The fear of success
Imagine a river. Imagine you are standing at one of its sides, and you need to cross it, no matter what. The river itself is very wide, but you can still see the other riverbank. The water is dirty-green, it’s rough, and you cannot tell how deep it is. Look at your feet. They are tangled in some overgrown weeds that flow in the wind, chaotically. Your shoes dirty and muddy, your trousers wet around your ankles. Cold droplets of water wetting your cheeks – if you took one step forward, you would fall right in. From looking at the surface, you get a feeling that the water is very cold, and as the current is unnervingly strong – if you fell in, like a ragdoll, helpless and hopeless, you wouldn’t be able to do much to save yourself from this situation. You would struggle and panic, the water would take away any ability to move, to swim, to survive.
We all know it would be impossible to get to the other side, so it’s only fair to add a bridge. Crossing this river seems nice and easy now, doesn’t it? The bridge looks quite solid and safe, so imagine you’re stepping onto it. Now, let’s stop in the middle. Let’s bend over and look at the water. When you’re looking straight down at the surface below you, you can’t see either of the riversides. The water is just a one dark mess, you can see the waves crushing into each other and the wind here is even colder and stronger than down at the riverbank, where you came from. Even though the view is quite unsettling, you feel safe. The bridge is your protector.
Look at the railing. You haven’t noticed it before, but now you see it’s a little rusty. The paint is chipping off and you can feel how rough it is under the light touch of your fingers. You look closer and you realise that if you gripped it strongly, the railing would crush and scatter. Below the barrier, you can see that the edge of the bridge is cracked. If you poked it with your foot, it would crumble and fall, hopelessly. You realise the bridge could collapse, any given minute.
Now, look down again. Tiny bits and pieces of the crumbling bridge edge are disappearing in the chaos below you. The water seems closer than ever, angry and unpredictable, it roars at you, to you, wanting to consume you. Do you still feel safe, standing on that bridge?
It’s called gephyrophobia. It is a fear of crossing the bridges.
And it was with me for as long as I can remember. As my imagination is way too wild to not think about all the worst-case scenarios and – let’s be honest, barely – possible disasters, crossing any bridge was like the beginning of hunger games for me, where I would run for the life, not looking down at the water, not taking any chances. I could not stop, nor slow down, in my head seeing the bridge suddenly cracking, splitting in half and falling apart, and me falling, choking and drowning, miserable, stuck and forced to go on a journey of no return.
You may think: but what’s scary about crossing the bridge? Just suck it up and do it, before you notice, it will be over. Regardless, believe me – this fear, this phobia, is not easy to deal with, especially when you live in a city built around a massive river, where bridges are a necessity.
And I was living in one, for the first fifteen years of my life. Some parts of it looked like Venice – beautiful, even though they were scary. Aesthetically pleasing buildings disappearing into the water, gondolas riding here and there, under fancy, embellished bridges, showing lovebirds around the city, right next to the great amphitheatre, the home of music. There were bridges galore, obviously crucial when you had to get from one part of the city to the other a couple of times a day. Minor floods happened every once in a while. None of the bridges ever collapsed nor majorly broke, but I remember one or two of them, both quite distinctive. One green and one yellow, they were so old and rusty, that I would go an extra mile just to find another bridge; one that didn’t look as dangerous, just to storm through it and carry on with my day. And any time I had to cross the river to be where I needed to be, I would look down to my feet, to not see the water and I would run across, to pass it as quickly as possible.
And again, you may still think: it’s just a bridge; no harm will happen to you, so was it all necessary? Just suck it up and cross it. You’re afraid of bugs? Just open your eyes and realise they won’t harm you. You’re afraid of clowns? Oh, come on, they’re just an unreal product of some sick imagery. You’re afraid of heights? Of blood? Balloons? Vomiting? Just stop – stop imagining things, there is nothing to be afraid of.
The phobias aren’t real.
You fear is NOT real.
But what if I ask: are afraid of speaking in front of many people? Are you afraid of speaking your mind? Afraid of what they might think? Afraid of being assertive? Of being honest? Of asking him or her out? Of letting him or her know that you actually care about them so much, you cannot even describe it with words?
And what if I say, that your fears, as terrifying as they can be, aren’t real too? That they’re just as unreal as the fear of a black cat crossing the street in front of your car, or the fear of hospitals or needles?
They feel real though, don’t they?
But that’s how brain works. In all its complexity, it is full of mysteries yet to be discovered. One of its major tasks is to protect, and thus to keep us alive. Having the ability to sense dangerous situations, brain makes us feel the fear, trying to prevent us from harm. And it’s the same kind of fear in every situation. Whether it’s walking somewhere alone in the dark, or presenting your idea to public, or attending an interview for a job you really care about, or crossing the busy street, while the red light is still on – sometimes relevant, sometimes not, we recognise fear and act upon it. In other words, brain can sense the fear – but it cannot distinguish what is the fear of.
