Recently I was talking with a long time associate whose name and relationship I will withhold from this post. He has spent many years pursuing different ideas and most recently is close to completing a degree, though he still has certain elements he must finish that he has not made much progress on in a while. Whenever we discuss where he will go after he graduates, he has ambiguous answers that sound too much like a high school senior to logically be coming from someone completing graduate work. He has, like so many others, an apparent fear of success. I have certainly felt guilty of this phenomenon at times, so I'm not trying to point fingers, it just hit me as we were talking.
What is fear of success? Being afraid to get what one wants. Being scared to move from the "small pond" of academics to the "big sea" of the real world. Being handed the ball at crunch time in a big game after begging for it for a long time and realizing it's time to shoot. Fear of success can be much worse than fear of failure. It compels people to choose failure to avoid the risk of increased expectations. I had many bright friends in high school who made terrible grades because they hated the pressure success brought along with it. It was just easier to fail and then say later "Oh, what might've been."
The fact is, no one aspires to lose the Super Bowl. No one wants to be the last out that lets the other team win a World Series. No one hopes to be the answer to the trivia question "Who did president X defeat in the year XXXX to become president?" So, rather than risk rising up, only to still lose, it is easier to stay down.
I think, in a way, I see some of myself in my comments. As I said, I've seen fear of success in myself at times. In a way, that may have been what held me back from starting my academic career earlier. I can just imagine myself standing in front of a room of fifty, a hundred, or two hundred students with their faces ranging from hopeful fascination to boredom to outright disregard. In that moment, will I crumble? Will I stand with my knees knocking together behind a podium and my mouth drying out? Will I be the one they all tell stories about that involve "Make sure you avoid this class because" or even "If you want to get an easy A, take this guy because he's an idiot."? Or will I be the professor they come to love? I will only know once I get there, if I ever truly know. But if I let my fear defeat me before I start, I will be left to forever wonder, "Oh, what might've been." I don't want to be a "might have been" or a "never was." Being a "has been" sounds so much better in light of those cruel phrases. At least that means I was once. So I'm left to seek out my true potential, to test myself again the best in the field and find my own way. Will I be the best? Probably not. I just want to be in the running, which means I have to actually try. Hands folded, head down, here I go.