The Perils of Success

By Scott Westerman

Our biggest fear is that all our dreams might just come true.

It was my best year ever. We grew the business in both market share and with double digit increases in operating income. Employee satisfaction was at an all time high and customer complaints at an historic low. Here is the Reader’s Digest version of my performance review: “You had a good year. What are you going to do to top it next year?”

I had lunch recently with a friend who is an honest to goodness millionaire. He literally wants for nothing and can do anything he wants. “How does it feel to be financially secure,” I asked?

His answer? “Empty. Success isn’t at all what I expected. This is exactly what I was afraid of. Here I am and nothing has really changed.”

The caller ID told me it was one of my favorite people, someone who had moved from achievement to achievement, who was developing a national reputation and seemed to be loving every minute of it. The voice sounded un-natural so I closed my office door. “I’m afraid that all I’ve done and all I’m doing can self destruct.. and that I will let everybody who believes in me down.”

For many of us, behind the New Year’s Resolutions lurks the fear that we might just get what we seek. And then what?

Ti Caine, a hypnotherapist who coaches high performance individuals, told Psychology Today, “The fear of success is a very unique issue that arises when you are genuinely creating change and moving forward in your life..  Our culture is focused on fixing the past. It’s as if we are driving through life staring in the rear-view mirror.”

The article goes on to say, “To create and sustain success it is essential to find and release your fears of success. The more you leave the task undone, the more your fears will control you. ‘it’s the monster in the closet,’ says Caine. ‘And it gets bigger.'”

Our society too often defines success in material terms. We’re programmed to want more, more, more, and when we get it, we still feel unfulfilled. Are you the one who is creating your own definition of success? Or are you influenced by family, friends, your boss, competitors and the media to do the things that will make -them- call you a success?

In the chapter, “What is Success” from my humble book, The Spartan Life, I quote Mother Theresa’s definition:  “The miracle is not that we do the work, but that we are happy to do it.”

Lori Deschene, who curates the Tiny Buddha websites takes this to it’s most fundamental level. “Life success,” she writes, “does not mean that you will not fail but it means that your mistakes will teach you something and show you a better way to get what you want.”

Success, then, is not a destination. It’s learning how to thrive in the present moment and aggregating these moments in pursuit of a worthy goal. As cop educator and philosopher Brian Willis would say, it’s all about figuring out. “What’s important now?” It’s learning to let go of your unpleasant past and your attachments to those who may have inadvertently programmed you to achieve unsatisfying goals without being happy.

Here are Lori’s six tips for overcoming your fear:

1. Be positive. Negative thoughts are like MiracleGrow for fear and self-doubt. Stay away from negative people and you will decrease the amount of negativity in your life at least by half. Practice daily gratitude, write down all the positive events in your life, practice mindfulness and you will notice how your negative attitude will start melting away.

2. Continually remind yourself that you are part of something larger than you. Fear often has to do with worrying about uncertainty, feeling out of control, and wondering what your life’s purpose is. When you realize you are part of a bigger picture, even if you don’t fully understand what that is, it’s easier to ascertain that you both deserve and need to be successful and happy. You do the right things, you help people around you, you make being a good person a priority, and you know that this isn’t just about you—it’s also about the bigger picture that you’re part of. These thoughts always give me the courage to try something new and believe that my life is successful because of the doing, not the outcome.

3. Take time to find your authenticity. Do you have a lot on you? I’m sure you do, and I know that you are doing your best at doing what you have to do. But do you know who you are? Do you know what makes you happy? Do you know your passions? Do you take time to reflect on your life and figure out your purpose in this world? Unfortunately, most of us get so caught up in responsibilities and goals that we forget to enjoy our lives. No matter how busy you are, you must make time for yourself. It can be just 10 minutes a day, but this time must belong to you. If you give yourself the luxury of free time then you will notice that the rest of your responsibilities will get easier.

4. Create your success library. Sometimes when we lose trust in ourselves we just need a little bit of inspiration to push us in the right direction. There are plenty of ways to find inspiration, but we forget about them when we need them the most. Create a library of quotes, save articles and success stories that have inspired you, create a library of inspiring movies and videos, or create an album of your fun and happy memories. Turn to this library whenever you have self doubts.

5. Learn. People are always scared of what they don’t know. If you have a fear of something you just have to educate yourself about it. It is like walking into a dark room. At first you feel scared and don’t know what to expect but once you turn the light on, everything gets clear and simple.

6. Live in balance. No matter how important success might seem to you, it is still important to follow it with balance; otherwise your journey towards success will turn into an obsession that will ruin everything that you truly love in life. Success is not a destination. It’s a journey, and it’s important that we take each step feeling grounded and balanced. Spend time with your loved ones, enjoy your hobby or follow your passion, take care of your health and grow spiritually. This is the meaning of true success, the one that you can achieve only in balance.

Good stuff. I would add one more suggestion: Get help. You don’t have to do this alone. There are people out there who have walked this path, who can listen with empathy, who can help you hold yourself accountable for meaningful, sustainable change.

Be open to them and they will find you, even as you seek them out.

When you perform that year end performance review exercise with your team, it shouldn’t be a “Can you top this” discussion. Make it a “How can we better serve one another and our customers” conversation.

As you ponder your life’s work, center your thoughts on turning your passion into your profession. Our subconscious mind is a ballistic missel. You will become what you think about.

And be humble. Respect isn’t something you command. It’s something you earn. Be yourself. The truly important people in your life will accept your imperfections and help you overcome them.

Try to do all of these things and even when you fall, you’ll always get up.

True success = The pursuit of happiness.  Make that your overarching objective for 2012 and it’s a good bet your year will end in a better place than it began.

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