Fear of Success

by Mike Shipulski

Fear of SuccessThe to-do list, whether digital or analog, we’ve all got ‘em. We cross things off and put things on (mostly the latter); the list evolves – it’s a living thing.We put energy into adding things, tasks, action items. (You can’t go to a meeting without collecting one of them.)

But most telling to me are the tasks that stay on week-on-week, the carry-over tasks. We never do them, but we never take them off the list. What are they? Why don’t we do them? Why don’t we just take them off the list?

For tasks we complete, the fundamental motivating force is fear, fear of not getting them done, the consequences of failure. The deal is clear: we don’t complete the task, and something bad will happen to us. We know what will happen to us if we fail, we know the consequences of failure.

But the carry-over task is altogether a different beast. It’s an uncompleted task where the fundamental motivating force is still fear, but this time it’s the fear of getting them done, the consequences of success. The deal is absolutely unclear: we complete the task, and something good will happen to us. Though, this time we don’t know what will happen to us if we succeed, we don’t know the consequences of success.

With the carry-over task, we must supply our own motivation, our own energy, to overcome the consequences of something good happening to us us. Strange, but true.

With success comes visibility; with visibility comes judgement; with judgement comes fear, fear of being un-liked. We will be seen for what we are, and we’re afraid of what people will think. Some won’t like us, and that’s scary.

The fear of success is real, and it’s a tough nut. Some many not want to crack it, and that’s okay. For those that do, consider this: today, as you are, some don’t like you, so how could success be worse? With success, at least they’ll know why they don’t like you: because you succeeded.


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Mike ShipulskiDr. Mike Shipulski (certfied TRIZ practioner) brings together the best of TRIZ, Axiomatic Design, Design for Manufacturing and Assembly (2006 DFMA Contributor of the Year), and lean to develop new products and technologies. His blog can be found at Shipulski On Design.

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