Being crippled by the ‘Fear of Success’

In February 2017, I had an incredible idea for a book.

The premise of the book was to tell my story hoping that it would inspire kids to chase their dreams. For me, growing up in Nairobi, Kenya with the dream of becoming a professional footballer, I didn’t have a lot of role models. There wasn’t anyone truly telling me that it was possible, but what a difference it would have made if there was.

That’s where my idea came from.

I am very much an exception in Kenya. I am one of the few that realized my dream and played football all the way to the professional level — which I know is more than most can say. So when the ides for my book hit me earlier this year, I knew it was my duty to give back; to tell my story and give Kenyan kids the inspiration that I never had.

At the time, I had no idea what would come of the book, whether anyone would read it, or if it would even get published. Instead I tried to focus on what I did know. I know that there are millions of kids in Kenyan with the same dream that I once had, and maybe, just maybe, a book like mine from someone who has gone before them, will inspire them to do the same.

… Now, I know it all sounds great, but since that magical idea fell into my hands, I have tried anything and everything to second guess it.

Three months after I committed myself to writing the book, I hadn’t even written a single chapter. ‘I’m working a new job’, ‘Work is too busy’, ‘I don’t have time’… these were all excuses I told myself to justify why I hadn’t started. When my friends asked me about my ‘brilliant book idea’ I just shrugged or made up some generic excuse.

Looking back, I realize that I was in a place that most people are in life; between wanting to do something and convincing themselves that they can’t because it feels better.

About a month after the book idea, I dramatically quit my job. I realized I was only working for the money and I really had no passion to work there. It was at that point when I had an introspective period of thought. I questioned what was really important to me. Of course, the book jumped to the forefront of my mind and I told myself I had to stop procrastinating and get it done.

But for some reason, that scared the hell out of me.

After quitting my job, I was suddenly running out of excuses. I wasn’t busy, I had the time, and I had all the resources I needed. Still, for some strange reason, I absolutely loathed the thought of sitting down to begin writing the book. I procrastinated and procrastinated — which was immensely frustrating because I’m not a procrastinator; it wasn’t like ‘me’.

Whenever I would think of actually writing the book, there was this vivid fear that came over me and I was crippled. I remember telling myself; “I’ll write a chapter a week…” but as each week passed, it was the same old story. I had nothing.

At that point, I began to get angry with myself. I began to question where my fear was coming from. Why was it that I couldn’t even get started?

Then, I came across a quote by Mark Mason in a book I was reading. It read;

“People fear success for the same reason they fear failure. It threatens who they perceive themselves to be…”

That quote struck me like a dagger through my ribs and suddenly things became clear.

I wanted to write the book. I really did. Badly enough that the fear of regret was enough motivation, so I knew that wasn’t stopping me. I would even visualize myself going back to my old school to market the book and speak to all the younger kids, inspiring them to chase their dreams. I had the book’s title, an idea of the cover… so I really had nothing in my way. Just this very pungent fear.

But this wasn’t any regular type of fear. Not just some regular anxiety that I had to push past… It was different. A deeper, crippling type of fear.

Until then, I had prided myself in being someone who inspires people, that was who I believed I was, and the book was just another means to that end. I would think of myself as an established writer, a motivational speaker, a role model, all the great titles I wanted to wear. But what I didn’t realize was that writing the book would also threaten my perception of myself.

To sit and spend months writing the book was not only to become a writer, but also to invite the possibility that I wasn’t good enough, or the realization that I didn’t have a story worth telling, or that I’m actually not inspiring at all. And that’s what scared the daylight out of me.

That fear was so real that I was satisfied with just having the idea of writing the book, not actually sitting down and writing it. I wanted my friends to see me as ‘the guy who’s writing a book’, or ‘the guy who’s inspiring people’, not ‘the guy’ who wrote a book that didn’t sell… or ‘the guy’ who’s trying too hard to inspire people… That would threaten who I am.

So most days, I let the fear crippled me. I couldn’t sit and start writing the book because doing so was threatening who I believed myself to be. It was inviting fear; the fear that my story really isn’t that great and I’m not really that inspiring. It wasn’t just a fear of failure, it was a fear of the process and journey toward success.

Today (6 Months later)

Today, I’m grateful to find myself in the latter stages of completing the book. In all honesty, I have suffered through the process and I borderline hated it. But despite that, writing my book has also taught me a lot about life.

It has taught me that many people, just like I was, are stuck between wanting to do something and convincing themselves that they can’t because it feels better. It feels better to procrastinate in writing a book than to invite the possibility that you’re a terrible writer. It feels better to stay in a job you hate because to quit is to threaten your self-image as ‘the one who makes a lot of money’ or ‘has a good corporate job’. It feels better not to go on a diet than to try, and then have to admit to yourself that you have very little self-control…

“People fear success for the same reason they fear failure. It threatens who they perceive themselves to be.”

Yours Truly (Kimathi Kaumbutho) is a Spoken Word/Poetry writer/performer, and a Hip-Hop artist from Nairobi, Kenya. Click here to see more of his work.

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