“I Couldda Been a Contender”: Why the Fear of Pursuing Happiness is Freakin’ Paralyzing

You’re an aspiring writer offered the chance to pitch an idea to someone at The Huffington Post. What do you do? Most likely you look at what you have written, which topics you could use as a springboard and start with some research and prepare your pitch. Or, you’re like me and delay it for a year and a half using it as a backup plan, a joker in your back pocket – simultaneously, using it as a means to shame yourself into the self narrative that you just aren’t productive enough and therefore, just not good enough. But why, why do I do this to myself? I do want to have this article published in Huff Post. The answer is simple – fear of pursuing success. While the answer may be simple, the question is anything but. Why is the fear of pursuing success and happiness so paralyzing? 

Why is the fear of pursuing success so paralyzing? 

An unhealthy situation, whatever that looks like, is safe. It is predictable. And even when it isn’t, the unexpected is always expected and that becomes a new form of predictability. When we are stuck inside these bad relationships, other parts of life get a pass. I can’t be the parent I want to be when all my energy goes into my marriage.I cannot even begin to focus on my individual self fulfillment when getting out of bed is a challenge. Of course I have those extra 25lbs (ok 40lbs); eating healthy just isn’t my focus right now. I am not touting these as feeble excuses. These are real responses to very real trauma and hardship. More often than not, these responses aren’t even verbalized or actualized because we find ourselves numb and running on autopilot.

I vividly recall sitting at a stop sign dreaming of coming back in my next life single and being able to go to college. So long as I was in that relationship, still married, I could hold onto those dreams. I could fantasize about what life would be like with a formal education and choices I had made on behalf of my authentic self. My dreams and fears were directed byt the ’if only’s’ of my life and the ‘I’ll do this when…’ But once that impediment is no longer there, I alone am wholly culpable for my failures. 

I know failure. I know misery. I know its heavy feeling weighing in my bones.

There is no one on the hook for my lack of success other than myself. There is safety in failure and misery. It is predictable. I know failure. I know misery. I know its heavy feeling weighing in my bones. I know its smell of envy as I see others living their true selves. I know its song singing in my head – you’re not worthy nor deserving of more. 

Success and happiness have no script. They are as unpredictable as a toddler’s mood or me without caffeine. Success and happiness have no script because it is a movie I haven’t seen before. This is not to say that I have never been happy or never had success, but this 3D version of my life, the one where I am an active participant and actively living and engaging in it, well that’s a movie I never bought passes to before. 

Happiness and success are so frightening to me because I alone own them. I define them. I set them for myself. They are a direct result of my conscious effort. There are times I will try my very best and still not succeed – like applying to a Masters of Marketing program and being wailisted which frankly sucked and was a blow to my ego. I told my therapist about this and her first reaction was, ‘Daniella, that’s amazing!’ and then I realized that I had the gumption to even apply to a program when I have no formal work experience in the field and limited education and even fewer financial resources to pay for the program. And they didn’t say no, they essentially played the parent game of “maybe later.” Choosing to apply and risk hearing no over wondering ‘what if’,’ if only’ and ‘I could have’ is actively choosing success. As Brene Brown famously quotes;

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”

― Theodore Roosevelt

Choosing to engage in the reframing of this story is actively choosing happiness. And it’s scary as all hell. I know the Daniella that says ‘you’re an idiot for even thinking you’d get in.” She and I are old besties, we go way back. But this new Daniella who says, ‘You know what? That’s pretty damn badass that you even tried,” – her I’m only just getting to know. 

Post Script: At 4:18pm today I received a call for the admissions department from the Master’s Program informing there is indeed a space for me in the program this fall. I’m not accepting it but just getting in is good enough. Apparently, this happiness thing has some merit after all.

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