“Oh come on!” I hear you instantly shout, “no-one does that! Everyone wants success, but it’s FEAR OF FAILURE that blocks the way.”
Uh-huh, yup: that’s the common … fallacy? …Pop-psych myth? …Reality? Everyone want to believe in the most obvious villain. But some of us are born fearless. Some arrive already riddled with anxiety. Some start at GO with $1500 worth of Fearless and end up broke in Jail. What gives?
“I have a fear of success.”
It was a huge relief to finally meet a psychologist (he was also a psychiatrist) who just nodded and calmly accepted my announcement. We wandered through my life and unpacked numerous suitcases of dark and tragic stuff, my dismal spineless autistic snot-smothered childhood, my adult addiction to befriending sociopaths and my erratic self-directed pathway through my twenties – generously sprinkled with serial acts of FAIL … then to his surprise: we arrived at my brilliant career as a children’s writer.
And about then I had to start re-evaluating my opening statement. Was it that simple? But … but – I HAVE been a success, and enjoyed every minute of it. What gives? I was born with this? Does this compute?
No. First off: How can anyone start fearing success if they’ve never experienced it in the first place?
Second off: isn’t success just great? All the affirmation, the confirmation, the cheering! Rah, Rah! Bigger, Higher, Better! “Go, kid, go!” Yup, IF you have parents who got the same goodies in their childhoods.
Backtracking, my mother had a troublesome mother, always the critic, and a hyper-controlling father (for theoretically good reasons: She “encountered the local pedophile one day … oh he didn’t do me any harm, but my father totally flipped out ..” [edited into contemporary English].
So she up and marries my father, just to get away from her father. Nice move, Mum. NOT!
My father had a total arse of a father too. A Scotsman from the hard-knocks school called Edinburgh. He had a soft side – but only ever showed it to his eldest grandson. (This told to me by said grandson, BTW, just a few years ago.) But normally Peter-Pop was an alcoholic grumpy angry bastard of the highest order, infamous for sending his kids across town on errands, knowing full-well it was Saturday and the shops would be closed, then abusing them for their failure.
My dad was the youngest. His brothers created layers of protection, but it was the 30s, then the 40s. Times were tough and the world of boys has always been corrosive. “Toughen up!” “Fight, fight, fight!”
He joined the NZ Airforce at the age of 18, in 1942, and (.. after screwing up badly, being court-marshaled, losing his ‘wings’ and being sent back to restart his training ..) was deployed to Bougainville Island and the late Pacific War. The fighter-planes were Corsairs, fast, powerful, and deadly. On his second active mission, my father saw some soldiers on a beach, turned back and straffed them. They were Australians.
Well that was a massive screw-up, in anyone’s language. So some 8 years later, asides from being a controlling arsehole to my mother, he would also come down heavily on me. Everything I tried to do: handling tools for the first time, trying to fix/make anything, mis-reading a diagram, kicking a ball straight – he’d come down on me heavily. Always the focus was on my fails, never my successes. Hell – I never got time to succeed!
But why? Was he trying protect me from screwing up, too? That he could see himself in me? As we now like to say “He Was Doing His Best” (A rather shit-house best – to be sure.) The thing is: he never saw affirmative parenting at work. He just replicated what his own dad did, probably thinking “I’m never going to be like my father!” or he really believed it was the way to raise a son. “Toughen up, boy!” Still the message in the 1950s.
BUT HERE’S THE WORST PART:
My mother, having quickly learned that there was no love to be had from him, made me her ‘project’. Her role became one of the emotional saviour. She’d see or hear little Ged take another emo-smack from dad and she’d always be there to rescue me, sooth me, embrace me … and thus capture me for herself, a little bit more every time, her own little Mini-hubby who would always at least love her. [Research the ‘Victim Triangle’ if you don’t already know of it.]
No ’empowerment’ from her. Nothing that might offer me an alternative strategy or any kind of booster for actually trying. Nope – she needed me to stay as a hapless emotional victim – to fill out HER needs.
(After their divorce, she did find lots of ways to engage me in success-tasks, baking, wine-making, a summer lawn-mowing job, and cheering my every crackpot career concept, all Out Of His Sight.)
But in his sight it continued, and I intuitively figured that any pathway that took me anywhere near his specific world of adult-stuff would be a butalising arena. A hill I would always die on. Success was not possible. NO degree of success would ever unlock his kindness or love or admiration.
And how right I was.
And how ironic that I was unconsciously doing my best to meet his expectations – effectively trying to please him with the results he expected. Showing him my latest book utterly failed, of course. He glanced at it, set it aside, and said, “So what are you doing as a actual job, now?” He didn’t want to take it in. The conitive dissonance might have exploded his brain.
Incidentally, by chance my mother met him on the street only two months before he died. They paused, got to talking, and at one point he even asked after me: “So how’s that no-hoper son of mine doing?”
Some things, sadly, never change.
So for some of us, we develop a Fear of Success. Is it different? Yes, very. Are the results the same? Very! And yet the motivational-glitch is utterly different.
Oddly: whenever I see some motivation-boost-thing about Fear I just go “Hah, Your Advice Imputs are Invalid.” Here’s a good one by a really brilliant cartoonist: https://www.zenpencils.com/comic/fear/