It is difficult to offer a single satisfactory answer to the question of
“What is Success?” Success may roughly
be defined as achieving or actualizing something by overcoming the obstacles. Such
definition has prompted psychology to investigate the motive behind the desire
for success. The fact that the requirements for success varies from person to
person is one of the conclusions of such investigations. Efforts were made to measure the individually
varying success requirements by developing a scale called professional and
family orientation. Researchers have concluded that those who strove to achieve
self designated success standards, rather than merely having the thought of
making money in mind, and, in doing so, self confidently assuming
responsibilities without yielding to social pressures and other factors had the
highest success motives. Moreover they
found that people with high success motivation may not even find it enough when
they have achieved success. So is it
possible that the success motivation can take us away from achieving success
and, instead, lead us to a fear of success?
In actuality, fear of success is not much different than fear of being
unsuccessful. That is because both fears
lead a person away from the success they wish to achieve. One makes him/her give up with the thought of
failure and the other impedes him/her with the anxiety of success. What happens if I succeed? Answer to that question depends on the person
in question. Sometimes being with
unsuccessful people that you love and care about brings on the thought that you
may be separated from that group when you are successful. Sometimes you fear
that you may become one of those successful people who are changed by the
success. Reasoning this way, you end up
staying away from the things you are capable of achieving, putting off doing
things and, in a way, sabotaging your own success. Those around you who believe in your
potential are at a loss to understand as to why you behave this way and fail to
comprehend your fear. Avoidance of conflicts and changes may be the reason for
the fear of success. You may convince
yourself that you are not good enough to achieve something. Or you may even trick yourself into thinking
that you are not worthy of success. So,
in the end, fear will stand in your way to be successful which brings on the
thoughts of trouble, loneliness and criticism.
How does the fear of success develop?
Imagine that you are a little kid.
You have not even started school yet.
They have arranged a game in the kindergarten and you have done your
best as you could. Your father comes over
and says “yeah it was good, now this proves that you are capable of leading the
group.” You learn from that age onwards that what you have done is not enough
for your dad and that he expects more. It is impossible for you to be as
perfect as he wants you to be. You have started school. The exam results are
announced. There is only one person that
has scored higher than you, or you have got the highest score yet it is not
full. You have rushed home to share your success with joy. Your mother hears about your score and says
“Good, that means you can have full marks next time.” You then realize that the appreciation you
get for jumping over a high obstacle means lifting that obstacle even higher up
next time for you to jump over. You
are forced to work harder for new expectations without having savored the
success you have freshly achieved. All
of these contribute to the development of your fear of success: “Expectations will abound if I succeed and if
I fail to live up to those expectations next time I will lose all the love,
affection and appreciation that I enjoy.
I will have to keep on going higher and higher.” Every exam, every request and every goal will
remind you the same thing: “What if I
fail to do one better than that?” and you get cold feet about achieving
anything. You become fearful of failing
to maintain your success, of having to finish in a spot worse than where you
have started, and of losing by succeeding.
But, perhaps, the thought of losing the top spot will scare you the
most. By lacking the will to climb back
on top, and being all alone in the spot you have landed and by lacking the love
and affection you desire, you will eventually give up on success. Shirking the
responsibilities brought by success, staying away from the anxiety of mounting
expectations in the event of your success, and living with the constant fear of
criticism, disaffection and discontent when you fail to deliver on the next
success will keep you from achieving the goals you have set for yourself and thus
make you unhappy.
Managing to Cope with the Fear of Success
You need to take a moment to think when you realize or you’ve been told
that you’ve sabotaged your own success.
Starting with the question of practicability of the goals you’ve set for
yourself, you should list the answers to the questions as to what you think you
will gain and lose when you achieve your goals.
Try to work out how much of your fear is realistic. When you do that, you will be ready to face
your fear and the reasons underlying that fear.
If you can not manage on your own, you can seek help from a
professional. Yes, sometimes coping with
success is more complicated than coping with failure. Some may find change and going out of the
routine challenging. It may be easier to
stick to your habits. But if you have
reached the point where you can actually entertain such thoughts then you are
also capable of challenging all the problems and fears that you think success
may bring on. It is impossible to make
everybody happy, to win everybody’s affection and be a perfect human
being. But it is possible to be
successful enough to keep on loving yourself and preserving your personality
against the negative changes that success may bring about, and to make the
people you care about and trust to continue to support and love you and be
proud of you.
Prof. Dr. Bengi Semerci