Are You Afraid of Being Great?

Why we fear success and what to do about it

Posted Mar 18, 2014

“When you do what you fear most, then you can do anything.” 

– Stephen Richards

Lately I’ve been feeling challenged by everything: work, my personal life—even writing (my favorite thing in the world) has become a burden. Nothing has really shifted or changed in my life—except that every morning, I wake up with a paralyzing fear that I don’t have any time.

It doesn’t matter if I wake up at dawn—my mind quickly goes into panic mode, where I unsuccessfully try to schedule everything I have to do for the day. But the conclusion is always the same—there is never enough time, which is why I usually start my morning with an overwhelming sense of unrest that continues to permeate throughout the rest of the day.

It’s not like I have that much to do either. I’m not President Obama averting crisis after crisis 24/7. Nor do I have the responsibility of child rearing or feeding hungry mouths other than my own. I actually have a relatively normal 9-5ish job and very few external obligations.

But that dreadful feeling of not having enough time has been my waking thought for quite a while.

I didn’t know what to do. I’ve had off days before, but never something that seemed so chronic, so I called up a friend of mine who also happens to be a life coach, Nicky Avant.

I’m not sure why I called her, other than she offered to help. Why not, I thought? At the very least, it would be an experience I could write about.

I wasn’t quite sure what a life coach was—I assumed they worked like therapists but couldn’t prescribe any pills.  

According to Nicky, the main difference between a life coach and a therapist is that a life coach doesn’t tell you what to do or give you any suggestions of what you should do (including drugs). They believe that you are the expert of your life and so you know exactly what you should be doing with your life. The life coach’s job is simply to help you locate the answer.

I have never considered myself an expert in anything, certainly not my own life. I’ve read too many self-help books and consulted too many horoscopes to think otherwise. Still, she had a point: nobody knows me better than me.

I called Nicky for my first session last Tuesday. After a stressful day of work and feeling on edge, I dialed feeling extremely nervous. Would she think that I was nuts? Would I bore her to tears? Can I even express what I’m feeling?

The phone rang and rang and then went to voicemail. Instead of feeling disappointed, I was relieved! I thought to myself—maybe I don’t need this after all. I’m totally fine. People are starving in Africa. My anxiety is so trivial in the grand scheme of things.

Then, two minutes later, just as I had convinced myself that I didn’t need any coaching, my phone rang. It was Nicky. She asked if I was ready to start.

I took a deep breath. My first life coaching session had begun.

For the next hour, I told her everything.

This may not sound like a big deal, but despite the somewhat exhibitionist nature of my PT blog, I am quite shy and reluctant to get too personal with people in real life. 

Several times I said aloud that I couldn’t believe I was telling her this stuff. I could hear Nicky smile on the other end of the phone. I’m sure she heard this confession all the time.

For the most part, she asked me questions about how I was feeling and then had me expand on those thoughts. I could tell she was looking for triggers and pinpointing keywords in my speech.

When something interesting caught her ear or she heard me repeat something, she’d ask me to stop and we’d discuss why I said those things.

While talking to Nicky, I realized how dishonest I am in my everyday life. I spend so much time downplaying or minimizing the truth that it gave me instant relief to speak openly about what was going on with in me.

My favorite part (perhaps the breakthrough!) of the session was when Nicky asked me to imagine my future self, aptly named Future Jen. She asked me to describe Future Jen in detail.

I didn’t even have to think about it—I had been envisioning Future Jen for a while: Future Jen is a bad ass. She commands respect wherever she goes. She’s whip smart and accomplished—she is relentless in her pursuit and does not view failure as an option. She doesn’t even know what failure is.

Nicky asked me how I felt about Future Jen.

Now I had to pause. The girl I described sounded awesome on a theoretical level, but to meet her in person? Yikes. Meeting someone like this would absolute terrify me, I told her. I would be so intimidated. I would feel so small. I would surely be a disappointment.

Nicky said that Future Jen was already in me. I just didn’t want her to come out. I was afraid of letting her out. 

That got me thinking: Is it possible that we fear being great?

The answer is YES.

In a recent article on 99U, Coach Mark McGuinness points out three reasons people fear success.

