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Ten Steps to Overcoming Fear of Success!
by Loral Lee Besola

Not everyone understands the concept of Fear of Success, but many people know exactly what that means. Others recognize it once the symptoms are described to them. It's something that affects an equal number of men and women, boys and girls.

Most theories suggest that this fear starts in childhood. Parents and siblings, teachers and friends, religious leaders and other family members can all play a role in the development of this fear. If Anne (a hypothetical child) excels at drawing, for instance, her family may be proud yet threatened by her excellence. So they send her an mixed message, namely, "It's ok to make us proud but don't you dare become too accomplished." If she ignores this message and excels beyond the level they unconsciously set for her, their disapproval is shown in myriad ways-overt or covert displeasure, rejection, even punishment.

Similarly, schools create this fear by the messages they send. "Excel, but make sure you don't make any of the slower or lazier children feel bad about themselves." If Anne is at the top of her class, the other children (or even teachers), may tease her, make fun of her, or avoid her. The boys may feel threatened by her and keep their distance. The teachers and counselors tell her to keep her grades up so she can get into a good college, but may steer her in the direction of lower level math and science and encourage her to think "realistically" about how difficult it is for a woman to balance both career and family-that she'll be forced to make a choice at some point in her life.

Religion can create this fear. "Success is money and money is evil." Some religions foster the belief that our life purpose is hard work, self-sacrifice, and martyrdom, which means, of course, that the happiness that comes from living our ideal life (i.e., Success), is worldly and of the devil.

Even as adults, we get this from family, friends, work, and society at large. Some of us buy into this, subconsciously but thoroughly. Fear of success manifests itself in many ways. We deny our competence by saying it was luck, a miracle, the help of others. We become preoccupied with being evaluated by others. We feel intense anxiety at the thought of being in competition or conflict with powerful or important people.

We may have chronic feelings of inadequacy, and if we get too close to our Success, we feel like a fraud or phony, and we fear being found out. We lack self-confidence although we may put on a show of bravado. We're afraid of asserting our rights or desires for fear of inconveniencing, hurting, or depriving someone else. We may feel suspicious, inhibited, or guilty. We may be over-controlling or over-compliant (at least on the surface.) We self-sabotage when we find ourselves uncomfortably close to achieving our desires.

We feel somewhat ambivalent about Success. And who could blame us, since in the past it brought both joy and punishment? How, then, can we overcome this fear and allow ourselves to push forward and enjoy our Success? Try working through the following steps, either alone, or with a therapist or coach who understands this fear. You'll be able to face your fear of success and destroy it. You'll be able to attain and maintain higher levels of success than you ever dreamed possible. Living well is the best revenge!

Ten Steps

1) Identify your fear (in this case, fear of success).

2) Identify your underlying beliefs about success. It might be helpful to write several endings to the following sentence stems, spending a few minutes every day for a week on this exercise:

a) Success means . . .
b) If I experienced total success . . .

3) Identify where those beliefs originated. You didn't just make them up out of thin air-you got them from somewhere. Search your mind and soul for their origins.

4) Challenge each belief through the rational eyes of an adult. Note where it came from and what that person's or organization's agenda likely was.

5) Decide which beliefs to keep, which to remodel, and which to throw in the dumpster. For those you toss out, be sure to create a healthy belief to adopt in its place so you don't leave a vacuum.

6) Note the successes you've backed away from during your life. In each case, was it because you were uncomfortable with that level of success, or was it a case of covert rebellion against achieving someone else's definition of success? For example, some women love being a receptionist and would absolutely despise having to be a manager or director, so they sabotage their chances. That's not a bad thing. Just learn to make conscious choices.

7) Increase your self-esteem so you can tolerate greater levels of happiness and success. For help with this, try working through The Six Pillars of Self-Esteem, by Dr. Nathaniel Branden.

8) Find a less threatening area of your life to become successful in. This way you can practice living peacefully with success before expanding it to the other areas of your life.

9) Create a great support system for yourself (it doesn't have to include family if they bring you down.) A great support system is comprised of people who bring you up, bring out the best in you, and encourage, even require, you to be your own best self.

10) Decide what your own ideal level of success is, then reach and maintain it, letting everything else go. Also, remember that what you want at this stage of your life could change, so your ideal life is certainly not written in stone. Allow it to change as you grow.

This is a lot of work. It takes time. Sometimes it's easier to do this type of work with someone else, so feel free to ask for help from a trusted friend or a helping professional like a therapist or coach.

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Failure is Not an Option
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Everyone, at some point in their lives has listened to their little voice cautioning them against following a certain action. If you frequently question what you do and think, and veer away from making decisions, then you may be stopping yourself from reaching your fullest potential. You may be slowly squeezing the special creative energy and inspiration inside of you that makes you unique, into a tight knot that needs to desperately unravel.

Loral Lee Besola is a licensed and certified therapist and a life coach. She specializes in helping professional women create the life of their dreams by bringing coaching &/or therapy into their offices, offering increased convenience and confidentiality.

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