Matt Perryman

Fear of success? It’s real.

By Matt Perryman

Weird as it is, there are real live people out there afraid to succeed.

How can you be afraid to win? Isn’t fear supposed to be about… failure?

Never underestimate the power of a neurotic mind to conjure up illusions.

See, if you win at something, that creates more, larger, scarier problems.

Winners of the big Lotto draw pull in a 9-figure prize and discover that they’ve become everybody’s best friend. Starting with the tax man, with the rest of the thieves and cut-throats and grifters lining up to take the rest.

Finish that book you’ve wanted to write, and now somebody else will get to read it and — gasp — leave feedback.

Any goal you can name, no matter how positive and glowing it appears, comes with a major downside.

Which is true of anything, of course. Like all fears, the fear of success reveals much more about the fearful person than the fright-inducing cause of their fear.

What happens in these cases is that you’ve got an imaginative and sensitive soul gifted with unusual abilities to see the future.

Not literally (maybe). When you live inside your own head, it’s easy to trace out the effects that you believe will follow from your actions.

Creative people build whole virtual worlds based around what will go wrong if they finish, ship the work, and sell a million copies.

“I don’t want to deal with all that,” they say. “The taxes alone make it pointless. And just think of all the haters…”

Notice something about the reasoning here.

The despair follows from extreme overconfidence in the future prediction.

Like you can say exactly what will happen.

The only thing we can say for sure about the future is that nobody knows what’s going to happen there.

When I was writing about moral philsophy, this point came up as a major objection to utilitarian ethics.

For those not in the know, utilitarian ethical theories say that the right thing to do is whatever action leads to the most good for the greatest number.

It sounds good on paper, maybe. But how are you going to tell me with a straight face that you know what actions will bring “the most” good?

You’d have to be some kind of god. What kind of god has to ask some nerd for an ethical theory?

Fear of success is no different. It takes a special kind of over-confidence in your own powers of prediction, believing that the future you see is the only possible future.

That’s not only arrogant, it’s stupid.

Once upon a time, the virtue of hope acted as a corrective to despair which, by the way, is a vice if not a sin.

Today’s post-ironic gloom and doom doesn’t have much room for hope and despair is the default setting.

Which isn’t at all surprising given how many people believe they know 100% what’s going to happen next.

Despair and cynicism are the “respectable” positions because they allegedly reflect reality.

Not so. Despair reflects a failure of imagination and a defect of character.

The future’s nothing but one surprise after the next. Despair is the failure to understand that quality of reality.

Matt Perryman

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