Like most people, you probably have a handful of ‘idols’ that you look up to. People who you admire and aspire to be like. You read their writing, you watch their interviews, you listen to their podcasts, you follow them on social media; you don’t want to miss out on what they have to say and following their work is a way to learn from their journey.
In a way it’s great to follow what your idols are up to. You can learn about how they got to where they are today, and you can emulate their journey — heck, maybe you can even get in touch with them and ask them for advice!
So why does this ‘access’ to your idols sometimes feel so awful?
Well, consider this. Which of these options would you be most afraid of?
Option A: Running a 100m race against Usain Bolt
Option B: Running a 100m race against someone your own age and gender, with similar fitness levels to you
My guess is, that Option B is more daunting. Everyone knows what the outcome of Option A is going to be. Unless Usain Bolt accidentally ties his shoelaces together or is asked to carry a cow on his shoulders, he’s going to win the race. There’s no pressure on you whatsoever. Run the race, do the best you can — or not — whatever; the outcome will be the same.
Option B on the other hand is likely to make you more nervous. Why? Because you could win.
It might sound counter-intuitive, but your deepest fear isn’t failing. You’re not afraid to not win the race. You’re afraid because you could win. Success is within your grasp; it’s attainable. That’s what’s petrifying.
Some psychologists have worked with patients with a reconizable fear of success. Sometimes it’s because they’re afraid to ‘get their hopes up’. They want to avoid disappointment, and limiting their aspirations is a sure way to do that. Others fear that chasing success will make them feel lonely, because to be successful, you sometimes have to sacrifice your social life to an extent.
Among women in particular, their fear often comes from the belief that becoming successful will make them less likable. Other people fear the responsibility that comes with success; they feel like impostors — unworthy of holding that important role.
Every successful person that you admire was afraid, just like you. Maybe they still are, because they’ll have new goals. Whenever you think “why do they keep reminding me how many awards they’ve received?”, or “how many followers they have” or “how annoying that they’re boasting about how much they earn” — you feel bad not because you don’t have the same level of ‘success’; you feel bad because you could reach that level of ‘success’.
If you really stop to think about it, you know that if they’ve done it, you can too. It’s not humanly impossible. Certain things will come easier to other people than they do to you; we all have different strengths, talents, and opportunities. But they’re not other-worldly. Your idols are human (presumably), just like you, so your ambitions are within reach.
That’s what’s petrifying. Knowing that you can achieve the success you seek. But you haven’t yet. Either because you haven’t tried, or you’re on your way and you just need more time. Either way, until you get there, the irony is that it feels like you’re failing. You think your biggest fear is failure. So you don’t try, or you quit; you convince yourself you can’t do it. But by not listening to your real biggest fear — the knowledge that you could succeed — you’re perpetuating your own belief; you’re setting yourself up to fail.
This fear is telling you something. It’s telling you that you genuinely want this, and that you know you can get there.
There are thousands of things that you could be. The success of an astronaut, a physician, or a singer, won’t ever make you feel bad about yourself if these aren’t things that you wanted to be. The reason why the success of your idols often does, is that they’re doing the things that you aspire to do. So listen to this feeling; because, it means you’re on the right track.
You know your goals are attainable. Sure, you’ll make mistakes along the way, but you can get there. The fear comes from the fact that the future is uncertain.
There’s no way of knowing at the outset what your journey will look like. You can’t know whether you’ll fulfill your dreams in a year, or whether you’ll be like Alan Rickman and not become a famous actor until you’re 55 years old.
When success isn’t immediate, it’s hard to mistake this ‘fear’ that you feel for a ‘fear of failure’. You think if you don’t become successful within a certain amount of time, you’ll have failed. But what you’re really afraid of is the fact that you might never become what you know you can become.
Maybe you don’t have the level of success your idols do right now. But although creating the illusion that they’re on a different ‘level’ might bring you some comfort — it’s just an excuse. You’d be lying to yourself.
Your goals are attainable, so long as you keep working towards them.
There was a time when a famous actor wasn’t a famous actor; when a successful writer wasn’t a successful writer, and when a globally renowned artist died before they were ever even heard of.
You might never reach the level of success that you aspire to, or you might die before you can witness it. But you could live to experience it.
Would you rather live knowing that you didn’t try, or live trying knowing you can make it, but might never?