Fear of Success – Part 1: Defining

More than a year ago D asked me to blog about the fear of success. I don’t often get requests to write on a very specific theme, so I didn’t forget. It seems like it is as good a topic as any to help celebrate Être ou Avoir entering its third year less than a month ago. This topic will appear in installments. This is to allow for reflection. Hopefully you will contribute to the discussion and help lead it with your questions and comments. Also, it could get really boring because it’s been stewing for a while. Thus, with apologies to D for the wait, the first installment of The Fear of Success.

Discourse around goal setting, planning, and reaching for one’s potential weaves throughout our society. Often the proposed end result of these activities is termed success. When someone reaches a goal, follows through on a plan or realizes potential he or she may be called successful. Falling short can be synonymous with failure, and thought of as the opposite of success. Innately then, it is often granted that success is good and failure is bad. That being the case we are left with the question of why do people talk about there being a fear of success? Why would people fear something that is often taken for being good or positive? To begin exploring these questions we should take a closer look at the definition of success. By unpacking the definition we may later discover some aspects to it that are not inherently positive.

When defining success one is immediately faced with issues striking to the core of this blog. It is one of balance, as well as being versus having. Is it that a person is successful? Or is that a person has success? Or is it both? When interpreting the Oxford Dictionary and various online dictionaries, I can say I am a success if I have attained my objective (be it position or wealth). It also suggests that I can be succeeding if I am following a path in order, or if I am attaining an objective. Thus, we will say that success can be both an endpoint, and a series of ongoing events.

When we hear of people being a success we see them has having reached a favourable endpoint in some field of endeavour. Falling back from that endpoint would imply she or he ceases to be a success. The athlete who wins a world championship may always be looked upon as a success. However, if later on the athlete commits a grave injustice, or are found to have cheated, then we may no longer consider them to be a success. When we hear of people having success we associate a continuation, that positive events are occurring for or by this person, and that there is the potential for favourable outcomes to continue. If these favourable occurrences stop, then we could say the person no longer has success. The vendor who is meeting the monthly quotas is having success in sales. When sales slow down the vendor has less success. In this scenario there is the possibility of acquiring more or less success as time passes. It is not an endpoint, like being a success.

For the time being, let us explore success with these two definitions: (1) being a success is when one reaches an endpoint well regarded as being favourable, and (2) having success is when one is experiencing or creating experiences that are favourable, and could lead to more favourable experiences. The next point of exploration will be to determine what are, if any, the real life, and common examples of success using these definitions.

Of course, this is always a work in progress. Your questions, thoughts, and feedback only make this exploration better – no matter what they might be in length, depth or clarity, contributions are helpful. (Have you not seen how unclear I can be so very often)? The next installment can be found by clicking here.


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