Fear of Success

Laura Novakowski  -  Sep 19, 2013  -  , , , ,  -  Comments Off on Fear of Success

fishinabowl_Sept_17_2013 In business, as in life, there is a tremendous amount of pressure and fear.  We all know that some of those greatest fears are fear of failure, fear of public speaking, fear of….  Obviously, that list can go on and on. Interestingly enough, one of the greatest fears that people possess is the fear of success.

Abraham Maslow, a renowned psychologist, once wrote, “So often we run away from the responsibilities dictated (or rather suggested) by nature, by fate, even sometimes by accident, just as Jonah tried—in vain—to run away from his fate.”

In the Biblical story of Jonah and the Whale, Jonah tries to evade his destiny, is swallowed by a whale and successfully lives after spending three days and nights in its belly. Jonah eventually fulfills his destiny.  With the story in mind, the Jonah Complex was created. Although the complex has been attributed to Dr. Maslow, the Jonah Complex was originally suggested by his friend, Professor Frank Manuel.   The complex   is defined by Maslow as the fear of success which prevents self-actualization or the realization of one’s potential. It is the fear of one’s own greatness, the evasion of one’s destiny, or the avoidance of exercising one’s talents. 

Being fearful of success can seem counter-intuitive, it does explain how even the most apparently confident person can sabotage their success.  So, what are five of the signs that demonstrate that we might be experiencing the Jonah Complex?

1.      Procrastination – We keep putting off the “must dos” on our list and focus on the “comfortable-to-dos.”  For example, investors request a business plan and we can’t seem to get it done. We need to make cold calls and we send emails or call after business hours only to reach voice mail. A procrastination technique that hits close to home is to “rescue’ someone else because their business or problem is more important than mine.

2.      Not fully aware of capabilities – All too often, as leaders, we don’t know our individual or our company’s collective capabilities. We fail to succeed because we fail to evaluate our own skills, gifts and talents.  All too often, we can easily identify our weaknesses. As a result, we spend our time trying to “fix” those attributes or issues that can and won’t lead us to success anyway.

3.      Not emotionalizing our vision – There is no hope for success without passion. We fail to generate enough energy and emotion to propel us forward.  We would rather sleep, eat, party or any other of those “feel good” actions that give us short term happiness, not long term satisfaction.

4.      Letting others talk us out of the idea –We will talk about the dream, the idea or objective, rather than planning the approach. When we share our aspirations with others, we receive “advice.” Yes, the advice may be well meaning and have some merit for caution and consideration. But nothing, and I mean nothing, should cause us to cloister our dream on a shelf, gathering dust.

5.      Negative Self-talk – This last sign may actually occur because we have experienced the previous four.  Even though leaders and entrepreneurs know that we are capable of being successful, we don’t believe in it or more importantly in ourselves. Subsequently, our failure to believe in ourselves causes us to “talk” ourselves out of the idea even before it can get off the ground. The record that runs in our head can go like this: “Some else has done this already.” “I don’t have the right connections.” “We don’t have enough money.”

Now our dream is stalled and stymied.  Is that what we really want to have happen?

So, what can we do? And, more importantly, what will we do?

fishjumpingoutofbowl_Sept_17_2013We tackle these five signs that we use to sabotage our success. We confront our fears by being:

  1. Pro-active – The surest way to overcome procrastination is for leaders to commit and focus on what is important to the success of our endeavor. We set aside time to strategize, plan, set objectives, goals and action plans and we let NOTHING interrupt that time or process.
  2. Ongoing evaluators of our capabilities – As leaders, we become life-long self and organizational evaluators. In self and organizational evaluation process, we take a long hard look at what are our greatest strengths, our successes and the challenges we had to overcome. This is much more difficult than we often realize, research shows that 80 to 85% of our evaluations will be directed at our failures, limitations and weaknesses.
  3. Put PASSION behind our vision – Now is not the time to be humble. In order to build momentum towards success, we need to think amazing thoughts, feel tremendous excitement and share our idea and ideals in an exhilarated manner that captures, at the very least, our heart, our head and our soul.
  4. Thoughtfully consider input – No one can be successful in a bubble. We cannot go it alone. However, be very, very discerning with how and whom you share your ideas. Life-long friends, colleagues and even trusted advisors may have, consciously or not, have their own agendas and interests.  Even the most well-meaning input doesn’t necessarily have full understanding or appreciation of what we are trying to accomplish. Instead of spending time trying to convince and explain our ideas, we need to be careful not slip into that time-wasting trap. Instead, we keep moving forward towards success.
  5. Positive Self-talk – We need to change the recording playing in our head. We need to use positive self-talk to propel us forward, saying it over and over again, in our head and aloud. Even writing on post-it notes, what we are and what we capable of doing is one of the most valuable tools to lead us to success. I have even left myself a voice message to myself stating a positive affirmation (aka – positive self-talk). This can be a lifeline when we hit a wall.

In summary, if we take the premise of the Jonah Complex, that we are destined for success and we must overcome all the obstacles that prevent us from being fully actualized, then we will not ever need to fear success again.

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