The Fear of Success

When I was 20, I went to Culinary school in NYC. I loved it. The city was big, bustling, daunting, yet beautiful. I was on my own for the first time in my life, free to make my own choices, and free to succeed or fail. I’d made it through the entire program with flying colors and was now interning at two top vegan restaurants in the upper east side of the city. During my last week of internship the head chef asked me a question. How would I like to be their head pastry chef? The pay was fantastic and the opportunity unmatched. But all I could think about was the comfort and safety of my home in Pennsylvania.

Why are so many of us afraid of success?

I’ve been asking myself this a lot lately, especially as I get closer and closer to my publishing goals and I see my dreams within my grasp. This is when the doubts set in the most.

Psychology Today has this to say about this subject: “People who have experienced trauma may associate the excitement of success with the same physiological reactions as trauma. They avoid subjecting themselves to excitement-inducing circumstances, which causes them to be almost phobic about success. There is another layer to the fear of success. Many of us have been conditioned to believe that the road to success involves risks such as “getting one’s hopes up” — which threatens to lead to disappointment. And many of us — especially if we’ve been subject to verbal abuse — have been told we were losers our whole lives, in one way or another. We have internalized that feedback and feel that we don’t deserve success.”

I know no less than a dozen people that admit to suffering from this condition. Are you one of them?

I’ve often been at the mercy of the fear of failure, which is actually closely associated with the fear of success. Society has painted the idea that we can’t have one over the other. I’m afraid that all my hard work will be wasted. Afraid that people won’t understand me and thus reject my work (and me). Afraid that I’m not good enough. And yes, afraid that once I succeed, it won’t be as grand as I imagined.

But I’ve always wanted to succeed. I want to be a New York Times best selling author, a movie/theater star/writer/director, someone who makes a real difference, and a household name. Does that sound selfish? To be honest, many people have told me it is.


Am I conditioned to believe I’m a loser?

I think I have been. I’ve been told by strangers, the media, pastors (yup, you read that right), and even friends and family that I should prepare for failures because success might never come. Success is selfish. I’ve been told this so much that I didn’t even fathom the results this “conditioning” had brought me.

Have you heard of the book “The Prayer of Jabez?” It’s based on this Bible verse:

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Jabez called upon the God of Israel, saying, “Oh that you would bless me and enlarge my border, and that your hand might be with me, and that you would keep me from harm so that it might not bring me pain!” And God granted what he asked. ~ 1 Chronicles 4:10

Try replacing Jabez with your name in the verse above, and exchange the word boarder with your own career, dreams, family, etc.. That means that whatever you pray for, God just granted your request.

Picture it. Whatever your dream is, it just came true to it’s fullest extent: you’re the top of your field, the best of the best, and EVERYONE knows who you are.

Do you feel anxiety creeping over you? Do you feel completely undeserving of this reward? Are you worried about how this sudden success will affect those around you, yourself, and your future? Are you wondering what’s the catch because this sounds too good to be true?

If you said yes, or even maybe, you might be conditioned too.

Let me see if I can change our loser mindsets, or at least try to steer us in the right direction.

Beloved, I pray that in all respects you may prosper and be in good health, just as your soul prospers. ~ 3 John 1:2

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. ~ Jeremiah 29:11

Yes, God is more than ready to overwhelm you with every form of grace, so that you will have more than enough of everything—every moment and in every way. He will make you overflow with abundance in every good thing you do. ~ 2 Corinthians 9:8

Are you sensing a pattern here? I think God might be trying to tell us something. Here’s my favorite verse:

Delight yourself in the LORD; And He will give you the desires of your heart. ~ Psalms 37:4

I’m sensing that God WANTS us to succeed. As long as we include Him in the process.

I was a different person at 20. After saying no to that job in NYC, I went back to live with my parents, made pennies for the next several years, and regretted my decision of not taking that risk. But then again, I never included God in the decision to stay in NYC or not. I wasn’t a strong believer then, so I’ll never know if it was a risk He wanted me to take. All I know is that my fear caused two long years of failures before I FINALLY asked God what He wanted from me.

He showed me Psalms 37:4, and my life changed forever: I met Andrew two months later.

I tried for years to make culinary work for me. It was safe after all. But I constantly felt like I wasn’t making a difference. In my heart I knew God had more for me. Then when I FINALLY gave that over to God, He showed me writing. Writing is far from safe. There’s an infinite chance of failure. In fact, you could argue that all of my past careers have failed, so why should this one be any different? Why should I hope to succeed? Why do I think I deserve to succeed? And if I succeed, won’t there be a catch? Won’t success ultimately bring failures with it?

My answer: But God.

What I mean is this:

Laura called upon the God of Israel, saying, “Oh that you would bless me and enlarge my writing career, expand my influence, and that your hand might be with me, and that you would keep me from harm so that it might not bring me pain!” And God granted what Laura asked.

What are your thoughts? I’d love to hear what you think on this subject of success, failure, and the path to our future dreams coming true.

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