The Success Avoidance Syndrom

Life is full of ironies and paradoxes. One of the most amazing of these is the human tendency to cry for and cling to those things that hurt them. As one notable poet put it, “people run for their chains.” Is it not amazing that people generally dislike prisons, and yet it is a known fact that many former prisoners would rather be in prison than out of it? How many people out there are clinging to and crying for relationships, and yet they fully know that those same relationships are dysfunctional and leading nowhere?

How many companies, individuals and nations are tenaciously holding onto solutions that have passed their sale by date? How many people desire to lose weight and to be in good health, and yet daily crave for and indulge in those behaviors that negate this aim? My proposition is that there are many. Perhaps the most debilitating human condition is the success avoidance syndrome. Put simply, people have this tendency to want and wish for success, and yet simultaneously unwittingly avoid the things that make for success. They desire success but hasten their feet towards failure. Below is a synopsis of the traits of the success avoiding individual.

o Risk Avoidance.

Many people want to succeed in life but they are averse to risk. However, the very nature of success is that the greater the risk involved the greater the rewards. Every opportunity carries within it a certain amount of risk. To try is to risk failing; to propose is to risk being turned down; to love is to risk heartbreak; to advance is to risk repulsion and resistance; to lead is to risk criticism and being cartooned; to express yourself is to risk appearing a fool; to seek profits is to risk making losses; to put your views to the public (like I am doing now) is to risk being ridiculed; to trust people is to risk being disappointed; to be yourself is to risk being rejected; to be a copycat is to court frustration; to write an exam is to risk failure and disappointment; to communicate is to risk being misunderstood, to buy something is to risk dissatisfaction and dissonance; to get an insurance policy is to risk paying for a service that may never become necessary.

It is true that risk is often uncomfortable. However, the alternative which is failure, frustration and underachievement is even worse. Not only is the alternative very discomfiting, but it is also painful. Any risk minimization strategy is therefore actually a success reduction mechanism. A faint heart never wins a fair lady, and there is no crown for the coward. It is that simple. The winners know that the greatest risk in life is to risk nothing. After all to be alive is to risk dying some day and we will all die, so what is the big deal?

Before we leave the subject of risk it is important to underline that there is a big difference between taking risks and taking gambles. To gamble is to put oneself at the mercy of fate and chance. With gambling one has no influence over the outcome at all and a good example is lottery. However, when one takes risk one does not become a prisoner of fate but remains a participator in a process in which the success is not guaranteed, but the chances thereof can be influenced by one’s own decisions and actions. There is no self determination with gambling, but the risk taker retains some control.

o Failure Avoidance

The person obsessed with avoiding failure learns to do nothing. It is only that person that never does anything, that never makes mistakes. In truth there is no effort without shortcomings. However, action is a progenitor of success and it follows logically that the person who never engages in meaningful and serious action by this very act of omission avoids success. Activity, of course is not to be confused with progress, but there can never be progress without activity. Failure avoidance is success avoidance. Period.

Failure avoidance is a learnt habit. Research indicates that families, companies and environments replete with criticism, cynicism, pessimism, threats of punishment and motivation by fear are a good breeding ground for failure avoiders. To the contrary affirmation, recognition, acknowledgement, praise, reward and encouragement constitute the diet of the success pursuers. Creativity and innovation cannot co-habit with fear of failure and punishment.

The failure avoiders are regulated by their fear of failure, but the winners are inspired by their dreams. In most cases the failure avoiders keep fresh the memories of their past failures, catastrophes, fiascos and heartbreaks. Their minds are filled with imaginations of pain and failure and negative outcomes. They always fear and expect the worst. They think in terms of and look for limits, but the winner thinks in terms of and looks for opportunities.

The loser is therefore always running away from limits, while the winner is running towards opportunity. The winner recognizes that limits and opportunities are one and the same thing. The difference lies in the eye of the beholder and how he chooses to interpret what he sees. The failure avoider sees the challenges as stumbling blocks to be avoided but the winner sees them as stepping stones to be embraced and utilized. In truth every challenge brings with it an opportunity to grow, but it is easy to miss this opportunity if one sees it as a burden, problem or disappointment.

What have you been avoiding all your life and of late? What have you been hesitating to do? Is it a conversation, telephone call or important decision? Whatever it is, take time to reflect on whether your avoidance does not constitute success avoidance. To be continued, expect some more.

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