Fearing the Light

I’m writing this on a plane, between Boston and Los Angeles. Our movie today is “Coach Carter.” It’s about an inner-city basketball coach who coaches his players to be not just winners on the court, but winners in life. A little cliché, but always a good story.

At one of the crisis/resolution points in the movie, one of the formerly problem players quotes a passage that he clearly memorized from a book somewhere. I can’t recite the whole thing but one part talks about the fact that it’s not our darkness we fear. It’s our light. It’s not our powerlessness. It’s our power.

I once went to a marketing seminar where the instructor asked about what barriers to success people had encountered. One person suggested “fear of success.” The instructor actually ridiculed the concept, putting the woman on the defensive and dismissing the idea. But there is such a thing, isn’t there?

A college roommate of mine got a perfect 4.0 grade point average one semester (that’s as high as you can get in American universities.) She was excited, but unnerved at the same time. She felt like achieving it once put pressure on her to achieve it again, and again, and again. That’s what the fear of success is. It’s the fear of setting expectations too high, and feeling constant pressure to meet them. The fear that you can’t make any more mistakes, because if you do, you’re letting people down.

Powerful stuff! But when you think about it, it’s wrong on so many levels. Here’s why:

It assumes that people are paying attention to what you’re doing, and judging your successes and failures. When we were growing up, perhaps, our parents watched – and commented – on everything we did. Or maybe the opposite – they didn’t see anything we did. Either way, if as adults we think we’re constantly being evaluated, aren’t we giving that parental role to other adults who aren’t our parents? Who are just as insecure and self-conscious as we are? If you think about it, it’s a little egotistical to think that they’re spending their time evaluating us. And if they are, it’s their own shortcoming, their act of measuring their own lives and finding them lacking. That’s their choice.

It assumes that their expectations of you matter to what you do. Who’s in charge here? Who is determining what you do? Many of us have leftover roles to play from our growing-up years. We were the boss, or the perfect one, or the peacemaker, or the scapegoat, and we carry those roles into our adult lives. But why should we? If the role is serving you, so much the better. If it’s not, it’s now your own choice whether or not to play it.

It assumes that your greatness is temporary. Here’s the biggest one. You were never created to be mediocre. You were only ever meant to be great. The universe has just been waiting for you to discover that. So, if it was always yours, why would you lose it? The fact is, you can’t. You’re stuck with it. You’re stuck with your power. You’re stuck with your light.

So what are you waiting for? What are you afraid of? There might be a lot of things. But don’t let your own success be one of them.