A famous trapeze performer and teacher was instructing his students. After full explanations and instruction in this complicated skill, he asked them to demonstrate.

However, one of the students, looking up at the insecure perch upon which he was expected to perform, was suddenly paralyzed with fear. He had a terrifying vision of falling to the ground and being seriously injured. Frozen with fear, he was unable to move a muscle.

“I can’t do it! I can’t do it!” he cried.

The instructor put his arm around the boy’s shoulder and said quietly, “Son, you can do it, and I will tell you how.” Speaking slowly and with conviction, he said, “Throw your heart over the bar and your body will follow.”

That is what the boy did, and he turned in a performance on the bar high above the ground that surprised even him. He was never afraid again.

If you are human, you will feel fear, said psychologist Tara Brach, author of “Radical Acceptance.” But often what makes fear powerful is our resistance to it, such as when we brush it away as if it doesn’t really exist, or pretend that we don’t feel what we really feel. Instead, Brach said, a better approach is to accept that we are feeling fear (or anger, or whatever emotion you might be struggling with) and acknowledge it. Say to yourself, “Yes, I am afraid of making a mistake at work.” Follow up with a statement to yourself such as, “I accept this fear of making mistakes.”

That has been my mantra since I followed my dream to own a factory. I was fraught with fear of making mistakes, but somehow convinced myself that making a mistake was a temporary setback, one that I could eventually overcome.

Success usually depends on overcoming our fears: fear of taking a risk, fear of asserting yourself, fear of exposing your deepest self to other people and, ultimately, fear of failure. But for some people, the real fear is — success itself.

Have you ever thought that perhaps being afraid and uncomfortable can be a positive sign? Dr. Larina Kase, author of a piece appearing in the book “Life’s Missing Instruction Manual,” by Joe Vitale, said that when you feel afraid and anxious it can be a sign that you are stretching yourself to get over your fears.

Kase also recommends that when you are feeling afraid, start the practice of doing the opposite of your instincts. This, she said, will help you start to eliminate your fear and improve your life. Avoiding your fears, she said, is one sure way of making them grow. And the more your discomfort grows, the more you will not live up to your potential as a human.

Fear of failure can be crippling, but fear of success can paralyze your efforts just as severely. Avoiding success may seem irrational, but success brings change, and change is usually threatening. Success can bring some unsettling worries, but that is fatalistic thinking.

I prefer to take the position that success breeds success.

So, what aspect of success are you fearful of?

Expectations of continued success? Achieving a major goal is hard work. What happens if people expect you to keep doing it indefinitely? Forget about others’ perceptions and expectations. Wouldn’t you rather they expect you to continue to be successful than a one-hit wonder?

Higher stakes? Once you have reached a certain pinnacle, what if others will look at you differently? They will expect you to continue doing higher-quality work, and you may worry that you are incapable of it. Instead, build on what you have learned and find ways to improve. Keep growing your skills and see how far you can really go.

More attention? People may look to you for advice or assistance once you have proved you can succeed. You may worry that you will lose control over your time or privacy. But look on the flip side: Being asked to be a mentor is not only a great compliment, it is a badge of honor. Take pride in the knowledge that others look up to you because of your hard-won success.

Making enemies? Some people delight in taking down successful people. You may worry about having to defend yourself from envious or hostile peers. Let your successes speak for you. When you keep producing, they will be exposed for what they are.

Mackay’s Moral: Would you rather live in fear or bask in success?


Harvey Mackay is a Minneapolis businessman. Contact him at 612-378-6202 or e-mail harvey@mackay.com.