The reason to why I wrote it all, is that recently I’ve been feeling down. All the unproductivity, uncertainty, laziness, boredom and routine hit me like a slap in the face, and I started thinking, why am I not doing anything with it, why am I not changing my reality, why am I not moving forward, why am I not, why, why, why?
To me, to be stuck is the greatest fear of all. To not learn, not achieve, to not strive and never accomplish anything – all those synonyms describing my greatest phobia. I believe that to neglect and disregard one’s potential, is the biggest harm anybody can face – especially that the one who is getting hurt is also the doer; oblivious and unaware of the harm being done.
Trying to figure out what is the source of all the negativity that’s been stuck with me lately, trying to really focus and think about it, as weird as it may sound, I ventured deep down into my mind, and I realised.
It was like a like a bucket of ice-cold water spilling all over me – suddenly, overwhelmingly, I realised that it’s the fear that was holding me back. Not the fear of failure though, not the fear of humiliation or judgement, because I know I will succeed one day, sooner or later. It was more of a fear of success. The fear of what if. The fear of changing my routine and getting out of my comfort zone. Because, what if I became successful now? What if my work paid off and my dreams and plans were starting to become true? What if I would have to abandon the simple life I’m living now, and explore, and go out into the unknown, and what if I had to face indescribable challenges, and meet new people, and adjust, and learn, and try, and follow the impulse and risk? What if?
After having a discussion with my closest friends about that, I discovered that I’m not the only one feeling this way. Every one of us have our little struggles, preventing from going forward. I was surprised to learn that my friends, lovely, ambitious and creative people, also battle their fear of progress demons, every time, when it comes to hard decisions.
And the reason why it’s so hard to believe, is that I know they all are very talented, they all have many qualities a successful person should have, they all make big plans for their careers and their future – they all strive to be the best, they all know they will succeed one day it’s just the fear of change preventing them from making the first step, and that’s what is the most heart-breaking.
Wanting to explore it a little bit more, and find out what the fear of success really means for other people, two of my friends said yes to participate in my little project. Both students, both ambitious and talented, both agreed they have similar thoughts from time to time. I prepared three simple questions for them to answer, here is what they said:
What is your biggest, wildest dream; who do you strive to be?
(e.g. to be the next Beyoncé́, to own a worldwide known company, to be the next president of USA)
1: I strive to be a strong, independent, educated lady who can inspire other women to make it in life, like Michelle Obama 😊. I don’t ever want to depend on anyone. I aspire to be powerful in my own world.
2: My biggest dream is to just be happy with my life, to travel around the world and have a job that lets me develop my talents. I strive to be a good person… but if I would have to have a role model it would be Audrey Hepburn, for the good heart and smile she always had. Also, my mum, I wish I could have her amazing patience and her ability to have hope, no matter what, that someday life will get better.
Have you ever felt like you’re scared to take actions, to get closer to making your dream come true; not because of fear of the failure, but the fear of success?
(e.g. what if I will have to move to another city, change environment, take new challenges, start a new job, learn new things)
If yes, could you describe it?
1: Yes, I am always scared to take actions… Not necessarily the fear of success (yet to experience that fear, lol) but more of the fear of the process. Change sucks and leaving your comfort zone can be daunting. I think the fear of unknown hits most people and I myself am definitely not a risk taker so it can be really difficult.
2: For my 3rd year project I have decided to do something very ambitious, I said I would do the whole thing in the summer and what happened? Well, I didn’t do it at all. Why? Was I lazy? Or was I just worried, that if I would actually achieve that, something will change in my life? I didn’t want to move to London to have an internship or a job just yet. I just really want to enjoy my third year but at the same time the fear of the future is the worst one. I know deep inside that I will be successful in life, have a good job and help people, the problem is I don’t really know what type of job I want to have. The pressure of choosing a right career path is overwhelming. I just want to believe that the universe is already planning something for me and whether I’ll plan a head or not, the world will do its thing anyway, and I believe in the universe.
Do you have any advice on how to overcome our little struggles, find the courage and power to do what we really want to do? What is it that helps you overcome your fears?
1: I think the best thing one can do is to believe in themselves. You are not in competition with anyone, run your own race. I believe that everything happens for a reason. We may not understand it now but it becomes clearer as we move forward. Trust the process and of course put in the work!
2: I think that good feedback, and people telling me they like my work is the best thing that motivates me to get up and do more creative work. I know I’m not yet the best at what I do, but I’m at least on the way there. And that’s how I overcome the struggles. It won’t always be easy, you might have times where you want to cry, and you will, but we can’t give up, cause one day we will achieve our goal.
I hope reading that will help you realise that we all have similar struggles and obstacles to overcome. We’re all in this together, right? 🙂
Speaking of which, what big choices are you gonna make today?