First, “success is more complex than failure,” which means that there is a certain complacency in failure—after all, we know what to expect! Once you reach success, we are now swimming in lifeguard-free waters. We feel vulnerable and exposed to the unknown.

The second reason is that people don’t want to “sell out.” This fear is more common with artists, who fear once they reach a certain pinnacle of commercial success, they will no longer be seen as true artists.

The third reason we fear being our best self is that we fear our best self will be someone else—possibly someone we don’t like. Clearly, Future Jen falls into this category.

Since the new year, I have been working diligently on achieving new goals—goals that could very much change my life for the better—but my newfound anxiety has been stymieing that momentum.

I suspect as I get closer to reaching these goals, my ego is beginning to freak out. My ego doesn’t want to change. My ego likes things just the way they are.

The session ended with Nicky asking me what I want to do.

I told her I want to be kind to myself. I don’t want to be intimidated by Future Jen. I want to become her.

She asked me how I was going to do that.

I said that I would put myself first. As soon as I woke up, I’d ignore the anxiety and give the morning to myself to focus on my own wellbeing. This includes meditation, exercise and time for journaling and writing. Every morning, I would give myself that time not to worry about anything.

She told me that sounded like a good start and she’d check in with me next week to make sure I was keeping my word.

It’s been six days of Operation Becoming Future Jen, and I have to confess—I don’t wake up overcome by anxiety anymore. My waking thought is which meditation I’m going to practice and whether I should do yoga or go for a walk. I then spend a few minutes journaling and writing down my goals for the day. 

Want to know something crazy? Once I finish this new morning routine, I am able to carry on with my day, worry-free. I am calm. I am focused. If I start to feel anxious, I just refer to the goals I’ve written down—but this rarely happens anyway. 

That’s not to say that my life is 100 percent back on track or perfect (will it ever be?). I’m not the bad ass that Future Jen is…yet. But at least I have my mornings back. 

If you are interested in receiving coaching, read the following FAQs about coaching in Nicky’s own words. You can also contact her directly to learn more: // 510-51-NICKY // 

*** Nicky has generously offered a 50% discount off one session if you mention this blog post when you book.***

Coaching FAQs: 

Is coaching therapy?

Coaching is not therapy. You will find that coaching focuses on strategic planning and personal growth. It helps you to find what’s important to you now, in this moment, and uncover and act on that new information.

Coaching does not attempt to heal emotional trauma. Coaches regularly refer clients to other professionals for issues that are better suited to a therapeutic relationship.

Who might benefit from life coaching?

I believe that coaching is for almost everyone. If we don’t click in the coaching relationship or if you want to try coaching, but not with me, I would love to refer you to other coaches within my network as well as other certified coaches that I know. In any way I can, I want to help you progress.

What kind of results should you expect to see?

  • Have what's most important to you to be the utmost PRIORITY
  • Be SEEN, HEARD, FELT on a genuine level
  • Be Championed - Your strengths, Abilities and Resourcefulness uncovered
  • Be Celebrated - All your successes big or small are lifted up and recognized
  • Be Acknowledged - Honor Who You Are "Being" and "Becoming"
  • Be Challenged - Push Pass Your Comfort Zones to Take Action
  • Embrace Your Greatness and Face Your Fears With a Supportive Ally

What do you find is a common problem or issue that the people you coach have?

  • I feel stuck/confused about my next steps
  • I am considering switching careers/positions
  • I want a deeper understanding of my personal mission and values
  • I have trouble finding my voice in different situations
  • I want to be my best self and need support with big goals
  • I feel like I am moving through life with less enjoyment then in the past
  • I am always busy and don’t have time to do things for myself
  • I am in a new role and would love support
  • I often put other people’s needs before my own
  • I want to have more energy and am feeling burned out
  • I want to improve my self confidence
  • I feel isolated in my position and would love a sounding board
  • I find myself getting frustrated more often
  • I need support having difficult conversations
  • I just had/am anticipating a major change/shift in my life 

What is a typical session like?

The core of coaching is self-responsibility. The client sets the agenda for the call and the coach follows that agenda. You can expect clarifying and engaging questions that make you think, support with creating and fine-tune planning tools, as well as establishing clear and measurable accountability. As your coach, I’ll have high expectations of you and support you thoroughly.

Follow me on Twitter @thisjenkim

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