How My Dad’s Advice to Let Someone Else Shine Created My Fear of Success

“Sometimes what you’re most afraid of doing is the very thing that will set you free.” ~Robert Tew

Everybody has fears. Fear isn’t a feeling that exists only in a few. One’s fear may seem irrational to the outside world, but I guarantee to that person it is debilitating. It can change their outlook and affect how they view the world. I fear success.

I know what you’re thinking. “That doesn’t make sense at all. Who doesn’t want to be successful?” Well, let me explain what I mean.

You see, I am an introvert, so I don’t really want to draw attention to myself at all. My “success” is a personal gain, not a flashy show of pride to the world.

I wasn’t quite sure where this fear of success began until this year when I was talking to my wife. We discussed a fear that we are certain triggered by a childhood memory.

Basketball was my favorite sport when I was 12 years old. I loved it. It was important to perform well as an individual and also in a group.

My introvert nature meant that it was difficult for me to learn the second, but I enjoyed the challenge. Every day I practiced, it was all day. So I could practice my basketball skills, my grandma bought me a basketball court to use in her backyard. She loved her yard so this was an important gesture.

However, I was able to improve and make the team. Now I can focus more on teamwork.

One day I was at my cousin’s house, and we were playing basketball. A friend of mine lived just across the street. My game with my cousin was over, and she challenged me to one-on-1. I accepted.

While we played, I observed her becoming more aggressive and intense. I didn’t pay much attention to it and just kept playing. When I won the game, I went toward her to say, “nice game.”

She ran towards her home crying and threw the football at me. My confusion was overwhelming. My father saw the situation and took me to his house. There, she was sitting on her porch.

She replied, “Why is she so good?” She said, “Why does she have to be so good? She is always the winner. I’m not even a starter because of her.”

My dad pulled me to the side and said, “You don’t have to be good all the time. Why don’t you let her win sometimes?” 

I remember being confused. My twelve-year-old mind couldn’t understand why my dad would want me to lessen myself so that someone else could achieve, even though I worked hard. He was actually my father, and she was sobbing.

Later, I found out that the girl was the niece of my dad’s future wife. It was evident he wanted to impress her. But that’s a story for a different blog.

The results of my success were something I was unsure about. What if people were upset if I succeeded? Would I be taking someone else’s spot? Do I hate this person? Do I have to try my best?

My twenties saw me fear success. At that time, I decided to make good on a goal I set for myself when I was in high school—to become a poet like Maya Angelou and Nicki Giovanni and a writer like John Grisham.

I was at that point working in a tutoring centre and met GW, an elderly gentleman. One day, he noticed me in my journal writing and invited me to a poetry reading in his barn.

I didn’t think much of it. After I got back, I researched the man and found out that he was an acclaimed poet. He offered to go to my house so I accepted.

The experience was wonderful. Everyone was friendly and wanted to share their art. After a few visits, GW asked when I would share my work. This was a scary thought for me.

To even go was a huge feat. I explained to him that I enjoyed the experience. Then he said something to me that I still hold onto to this day.

He said, “When you are a writer you have to become two people: the author Nesha and the regular Nesha. Regular Nesha is often introverted and afraid. But the author Nesha needs to be strong, confident, and want success, not fear it.”

He told me then that he wanted to make me the poet of night. I’d perform my poetry for about fifteen minutes, for everyone. I agreed to this reluctantly.

To not cancel was so difficult. I had to constantly tell myself, “This is author Nesha.” I had to work on being in a room where all the attention was on me. It was a lot, but I’m glad I did it

It is difficult to overcome this fear, particularly as I pursue my writing career.  My personality is multifaceted. “Author Nesha” wants success. My dream is to become a well-respected writer, with many people reading my books.

“Regular Nesha” is introverted and just wants to write because I love it. “Regular Nesha” is afraid. It is possible that my work will be criticized by everyone.

Will people say I shouldn’t be where I am because I am not good enough? Will I be taking someone’s spot? Are people going to want to touch, feel, or speak with me?

The fear of being successful has also turned into social anxiety. My wife is always there for me when I am doing open mics, which I find rare due to my fears.

When I first did an open mic once, I noticed a young woman looking intently at me and she was crying. I began to wonder so many things. Is she looking at me in disapproval? Do you think she believes my work is poor? Is she open to talking to me

After I finished, I went to sit near my wife. After I finished, the woman came behind me and sat down beside us. I felt fear when she touched my shoulder. I turned. We were still separated.

She said, “Your words brought me so much joy. I am crying because I recently lost my mom and your poem reminded me of her.” It was happening! I was being spoken to by someone!

It was clear to me that this conversation would spiral into something more serious. All I could muster up was “I’m glad you liked the poem, and I’m sorry for your loss.”

The night was challenging and exciting. It was difficult because many people approached me to shake their hands and talk to me. I felt so scared and my mind raced with thoughts. It was exhilarating, because Oh My God! I was loved by everyone!

This battle between “Author Nesha” and “Regular Nesha” is something I deal with daily. My pursuit of writing is not the only aspect of my life.

By day, I’m an English teacher. In my staff meetings, I’m afraid to share my ideas because what if I succeed and some people like them? Is it their expectation that they will always be able to come up with good ideas? Are they going to be offended by my ideas or less likely to believe in me?

However, my thoughts are worth sharing because they were hard work and I feel worthy.

I know you’re thinking, how do you survive? My dad’s behavior when I was twelve wasn’t right. While he might have believed he was doing right, he should not have said that I had to be dimmed in order for others to shine.

Second, I like to step outside of my comfort zones. My staff meeting was about how students can be motivated. Usually, I don’t speak, but I pushed myself to share what I do in my class, and they loved it.

Of course, I couldn’t help but question If they really loved it, or if someone was upset about my idea, but I pushed those thoughts aside and focused on what I can actually see and hear.

Success is also relative. My idea of success may not be someone else’s idea of success, and that’s okay. By learning these things, I can now follow through on things that scare “Regular Nesha,” and that is me facing my fear of success.

Niknesha Q. Hairston

Niknesha Q. Hairston, an English teacher for 7th graders is a great example of what she can do. When she is not teaching, she enjoys writing poetry, which led to her publishing two books: The Journey – a collection of poems that takes one on a journey through life and Last Stop… – a collection of poems that focuses on three emotions; love, anger, and depression. She has also had her poems published in The Long Island Quarterly, Nassau County Poet Laureate Society Review.

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