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

Everyone has fears. It is not an emotion that is only for a chosen few. One’s fear may seem irrational to the outside world, but I guarantee to that person it is debilitating. So much so, that it shapes their perspective and how they see the world. My fear is of 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. Our discussions brought up a memory that I am sure started this fear.

When I was twelve years old, I loved basketball. It was my all-time favorite sport. You had to be good individually but also as a team.

Being introverted, I had to work hard at the latter, but it was a challenge I was willing to take on because I loved the game so much. I practiced all day every day. My grandma even brought me a basketball hoop to put in her driveway so I could practice. (This was a big deal because she loved her yard and thought the hoop made it look less appealing.)

Nonetheless, I got good and made the basketball team. So now I could work more on the team aspect.

One day I was at my cousin’s house, and we were playing basketball. A teammate lived across the street. After my game with my cousin, she came over and challenged me to a game one on one. I agreed

As we were playing, I noticed she became more intense and aggressive. 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 threw the ball at me and ran toward her house crying. I was so confused. My dad saw and made me go with him to her house, where she was sitting on the porch.

He asked her what was wrong. She said, “Why does she have to be so good? She always wins. 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. But he was my dad, and she was crying.

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

From that time on I questioned the results of my success. If I succeeded would people be upset? Would I be taking someone else’s spot? Would this person hate me? Should I not try my best?

This fear of success became a big deal in my twenties. 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.

At that time, I was working at a tutoring center, and there was this nice older gentleman name GW. He always saw me writing in my journal, and one day he invited me to an open poetry mic night that he held on Fridays in a barn.

I didn’t think much of it. When I went home, I looked up the guy and learned that he was a famous poet. So, I decided to take him up on his offer to attend.

It was great, everyone was kind and just wanted to share their work. After a couple of visits as a spectator, GW asked me when I was going to share my work. The thought was scary for me.

It took so much for me to even attend. I told him I was just enjoying being there. He then said something that I hold on to even to this day.

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

He then told me he was going to feature me as the poet of the night, where I would do a set of my poems for fifteen minutes for everyone. I reluctantly agreed.

It took so much for me not to cancel. 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

This fear of success is tough to deal with, especially as I continue to pursue my writing career.  I feel as though I have multiple personalities. “Author Nesha” wants success. I want to be a famous writer with people reading my books.

“Regular Nesha” is introverted and just wants to write because I love it. “Regular Nesha” is afraid. I am afraid that I will get successful, and everyone will criticize my art that I worked so hard on.

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

This fear of success has also morphed a bit into social anxiety. When I do open mics (which is rare because of my fears) I need to have my wife by my side.

I remember one time I did an open mic, and as I was speaking, I noticed this woman crying and staring intently at me. My mind began to swirl with so many questions. Why is she staring at me? Does she think my work is bad? Will she want to talk to me?

When I was done, I walked to my seat near my wife. The woman came and sat behind us. She touched my shoulder, which brought fear to my heart. I turned around. She was still crying.

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! Someone was talking to me!

All I could think was, this is going to spiral into a full-blown conversation. All I could muster up was “I’m glad you liked the poem, and I’m sorry for your loss.”

That night was difficult and exhilarating. Difficult because so many people came up to me and wanted to talk and shake my hand, and I was so afraid and had so many thoughts flying through my head. Exhilarating because OH MY GOD! People liked me!

This battle between “Author Nesha” and “Regular Nesha” is something I deal with daily. Not only in my pursuit of being a writer but in other aspects of my life.

I am an English teacher by day. In my staff meetings, I’m afraid to share my ideas because what if I succeed and some people like them? Will they expect me to always have good ideas? What if others are upset at me or think less of me because of my ideas?

But then again, I want to share my thoughts because I worked hard on them and feel like they are worthy to be shared.

I know you’re thinking, how do you survive? Well, first, I had to acknowledge that what my dad did when I was twelve was not right. He may have thought he was doing the right thing, but he should never have told me to dim my light so someone else could shine.

Second, I try to do things out of my comfort zone. For example, in my staff meeting we were discussing how to improve student motivation. 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.

Finally, success is 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.

About Niknesha Q. Hairston

Niknesha Q. Hairston is an English teacher to awesome 7th graders. 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. Her poems have also been featured in The Long Island Quarterly and Nassau County Poet Laureate Society Review.

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