Having been an executive coach for some years now, the No. 1 issue I hear about from clients, gay or straight, is the fear of succeeding. Some people reading this are saying to themselves, “That’s dumb, of course I want to be successful!” I remember that was my reaction when my father mentioned this as a possible explanation for roadblocks that I was experiencing some years back. Why would anyone be scared of success? Isn’t that what we all want, what we all work for?
Procrastination, altercations, overspending, addictive behaviors, anxiety and negativity are just a few of the symptoms that appear when clients, or myself, are scared of success. I have found there are four basic beliefs or fears that provide the impetus for self-sabotage. Gay Hendricks summarizes them beautifully in his book The Big Leap.
- I can’t have success because I am fundamentally flawed.
What are your thoughts about deserving success? What fears come up about your abilities to maintain continued success? How does your sexual orientation play into your feeling of worthiness?
- I would be disloyal and/or abandoning family/friends if I was a success.
What thoughts do you have about being more successful than your parents or siblings? What spoken (or unspoken agreements) do you have regarding going through the “rough” times together and how would that change your relationships if your “rough” times disappeared?
- I would be a burden if I was successful and/or success would be a burden in my life.
What fears come up about adding stress to others with your success? What fears come up about adding stress to your own life if you were successful? With the spotlight that comes with success, what fears arise in terms of sexual orientation and privacy?
- I would be outshining those around me if I succeeded.
If you succeeded and others around you did not, how would that affect your relationships? What fears come up about how they would feel?
So, how might this work? Let’s say Paul’s belief is “I would be outshining those around me if I succeeded.” Paul, out of the blue, discovers the house of his dreams for sale. Though worried what his financially strapped brother might say or feel if he bought such a big house, Paul decides to do it. While negotiating the contract to sell his current home, Paul notices a small flaw in the agreement. As he attempts to resolve it, he finds himself getting madder until he finally blows up, alienates his potential buyers and loses the sale of his current house causing him not to have the money to buy his dream home. The truth was that this contract issue could have been easily negotiated and fixed. Paul’s fear of not wanting to outshine his brother, though, subconsciously came through as proof of why he shouldn’t buy this house. In other words, the thought of dealing with the discomfort of outshining his brother won over Paul succeeding in getting his dream home.
Another example is Sally and her belief of “I can’t have success because I am fundamentally flawed.” The day of an interview for the job of her dreams, Sally procrastinates reading instructions emailed to her regarding the location of the parking lot and, ultimately, forgets to read them before leaving her house. Due to trying to find the parking lot, she is late to her interview. Finally getting to the interview she is flustered and doesn’t do very well. Afterwards, she calls her friend saying, “What was I thinking? I knew I was not good enough get a job like that. ”
Those are just hypothetical examples. See how this works?
How do you change this? Some suggestions:
- Notice when you are experiencing one of the self-sabotaging behaviors above and if possible stop it at that moment.
- A few minutes later, after you have had some time to collect yourself, ask yourself if any of the four beliefs mentioned above were at play and, if so, which ones.
- After you have acknowledged the belief remind yourself you do deserve success.
As Marianne Williamson said,
“Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure about you.”
There is no limit on how much success there can be in the world. There is enough success for everyone to be successful and everyone deserves to experience success.