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Fear of Flying: Facing the Fear of Success

Fear of Flying: Facing the Fear of Success

Fear of Flying: Facing the Fear of Success

    Believe it or not, one of the most paralyzing fears is the fear of success. That’s right, the fear of achieving one’s goals. It seems insane, because of course, we want to reach our goals, right? I mean, don’t we?

    The short answer is that yes, we do want to accomplish our goals, but that it’s complicated. There are several factors that complicate our relationship with achievement. For example, we may fear that pursuing our goals might cause tension between ourselves and our family, friends, and other acquaintances. People close to us can exacerbate this by scolding us for having a big head, being too big for our britches, or thinking we’re better than them. Success can feel like abandoning the people we care about.

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    Or we might fear the way that accomplishing something big opens us up to criticism. Even one negative review among dozens of positives can feel like failure if we’re deeply-enough invested into a project’s outcome. Accomplishment also brings with it heightened expectations, new responsibilities, and new goals more difficult than the ones just realized — all of which can cause us to fear the accomplishment itself.

    Finally, our projects are often so much a part of ourselves that finishing feels like a death of sorts — what will I do, or more importantly, who will I be when I no longer have my novel/dissertation/degree/start-up/other big project to define my days and my self? That’s a pretty big whammy!

    Success and Other People

    Working on any big project can cause conflict with the people around  us. There are practical concerns — not being able to socialize, for instance, or neglecting day-to-day chores to work on our life’s work — and there are emotional ones — feeling selfish about choosing your work over your family and friends, for example. This is why it’s vitally important to build relationships with supportive people (and be genuinely supportive in return) and to nourish those relationships no matter what else is going  on.

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    No matter how big a project or goal, we must make time for socializing, relaxing, and playing. For one  thing, non-work time can be just as crucial to our success as the time we spend directly working towards our goals, because it recharges our batteries and lets our minds move our work to an unconscious part of our mind where it often continues to work (ts is why the solution to so many problems pops into our heads as soon as we stop thinking about them). But just as important, this “together time” with the people who matter to us strengthens our relationships and lets them know that they are a big part of the life you’re working toward your goals to create.

    Of course, there are always one or two emotional vampires who, because of jealousy, resentment, or just an overly negative nature, will never be quite satisfied. If you can cut them loose, do so — life’s too short to try to please theunpleasable . If you can’t, though — if they’re family, for example — then do what you can to firewall them from your life while you’re working, and let the results speak for themselves down the line. If you can learn to see their negativity as their problem, not yours, all the better.

    Fear of Falling

    Not achieving our goals has something really big going for it — if you don’t get off the ground, it won’t hurt if you fall. Striving for success always involves a risk — and the higher you climb, the farther you have to fall. Dreaming without acting can even be soothing: we can dream of a brighter future without risking anything. At least for a while.

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    A fear of failure or of negative criticism can instill in us a perfectionism that leads us to shy away from finishing a big project, and even from starting. We internalize and amplify the criticism we expect, and almost always find ourselves lacking. “Who am I to attempt something this big?” our inner critic asks — and all-too-often, answers, “Nobody.”

    While that inner critic may not be totally unavoidable, you can make an end-run around it by giving yourself permission to suck. Realize that some of the greatest works of art were profoundly disappointing to their creators, that the greatest entrepreneurs are always striving to make their companies better, that some of the most brilliant scientists of all time made incredible mistakes. Einstein almost undermined his entire Theory of Relativity by adding a cosmological constant to his formulae because he couldn’t accept what his work was telling him about the universe. Bill Gates became the richest person in the world releasing software that consistently failed to live up to expectations.

    Who Do You Want to Be Today?

    The biggest psychic beast roaming the jungles of our mind is the fear of the unknown that comes when we’re done with whatever big project we’re working on. In it’s mild form, it is simply a fear of deferred failure — we may succeed in the short term, but that success will give way to more and greater projects that will, eventually, overwhelm us.

