There’s comfort in not risking success

The football team I have supported since childhood has always felt like a safe choice, but not in a way that you might expect. They were safe not because they won, but because they rarely did.

The Western Bulldogs are a working class club with only one premiership in their history, way back in 1954. A team for the battlers, being a “Doggies” supporter has come with equal doses affection and sympathy. “Everyone’s second team” has been safe because they didn’t upset the ranks. Where powerhouse clubs like Collingwood, Hawthorn and Essendon (in their day) have been hated for their success, it is a burden the Dogs have not had to carry.

Until now. The Bulldogs are on their way to the AFL Grand Final, the biggest stage in the AFL year.

Suddenly it doesn’t feel safe to be a Dogs supporter anymore.

Suddenly there is something at stake.

Suddenly I’ve realised there is comfort in not being successful, and risk if you endeavour to be. 

Your playing small does not serve the world

Being a Dogs supporter has become part of my personal narrative. Enjoying some success without too much. Risking a little without really going for it. Feeling safe by not asking for more.

Does this resonate with you?

You may work in a corporate environment, a government organisation or small business, be single or coupled. My question to you is whether you fear success?

I do.

I believe there are two components to this. 

1. Success means risking failure

Success has a flip side, and that of course is failure. It follows, then, that to avoid failure we have to deny ourselves the chance of success, sticking with the status quo rather than reaching towards our goal.

Loss aversion is the behavioural principle at the heart of this inertia – a fear of losing that cripples motivation to take action. We might stay in jobs or relationships that don’t serve us because there is comfort in the devil we know.

To overcome loss aversion we can give ourselves nothing to fear about the change and/or something greater to fear. As writer Anaïs Nin so elegantly put it: “And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom”.

But from personal experience, overcoming fear is not all there is to it. The flipside of failure is not necessarily success – it’s not failing, and that’s different.

bri williams

Which brings me to the second part of this challenge of risking success – feeling like you deserve it. 

2. Success means rewriting your story

The Dogs are known to be a team that tries hard but always falls short – it’s their narrative. Unfortunately stories like these tend to stick because they give us a sense of comfort in believing we know how things will turn out.

To chase success means you have to rewrite your story and that, frankly, is hard to do. You and everyone around you have been complicit in crafting your narrative. People think they know who you are and you end up locked into the story of your own making.

“I can’t because people don’t expect that of me”.

“I won’t because they’ll think I’m full of myself”.

“I shouldn’t because it’s not the responsible thing to do”.

Risking success means rewriting your story – giving up the narrative that is comfortable in its familiarity – and feeling good about putting a new version out in the world.

Not everyone may like it.

Not everyone may get it.

But in the words of Marianne Williamson: ”your playing small does not serve the world”.

Here’s to your success and mine, and as always, keep behaving.

Go Doggies.

Bri Williams runs People Patterns, a consultancy specialising in the application of behavioural economics to everyday business issues.

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