Fear of success is something I’ve discussed with my students often. I want them so much to overcome whatever holds them back from success, whatever encourages the nasty cycle of procrastination. What I am finding in recent weeks is: I need to listen to my own advice. I need a pep talk from myself.
When we have a successful moment or receive an accolade from someone of influence in our lives, why is the next phase to often panic? To fear that now I actually “have” to be great at my job or stay awesome at this one task. Am I alone in this? I don’t think so. It seems to clearly be a documented phenomenon in the world. I have seen and shared the literature out there on the subject.
We wait and wonder, when is the other shoe going to drop? When are people going to see what an idiot I can be, or how unorganized I actually am, behind the scenes? If that happens, then what becomes of my proclaimed awesomeness?
My students live in fear of this as well, at least some of them. If they become an A student, then what? Isn’t it easier to fail? To say you earned a poor grade because you turned in an essay late? To stop going to class because of the teacher? Or because 8:00 a.m. is too early?
When I started blogging, a few years ago, I did it because I needed an outlet for my voice. And after realizing that a few friends and family out there wanted to hear about my chaotic and imperfect life, I kept at it. Soon, I was astonished by the personal truths I was sharing, even with family whom I did not know well at the time. Since then, I have changed my approach a few times, experimented with different writing styles and different levels of disclosure, and changed blogs altogether for a fresh start. Ultimately, I often retreat into a world of hiding again, feeling that honesty is unappreciated or misinterpreted in the world. Feeling that others begin judging me; friendships can even change slightly after someone reads my blog.
However, overwhelmingly, the posts in which I am more forthcoming, even perhaps self-deprecating or confessionary, are the ones with the most positive responses.
It’s shocking. The stuff that I am afraid of most is what gets attention. What gets praise.
This is true of teaching, too. It’s true of any real striving for something. Creating anything big and meaningful takes guts. And sometimes, the recognition comes. We have a shining moment in the sun. Don’t be scared by this, though, as I am. OK, be scared as hell if you want, like I am. But still do it anyway. Fantastic praise does not need to end in withdrawal, in cowering beneath the sheets. Yes, it took a lot to do what you did. To be seen, to affect other people, to make a difference. Part of the recognition often comes from showing our own humanity. From understanding that we aren’t perfect and showing that to our students, to our families, and even to the entire Internet population on occasion.