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    In its more chronic form, this is a fear of becoming someone else — finishing a novel makes us an author, finishing a dissertation makes us a Doctor, building a company makes us a CEO, and so on. Life may be better, we hope — but it will also be different. Our lives will change in ways we cannot imagine, and that’s pretty scary!

    It’s important to remember, though, that life doesn’t work like it plays out in our imaginations. We don’t suddenly jump from wherever we are into some unknown future where we have no idea what we’re doing. The responsibilities that might evolve from the successful completion of a big project will build on the skills and talents we developed in executing that project. That is, the entrepreneur hustling to make her first big sale today isn’t going to be the CEO of her company when it’s successful; the CEO will be the person she gradually becomes as she amasses experience and know-how in the course of building her company.

    But most important of all, we need to cultivate joy and satisfaction in the work itself — and in our lives as they are. That might seem counter-intuitive; after all, why strive to improve your life if you’re satisfied with it as it is? But how can we expect to be satisfied with some unknown future life if we can’t be satisfied with the life we already know? We have to replace the notion of a better tomorrow with a sense of purpose, with each step towards that purpose being equally as important as the next and the last. It’s not that who you are today is lacking, somehow, but that who you are today is essential to the realization of your life’s purpose.

    Where you get that sense of purpose will differ from person to person. For some, it is religion; for others, a commitment to their art; for still others, humanitarian ideals; and others will find purpose in the face of their newborn child, their spouse, or their parents. Each of us has our own path to walk, and each of us has to find it on our own — though there are plenty of markers out there if you just look, given that the quest for purpose is humanity’s oldest preoccupation after the sheer fact of survival. And even just accepting that there is some purpose in your life, without necessarily knowing what it is, can be a huge motivator — that alone can give you wings and help overcome the fear that keeps you from using them.

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    Last Updated on January 21, 2020

    Becoming Self-Taught (The How-To Guide)

    Becoming Self-Taught (The How-To Guide)

    Most of the skills I use to make a living are skills I’ve learned on my own: Web design, desktop publishing, marketing, personal productivity skills, even teaching! And most of what I know about science, politics, computers, art, guitar-playing, world history, writing, and a dozen other topics, I’ve picked up outside of any formal education.

    This is not to toot my own horn at all; if you stop to think about it, much of what you know how to do you’ve picked up on your own. But we rarely think about the process of becoming self-taught. This is too bad, because often, we shy away from things we don’t know how to do without stopping to think about how we might learn it — in many cases, fairly easily.

    The way you approach the world around you dictates to a great degree whether you will find learning something new easy or hard.

    The Keys to Learning Anything Easily

    Learning comes easily to people who have developed:

    Curiosity

    Being curious means you look forward to learning new things and are troubled by gaps in your understanding of the world. New words and ideas are received as challenges and the work of understanding them is embraced.

    People who lack curiosity see learning new things as a chore — or worse, as beyond their capacities.

    Patience

    Depending on the complexity of a topic, learning something new can take a long time. And it’s bound to be frustrating as you grapple with new terminologies, new models, and apparently irrelevant information.

    When you are learning something by yourself, there is nobody to control the flow of information, to make sure you move from basic knowledge to intermediate and finally advanced concepts.

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    Patience with your topic, and more importantly with yourself is crucial — there’s no field of knowledge that someone in the world hasn’t managed to learn, starting from exactly where you are.

    A Feeling for Connectedness

    This is the hardest talent to cultivate, and is where most people flounder when approaching a new topic.

    A new body of knowledge is always easiest to learn if you can figure out the way it connects to what you already know. For years, I struggled with calculus in college until one day, my chemistry professor demonstrated how to do half-life calculations using integrals. From then on, calculus came much easier, because I had made a connection between a concept I understood well (the chemistry of half-lifes) and a field I had always struggled in (higher maths).

    The more you look for and pay attention to the connections between different fields, the more readily your mind will be able to latch onto new concepts.

