There are people out there who are just brilliant. Their brains are amazing. Their art is gasp-inducing.
But they can’t seem to achieve their goals.
These are the people who know twenty-two languages, have maybe five masters degrees, and shrug it off like it’s no big deal.
They can quote Derrida and Angela Davis in the same breath and make the connections between the two.
According to writer/blogger Jessica Wildfire, some people are ‘too good for their own good.’
She calls this the Cold Mountain Effect.
Someone can know too much. They can be too talented. They’ll turn any project into an epic journey through the Himalayas. They don’t get tired of working. They don’t want to see the end. They’re not even perfectionists. They just love their work too much.
This stems from the story of the writer of Cold Mountain.
It made history in 1997 with a 61-week run on the New York Times best-seller list, moving 3 million copies.
Based on its success, Charles Frazier got an $8 million deal for his second book, with nothing more than a 1-page proposal. Cold Mountain swept the award scene that year, and went on to become a hit film that earned seven Academy Award nominations.
Sometimes it takes an intervention.
You probably don’t know that Frazier spent almost a decade working on Cold Mountain. According to lore, he couldn’t stop.
One of his friends finally snuck an unfinished copy of the manuscript to a literary agent, who signed Frazier on the spot. That’s the only reason anyone knows anything about Charles Frazier. It’s hard to imagine how long he would’ve kept revising it.
It’s not perfectionism that keeps them going, she argues, but the fear of their own success. Or it can just be the joy that they get from creating and doing and not wanting that joy to stop.
Susanne Babbel MFT, PhD on Psychology Today’s blog talks a bit more in depth about this fear. She’s dealt with a lot of clients who are afraid of success. Many of her clients had PTSD.
For them, the excitement of success feels uncomfortably close to the feeling of arousal they experienced when subjected to a traumatic event or multiple events. (This feeling of arousal can be linked to sexuality, in certain cases where trauma has been experienced in that realm, but that is not always the case.) People who have experienced trauma may associate the excitement of success with the same physiological reactions as trauma. They avoid subjecting themselves to excitement-inducing circumstances, which causes them to be almost phobic about success.
There is another layer to the fear of success. Many of us have been conditioned to believe that the road to success involves risks such as “getting one’s hopes up” — which threatens to lead to disappointment.
And many of us — especially if we’ve been subject to verbal abuse — have been told we were losers our whole lives, in one way or another. We have internalized that feedback and feel that we don’t deserve success. Even those of us who were not abused or otherwise traumatized often associate success with uncomfortable things such as competition and its evil twin, envy.
She suggests this exercise.
Recall an event where you were successful or excited when you were younger, and notice what you are feeling and sensing in your memory. Stay with the sensation for five minutes.
Recall an event where you were successful and excited recently in your life, and notice what you are feeling and sensing. Stay with this sensation for five minutes.
Now tap into the sensation of a memory of an overwhelming situation. I suggest not to start with a truly traumatic event, at least not without a therapist’s support. Start with something only moderately disturbing to you.
Now, go back to visualizing your success story. Do you notice a difference?
WRITING TIP OF THE POD
You have to be brave sometimes and show your work to the world. Don’t get stuck endlessly tinkering because you love a project so much. You’ll love another.
DOG TIP FOR LIFE
Don’t be afraid of hope. Bad crap happens but even if you’ve been abused and lived in the pound, you can find that success and excitement and the joy again. Us dogs do it all the time.
The music we’ve clipped and shortened in this podcast is awesome and is made available through the Creative Commons License. Here’s a link to that and the artist’s website. Who is this artist and what is this song? It’s “Summer Spliff” by Broke For Free.
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