Thursday, March 20, 2014

Fear of Success

A comment on a recent post (Somebody Else's Dream) by Zack asked

Dr De Mars, what is a person to do when their dreams are not geographically compatible with their family's needs (not wants or desires, but needs)? Also, if I understood you correctly in the "Breaking Ground" video, many people don't achieve in life out of fear. Is it fear of failure or fear of success?

I answered the first part of the question yesterday, on postponing success, so I thought I'd answer the second part today.

Fear of failure is a normal thing, whether it is failing in sports or in business. You will be embarrassed. People who have invested time and money in you will be let down. Your plans that hinged on success -  hiring more people, going to the Olympics - will be destroyed or at least delayed.

No one wants to fail.

What about fear of success? 

I have actually seen a lot of that and while the term is often associated with women, I've certainly seen a lot of evidence in men as well.

Why would people be afraid of success? Three reasons I can think of.

1. Fear of change

If you are training three days a week at Bob's gym with your best buddies, Fred, Joe and Celeste, that is fun and comfortable for you. You like Bob. You have a nice apartment. Fred, Joe and Celeste are fun to go have a beer after practice with. If you win the national championships, you might have to travel as a member of your national team. You may be expected to move to the national training center. You may really need to switch coaches because Bob is more of a local guy.

The same is true in business. You may be comfortable as an engineer, programmer, sales representative. You know your job. You get along with your boss and your coworkers. Yeah, more money would be nice, but you'd have to meet a bunch of new people, maybe move to a new city, learn new skills and maybe you wouldn't be good at it ….

which leads to the second big and very related reason

2. Fear of the unknown

Some changes are scarier than others. Many times, I've moved across country to a new job. Before I moved, I knew where I was moving and where I would be working. I've known a few people who wanted to work for Boeing or wanted to live in San Diego. They packed up, drove to whatever city it was and lived out of their cars until they got a job, then got an apartment. I cannot imagine doing that.

I see this with a lot of athletes. Even after they are past their prime, have had numerous injuries and their performance is stagnant or declining, they keep competing. They drop from the number one ranked player to 12, to 15. It's all they know.

I once knew an extremely talented judo player who was ranked number one in his country for a decade, except for two years. Those two just happened to be Olympic years. I really think his problem was that his whole goal in life was to win the Olympics  - and it's possible that he could have done it if he had buckled down and trained consistently - but what then? He had no goals after that and his whole life had been centered around training for the Olympics. If he won, he'd have to find another goal, go to college, pursue a career. Actually, I've known several judo players who sabotaged themselves for this reason, he was just the most extreme.

The same happens with work. People are afraid to go out and take a new job, start a company because they don't know if they will like the work, the people, the new city. They'll have to find new everything - housing, dentist, grocery store. They won't know where stuff is or how to sign up for the health plan. They just don't know what it will be like.

Better to stay put.

3. Fear of Being Unpopular

This fear is not unfounded. When you win, earn a Ph.D., sign a huge book deal, get a promotion, found a successful company, some people are just jealous.

In both sports and business, I have had this exact conversation with talented young men (both happened to be men), who had the option to leave for a better judo club in one case, and a better job in the other. Both said the exact same words in explaining why they turned down the opportunity.

I've heard how people here talk about people that leave or move away, and I don't want them talking about me like that.

In both cases, I responded,

Are you fucking kidding me? What the hell do you care what people you are almost never going to see again are saying about you?

You would think that your real friends would be happy for you, and usually they are. However, even in that case, you may drift apart. I remember meeting up with some old friends shortly after I finished my Ph.D. and them telling me that I just wasn't the same. They were right. I wasn't. In the intervening ten years, I had gotten four degrees, published scientific articles, learned a few computer languages, lived in  Japan for a year.  Yeah, it was fun to get together and go out and party for a night, but I had no interest in doing that every night.

On the other hand, many of the people I met professionally were pompous jerks who missed the fact that their higher education was only partly due to their intellect and largely due to not having to work because Daddy had left them a huge trust fund.

Years ago, I read a quote that was something like this (I couldn't find the exact one again)

An adult male lion can kill almost any animal in the jungle. A lion won't accept any place but number one and will fight any other male in his territory, and drive him out or be driven from the pride.
 Wolves spend their lives as part of a pack, where every wolf has a place. Wolf packs are also effective at hunting.
The lion is the king of the jungle, but being a lion is lonely. Most of us choose to be a lion or a wolf. Choose wisely.
Oh yeah, I wrote a book on mat work. You should buy it and write nice things about me on Amazon.

I also make computer games where you learn math, learn Native American history and shoot stuff, You can get your very own for $9.99


Unknown said...

sage advice for life Dr AnnMaria, no wonder you and Ronda are champions, prepared to take risks and sacrifice the comfort zone for growth!!

Unknown said...

Thanks for the explanation...again, with words of wisdom everything makes sense.
I am still laughing...'learn history and shoot stuff' priceless!
Thanks again, Mrs. DeMars (Mama Rousey)

WAR ON TERRA said...

. you are a very wise woman...