    How to Self-Taught Effectively

    With a learning attitude in place, working your way into a new topic is simply a matter of research, practice, networking, and scheduling:

    1. Research

    Of course, the most important step in learning something new is actually finding out stuff about it. I tend to go through three distinct phases when I’m teaching myself a new topic:

    Learning the Basics

    Start as all things start today: Google it! Somehow people managed to learn before Google ( I learned HTML when Altavista was the best we got!) but nowadays a well-formed search on Google will get you a wealth of information on any topic in seconds.

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    Surfing Wikipedia articles is a great way to get a basic grounding in a new field, too — and usually the Wikipedia entry for your search term will be on the first page of your Google search.

    What I look for is basic information and then the work of experts — blogs by researchers in a field, forums about a topic, organizational websites, magazines. I subscribe to a bunch of RSS feeds to keep up with new material as it’s posted, I print out articles to read in-depth later, and I look for the names of top authors or top books in the field.

    Hitting the Books

    Once I have a good outline of a field of knowledge, I hit the library. I look up the key names and titles I came across online, and then scan the shelves around those titles for other books that look interesting.

    Then, I go to the children’s section of the library and look up the same call numbers — a good overview for teens is probably going to be clearer, more concise, and more geared towards learning than many adult books.

    Long-Term Reference

    While I’m reading my stack of books from the library, I start keeping my eyes out for books I will want to give a permanent place on my shelves. I check online and brick-and-mortar bookstores, but also search thrift stores, used bookstores, library book sales, garage sales, wherever I happen to find myself in the presence of books.

    My goal is a collection of reference manuals and top books that I will come back to either to answer thorny questions or to refresh my knowledge as I put new skills into practice. And to do this cheaply and quickly.

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    2. Practice

    Putting new knowledges into practice helps us develop better understandings now and remember more later. Although a lot of books offer exercises and self-tests, I prefer to jump right in and build something: a website, an essay, a desk, whatever.

    A great way to put any new body of knowledge into action is to start a blog on it — put it out there for the world to see and comment on.

    Just don’t lock your learning up in your head where nobody ever sees how much you know about something, and you never see how much you still don’t know.

    Check out this guide for useful techniques to help you practice efficiently: The Beginner’s Guide to Deliberate Practice

    3. Network

    One of the most powerful sources of knowledge and understanding in my life have been the social networks I have become embedded in over the years — the websites I write on, the LISTSERV I belong to, the people I talk with and present alongside at conferences, my colleagues in the department where I studied and the department where I now teach, and so on.

    These networks are crucial to extending my knowledge in areas I am already involved, and for referring me to contacts in areas where I have no prior experience. Joining an email list, emailing someone working in the field, asking colleagues for recommendations, all are useful ways of getting a foothold in a new field.

    Networking also allows you to test your newly-acquired knowledge against others’ understandings, giving you a chance to grow and further develop.

    Here find out How to Network So You’ll Get Way Ahead in Your Professional Life.

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    4. Schedule

    For anything more complex than a simple overview, it pays to schedule time to commit to learning. Having the books on the shelf, the top websites bookmarked, and a string of contacts does no good if you don’t give yourself time to focus on reading, digesting, and implementing your knowledge.

    Give yourself a deadline, even if there is no externally imposed time limit, and work out a schedule to reach that deadline.

    Final Thoughts

    In a sense, even formal education is a form of self-guided learning — in the end, a teacher can only suggest and encourage a path to learning, at best cutting out some of the work of finding reliable sources to learn from.

    If you’re already working, or have a range of interests beside the purely academic, formal instruction may be too inconvenient or too expensive to undertake. That doesn’t mean you have to set aside the possibility of learning, though; history is full of self-taught successes.

    At its best, even a formal education is meant to prepare you for a life of self-guided learning; with the power of the Internet and the mass media at our disposal, there’s really no reason not to follow your muse wherever it may lead.

    More About Self-Learning

    Featured photo credit: Priscilla Du Preez via unsplash.com

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