The Fear of Success

The vast majority of people are afraid of success. Sure, everybody wants to be rich and attractive, but most of us fear it so much that we’ll never even try.

In the picture above you can see the fine people of Warsaw using the metro system. They have one thing in common - they’re all dressed like crap. In such a crowd a man in a suit or a woman in a dress would stand out and draw everyone’s attention. The fruit hangs so low, yet nobody picks it and most prefer not to be noticed. Why?

Life’s biggest pleasures, life’s biggest fears

We’ve evolved in harsh conditions where dying of old age was uncommon. If you were unlucky enough to be born before the dawn of civilization you’d die of either hunger, cold, injury, disease, poison or predators. The best way to survive was to stick together with your tribe. And the best way to die was to get kicked out.

We developed sugar cravings so we go out and pick some berries, turn them into fat and reduce the chances of dying from hunger. Shivering made us a little warmer and reduced the chance of dying from cold. We fear heights and loud noises, which protects us from injury. We’re digusted with sickness - we keep our distance from the sick and thus reduce the probability of getting sick ourselves. Seeing someone vomit makes us want to vomit. Ophidiophobia (fear of snakes) and arachnophobia (fear of spiders) lives in us to reduce our exposure to predators. And we developed a fear of success to reduce the chances of getting kicked out of the tribe.

Two of life’s most important pleasures are feeling accepted by the tribe, and feeling like you have contributed to the tribe. Failure to feel accepted by the tribe results in depression. Failure to feel like you’re a valued contributor results in anxiety.

Back in school, I remember how good it felt to be the top scorer in my volleyball team. I also remember how much it sucked to be the last one to get picked for the football team.

As you grow up you develop your ego. It tells you which tribe you belong to, and where in its hierarchy you stand. Each social action you take is filtered through that ego. It constantly answers the question: “can this anger those above me? Can I get ridiculed by those below me?”.

If a man wearing a suit were to walk into Warsaw’s metro station other men would resent him. He’d offend and upset them, even if only slightly. With his clothing he’d announce that he’s a high status individual. He’d stand out, so there’d better be something about him to back it up - if there’s not, he’d be seen as a fraud or a weirdo.

It’s not just in your head, the consequences are real

Quitting your job and succeeding at business will affect your position in your tribe. You’ll fear upsetting your friends if you succeed. You’ll fear getting ridiculed by your friends if you fail. Some will resent you. You’ll have to limit your exposure to them - you’ll fear that too. Even your relationship with your mom will be affected - she’ll say she supports you, but subconsciously she’ll feel the distance between you growing. Who wouldn’t fear that?

It’s no secret, if you change so does your relationship with those around you. To take the plunge from being a salaryman to being an entrepreneur you have to change a lot. And as you change you’ll lose the feeling of being accepted by your tribe, and feel depressed. Your ego will no longer be certain where in the hierarchy you are and make you question your choice with waves of anxiety.

Getting over your fears

If there is a way to get over your fears and primal instincts I haven’t found it. I started a business because the vision of spending the rest of my life as a salaryman filled me with so much dread that a little depression and anxiety didn’t seem so bad in comparison.

I think that in a way it’s similar to taking a cold shower. It will always painful, but after a few months you can’t imagine doing without it.