More people than you think are ambivalent about the prospect of success. Maybe you’re one of those. Maybe you’re happier on the sidelines, in the shadows, or in the background. Maybe you’re worried that with success will come an unpleasant array of new challenges and responsibilities. If this worries you, this is anticipatory anxiety: anxiety about something in the future. Your thoughts are weakening your resolve and your best bet is to deal with this future-oriented anxiety cognitively by replacing your self-sabotaging thoughts with thoughts that serve you. On the whole, it is much better to be for success than to be afraid of success—even if the specter of success really does make you anxious.
On the other hand, maybe you’ve gained a significant measure of success and the anxiety you feel has to do with your current reality. This is a very different situation from the first one. This present-oriented anxiety must be dealt with behaviorally: you must actually do something about the new offers coming in, the fan mail, the interview requests, the presents of drugs and sex, the distractions. Reducing this anxiety requires action. Even small successes produce the kinds of situations that typically provoke anxiety: your local newspaper wanting an interview, a small party organized on your behalf with you the center of attention, and so on. Success puts you in the public eye and makes new demands on you and with that spotlight and those demands come anxiety.
Both the prospect of success and actual success provoke anxiety. At first glance this might seem surprising. Isn’t success exactly what you want? Isn’t success a blessing rather than a threat? It turns out that many people aren’t positive that they want success and, when they do achieve success, experience it as a very mixed blessing. Often the first year or two of significant success are the most disorienting and difficult years in a creative person’s life.
With success, all of the following can come into play. You may be afraid that you’ll be exposed as a fraud. You may feel trapped by your signature work, the work that everyone now wants and demands from you. You may feel like everyone wants a piece of you and that all day long people are tugging at you. You may regret the compromises you made on the way to stardom, compromises that you hope no one will notice. You may experience a new unreality as people react to you as a celebrity and not as a person. You may have important choices to make, ones that, if you choose incorrectly, cost you millions and maybe your whole career. And more.
Let’s think about this. Imagine that you’ve just has a very large success. What do you imagine might be some of the shadows associated with that success?