Stuck In The Middle Podcast
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The fear of success: is this a real thing? (Part 1)

For as long as I can remember, I have always been a very timid person. I would literally cry or go mute or suddenly stiff when I was made the center of attention. One story in particular comes to mind: I was in nursery 2 and in one of those drawing book assignments we were asked to color a rooster. I remember doing mine so beautifully; I colored within the lines, I used a cream white crayon for the body and the red crayon for the comb and wattle. I even remember adding a few colors to mark some tail feathers just like on some of the chickens I had seen at home. For a four year old, I did a really good job. However, one of my teachers noticed how nice my coloring was and remarked that I had done a really good job and she started talking about it. I panicked and didn't want to draw any attention to myself so I picked up other crayons; green, blue and red and just made a mess of my beautiful picture. By the time my teacher came to collect my book to show the other teacher, I had ruined the rooster. She was so shocked and asked why, but I couldn't explain.

Throughout my life, there have been so many incidents where I got an opportunity to shine or showcase myself and I just ruined it deliberately. There were times I intentionally stopped performing well in school just to stop getting the accompanying attention. Or the time I deliberately injured myself so I could stop playing basketball just so I wouldn't draw attention to myself.

Growing up, I never understood why I did any of those things but as an adult, the more I thought about it, the more I saw a pattern which helped me face the reality of what I was dealing with.

Now why would anyone be afraid of success? It's crazy right? But here's the thing; the problem isn't really the success itself, but certain feelings or memories or experiences associated with the success that we dread. For some people, success reminds them of some form of abuse they experienced (smart kids get bullied a lot); for others it reminds them of pain or loss. For me, I dreaded being the center of attention. Having established this pattern for so long, people with the fear of success unconsciously or sometimes deliberately sabotage every opportunity they have to succeed, just to avoid dealing with that memory or pain. They become underachievers, they deliberately work underpaying jobs, they settle for less.

The fear of success is real. The sad thing is many people don't even realize that they have it. But the good news is like any other fear, it can be overcome. How was I able to overcome my fear? The first step is acknowledging that it's a real issue. The rest is a topic for another day.

Do you think this is something worth discussing? Have you been dealing with something similar? I'd like to know what you think. Please share your thoughts and experiences in the comment section and stay tuned for the follow-up article.

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