite shallow. It is the homogenized and pasteurized version of success, made safe and simple to consume. It does not exist to provide meaning, happiness or fulfillment. It is a tool society uses to maintain the status quo.

There is a reason that, almost without fail, everyone in our society struggles with feeling like an imposter. Simply put, this is because we are imposters. We are driven to run away from our calling and purpose, choosing to chase dreams and distractions in the hope that we can drown out the sadness that whispers and bubbles up from our souls.

It’s far easier to shush the timid voice that calls for us to step onto the stage, write that novel, draw, create or help those in need. Our psyche has been wired, over centuries, to move us away from pain and towards pleasure. And there is much pleasure, albeit fleeting, in striving for comfort and security. We may not love our jobs, but we can take solace in the stability they promise and the sense that we are behaving as productive and respected members of our society.

Each of us is called to a life of meaning and purpose. It is not a religious concept, per se. We have been pulled in this manner for as far back as we can trace. To feel the call is to be human, and perhaps it is shared by every form of life on this planet.

Recognizing our purpose, though, is hard. It is to acknowledge the treacherous path towards the very pain we have spent our life running from. To walk the path, harder still.

And to contemplate success on this path is to raise every demon and insecurity we have ever felt. So many beliefs, actions and accomplishments are suddenly called into question. Worse, it unveils the atrocities we have knowingly inflicted on the child within — our efforts to silence the voice that yearned to walk this path and make our contribution.

I love a beautiful and kind man who is called to reconnect people with the fragility that is our ecosystem but is afraid to begin as his actions will never be enough.
I adore a woman whose heart cries out every day against the horrors being committed to the beings on this planet who have no voice, but is torn apart by the fear of what she will lose to help those in need.
I admire a friend who yearns to reach out and giving loving support to those who have been abused, like her, and yet I know she is deathly afraid of what she will uncover.
I yearn to act in loving kindness, but I am deathly afraid that I am not worthy.

We are all afraid.

So what to do?

Know that you are among friends when you are afraid of what success might bring. You stand united with humanity if you feel that the problem is too large, or your potential impact too small, to make any real difference.

All of us will fail. Failure is not what matters, but rather how many times we brush off the scuff marks and step forward to answer the call in our hearts.

Fear of success may be the most challenging concept standing between us and a life of meaning and purpose. It is also the gateway to stand naked, alive and present, on this planet.


Sean Howard is the author of Creators 2.0, the host of Taking the Leap! and Here Be Dragons. You can learn more at: seanhoward.ca.

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