Island, Paradise, Island Paradise

Success, Fear and Expectations

Fear of success, fear of failure, we have all heard these terms before. Fear of failure is pretty easy to grasp. We want to achieve a given thing, yet we develop a fear based on embracing a negative version of the question, “What if?” The negative version being, “What if I don’t succeed?” With this question comes all sorts of unpalatable imaginings.

Then there is fear of success. Perhaps, tougher to figure than fear of failure, it is nevertheless something that can derail us. We humans have a built in mechanism keeping us clinging to the status quo. We are slow to accept change, even when change is for the better. Fear of success is just another variety of fear of change.

It is okay to be afraid. It is not okay to become crippled by fear. Personally, I cannot think of a time I worked on a venture and did not feel some fear. I cannot say for certain if it was fear of failure or fear of success. I can say, however, I was just plain afraid.

Analyzing this, it seems my fears came from my expectations or the expectations I imagined others had of me. This relates to fear of failure. Yet, I have also been plagued by fears of change – based on the positive accomplishment of something. So, fear of success rears its head as well.

To be clear, these fears do not sit comfortably in the rearview mirror of my life. I am still plagued by them. The question, when undertaking any venture, is not whether or not I am afraid. I am. The fears are all too present, persistent and familiar. The question for me is what to do about my fears.

The simple answer is that I have to work not to succumb to my fears. The longer, more complicated answer is that I need to do a better job at expectation management. When we go forward with any undertaking, we do so with some expectations. After all, when we do something, we hopefully do it with a goal in mind.

What is important is to set up a solid process – based on reasonable planning and preparation – leading us to our goal. Where we can go wrong is when we start asking a bunch of mindless, repetitive, “What ifs?”

Are any of the following questions familiar to you: What if I fail? What will people think if I fail? What if I am not as good as I think? What if I succeed; then what?

The above questions are asked out of self-doubt. I am all too familiar with them. I believe we can manage our expectations, enhance our chances at succeeding and live more tranquil lives by coming to some realistic answers to the aforementioned questions.

Question: What if I fail? Answer: Hey, I can make another attempt.

Question: What will people think if I fail? Answer: They don’t live my life, so it really doesn’t matter does it. And anyway, maybe they’ll be inspired by my willingness to make an attempt.

Question: What if I am not as good as I think? Answer: It doesn’t matter. I can always work at getting better.

Question: What if I succeed? Answer: Life is about the journey. If I accomplish my goal then I can find new goals. If I do not accomplish my goal then I can persist until I do accomplish my goal. Life is about the journey. The journey is the process. A good process yields good results.


*Authors note: You might see this column pop up online in a newspaper, under the name Both Sides. I am publishing this column here first at For a bunch of years, I have been writing newspaper columns. Since my columns have received a good response on CYInterview, I thought I would share it with you. Hope you enjoy.

You can reach me with your questions and comments at Like today’s column? Check back frequently.