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In my 20’s and 30’s I had a recurring dream that went like this: I was riding a bicycle and enjoying myself. Then all of the sudden the bike began to lift off of the ground. I was marginally startled at first, but I got excited pretty quickly. As I began to go higher I got more excited. Then I saw that I was above the treetops. I looked down, realized how high I was and got scared. I wanted to figure out how to get back to the ground safely. That’s where the dream ended every time.
I’ve been an active dreamer as far back as I can remember. There are probably about 4 or 5 dreams that I can remember as recurring, the above description being one of them. I often figure things out through my dreams and usually once I do, a recurring one will disappear. That is what happened to the one I described.
The dream for me was about fear of success. It’s easy to talk about fear of failure- duh who wants to fail? But talk about your fear of success and people look at you like you’re some kind of drama queen or searching for a compliment. “Oh gee poor you, you’re just so burdened with all of your success”. But fear of success, at least not for me, or other’s I’ve counseled, born out of some twisted sense of guilt or ego. It’s about not knowing how to handle the responsibility that comes with success, not feeling legitimate for success and/or not knowing having the confidence to keep it going. Sometimes fear of success is about not wanting to become a target, or even about loss of familiar patterns, people or environments. Ask anyone who has ever had a significant reversal of fortune. The world they knew no longer treats them the same way. Ask a person with long term sobriety how many friends they had to walk away from, or who walked away from them.
But for me the fear of success had much more to do with my own sense of unsureness. I am the youngest of 6 children. No one in my family went beyond high school. The notion that I wanted to do something more with my life gave me both hope and anxiety. No one told me I couldn’t pursue higher education, but some told me I shouldn’t. It’s not that anyone was attempting to be mean, they just couldn’t see the benefit of the path I wanted to move towards. And they were right. From where they sat, they had no knowledge of the path I was embarking upon.
So I went forward. I took a leap. But it wasn’t exactly smooth sailing all of the way. It was much more like the dream. It would start with a little smooth sailing, followed by a burst of fear that, led me to want to figure out how to get back on the ground, then waking up and starting all over again.
So when did I hit the success? A bunch of times, not actually and I can’t really remember when. It was a success to finish college at 28. It was a success to finish my doctorate. It was a success to wake up this morning with all of my limbs intact and still working reasonably well. It’s a success when I find my car keys on the 2nd try. What I’ve learned is that success isn’t the achievement of some event. Success, not unlike happiness, is a state of mind. It’s a belief that you are doing what feels right to you when it feels right to you. And it lasts longer than a minute at a time, but not always. Sometimes success is in the moments others might call failure, because you know in those moments that it’s just another part of the learning process for you.
Most of us (as I used to spend a lot of time doing), complete the checklist or performance and then look to our audience for their applause. If the applause is not loud enough, we let the critics, both internally and externally begin their litany. But an alternative that has a much better impact on our blood pressure is, to resign from the performance and see ourselves as successful because we are living our best life. To live a life that is informed by our deepest desires, and executed with the confidence that we are capable of living our dreams. When we stop being afraid to live the way we want to live, we are living successfully. No one else is in our brain. Therefore, waiting for someone, anyone else to give you the thumbs up is a short sighted exercise, because they can’t really judge what is successful for YOU accurately.
And what about the part of you that fears others will expect more of you? It’s not up to others to decide how much you want to give. It’s called setting limits. And yes, you can do it.
“You must decide if you are going to rob the world or bless it with the rich, valuable, potent, untapped resources locked away within you.”
? Myles Munroe, Understanding Your Potential: Discovering the hidden you
“Nobody ever talks about the pyramids that weren’t built, the books that weren’t written, the songs that weren’t sung. Stop letting your fear condemn you to mediocrity. Get out of your own way. Your dreams are a poetic reflection of your soul’s wishes. Be courageous enough to follow them. There is no greater time than now to experience the full power of your potential. Make this the day you take the first step in the beautiful journey of bringing your dreams to life.”
? Steve Maraboli, Unapologetically You: Reflections on Life and the Human Experience