We claim to want it, yet we sabotage success in countless ways:
- We procrastinate.
- We talk ideas to death instead of doing them.
- We never quite finish a project.
Success: Good or Bad?
Many of us stave off success because, deep down, we feel we're not worthy.
Then sometimes, almost in spite of ourselves, success arrives on our front porch. It's rather like having a baby: You know it's going to happen, you plan for it, dream of it -- and then suddenly it's there, real -- and you can't believe it.
Success can feel scary, almost like a shameful secret.
Success carries a whole new set of fears:
- of being rejected by people,
- of having our parade rained upon,
- of having our success somehow invalidated or even ripped away from us overnight.
Success can feel good and bad at the same time.
Mixed Messages While Growing Up
Where does this come from? Many of us get mixed messages about success while growing up.
We did in my family. On the one hand, we were urged to do our best, to do everything perfectly, to finish whatever we began. Those were the words we heard.
The actions we saw told us otherwise.
- People who did well -- especially our more well-to-do relatives -- were constantly criticized.
- My dad started big projects and seldom finished them.
- Mom pointed out all the reasons something wouldn't work.
So while we were encouraged to succeed, we also were discouraged -- not because our parents wanted to confuse us, but because they'd internalized the same messages. Mom was taught in her youth not to try. Dad was extremely poor as a kid; being around people who were better off seemed to trigger feelings of inferiority.
We, too, became the poor relatives, ripping open with both excitement and shame the care packages of clothes handed down from our older cousins.
The Things We Learned
We learned it wasn't nice to talk about money, taking on the shame of our parents.
We also learned to be hypercritical of others, quick to find the flaw to elevate ourselves on the self-worth totem pole.
Through all of this, I defined people as either 'haves' and 'have-nots'.
I, of course, was a have-not, and therefore inferior to others. I not only wasn't capable of success, I didn't deserve to have it. I was a perpetual victim, always yearning and never having.
The Fear of the Consequences of Success
One of my dreams has been to write a book, and when I wrote and sold "Codependent for Sure!" my delight was tempered by fear.
If I flipped suddenly from have-not to have, would people withdraw their friendship?
Would they see me as something I wasn't and expect me to be impossibly perfect?
Could self-esteem or money or celebrity be snatched away overnight?
Did I really deserve success?
Moving From Faulty Thoughts to Truths
It's taken work to correct my faulty thinking about all this. Gradually, these truths emerged:
- It's OK to make mistakes. Everyone does. That's how we learn: through a process of elimination.
- Comparing ourselves to others isn't constructive. And knocking someone else down to feel better about ourselves produces only temporary self-esteem.
- One -- or even ten -- rejections doesn't mean your idea (or you) is no good. Sometimes it's just a matter of timing.
- Dividing people into categories of have and have-not is simplistic and inaccurate. Contrary to appearances, nobody 'has it made'. We all have our worries and insecurities.
- We all deserve success -- especially when we've worked hard for it. Success has many definitions. We each must decide what it means to us. Peace of mind may not be flashy, but it's probably more important than driving a status-symbol car.
What is your dream of success? How are you getting in your way?
Home Sweeter Home: Creating a Haven of Simplicity and Spirit
by Jann Mitchell.
Info/Order this book.
About The Author
Jann Mitchell is an award-winning feature writer and author. Her popular column, 'Relating,' in The Sunday Oregonian has run for eight years and is carried by the Newhouse News Service to newspapers around the country. Her work has been featured in national magazines and appears in A Second Helping of Chicken Soup for the Soul. Author Barbara De Angelis calls Jann Mitchell 'the most conscious journalist in America.' Jann is also a sought-after lecturer.