Why are you okay with being less than? The shadow side of “good enough”

by | Jun 14, 2010


There you are, poised at the top of a really, really steep ski run. You can’t see the bottom of the run, let alone see a way to get there without breaking every bone in your body. You’re sweating bullets and frozen in place. (Couldn’t help myself.)

You’re firmly in the grip of what Tim Gallwey and Robert Krieger call Fear 1 in their book, Inner Skiing. And if you are an under-earner, this fear keeps you settling for “good enough” and letting “just right” pass you by.

Oh, you might not be aware of the terror. Fear 1 dulls your senses and depletes your body’s stress mechanisms. Instead of quaking in your metaphorical boots, you’re more likely to feel subtle disquiet around such things as raising your fees, asking for referrals, tooting your own horn.

And it’s easy enough to confuse that subtle disquiet with gut feelings that come from wisdom and experience. This week you’ll learn the difference so you can shift the pattern of under-earning.

Why under-earners settle for good-enough instead of just right

After reading last week’s article about under-earning, my dear friend Bob wrote:
“You were TOO gentle this week! Talk about the price we pay when we allow ourselves to be lulled into “good enough” without examining our underlying beliefs about why being “less than” is comfortable for us. I can think of all sorts of beliefs that bind me in these endeavors–fear of looking TOO prosperous; fear of judgment by others if I allow myself to prosper; fear of rejection by my peer group, if they are wallowing around as well and I’m doing OK or better than OK…!

He’s right. He’s naming the fears that, when chronic and unexamined, keep us playing small, not only when it comes to money, but when it comes to imagining a life that fits us just right.

The bad news is that these fears can absolutely keep you stuck indefinitely. The good news is that you don’t have to get over them. Instead, you can transform your disabling Fear 1 into empowering Fear 2.


Not all fear is created equal

Fear 1 is a great exaggerator. It magnifies danger, distorts perceptions, and creates chronic tension and anxiety. The more the risk is amplified, the less able you feel to handle it. It’s a perfect storm of stuckness.

Fear 2, on the other hand “is the body’s natural response to challenge…[It] focuses our attention in the present and lends us capabilities beyond our normal levels. Since this kind of fear is helpful to us, we need to learn not to resist it, nor to waste the energy it produces.” (Gallwey and Krieger)

Fear 1 is disabling. Fear 2 is empowering. And if you are an under-earner, Fear 1 is what keeps you that way.

It’s okay to be afraid of what people think

As Byron Katie might say, “How do I know it’s okay to be afraid of what people think? Because I am.”

Fear of other people’s responses to your prosperity happens. The question is not how to prevent or get rid of it, but how to transform it.

And you do that by looking it in the face.

So, what are you afraid of, really?

My friend Bob spelled out three common fears that keep people locked into Fear 1 and under-earning:

  • Fear of looking TOO prosperous.
  • Fear of being judged for allowing yourself to prosper.
  • Fear of being rejected by peers who may not be doing as well as you are.

What exactly is so terrifying about these fears?

I propose that at the root of all of them is an atavistic fear of stepping too far out of the safety of the clan.

In the way olden days, stepping out could mean death. Wander too far drom the protection and suport of others, and you can be overtaken by predators, starvation, and exposure. In that situation, Fear 1 was a sane, survival-based response, and the most ancient part of the brain evolved to alert you to that kind of danger.

Fast forward: stepping out is not fatal

Here in the 21st century, stepping out still has elements of risk. Some people really might envy your prosperity. Others could judge you for allowing (or–heaven forfend-working for) prosperity.

And there is the possibility of being rejected by peers who aren’t doing as well.

But none of these risks is fatal. Not one of them is even a sure thing. And every one of them can be approached from Fear 2 in a way that honors your longing for community as well as your peaceful ambition to prosper.

What gets measured can’t kill you

The first step in transforming Fear 1 into Fear 2 is to make a measured assessment of reality. How serious is the threat, really? What concrete and specific evidence do you have that the threat exists at that level? What counter-evidence can you find (be honest!) that suggests the risk is smaller than you think?

The very act of making a measured assessment calms your nervous system, in itself a good thing. As you give shape and perspective to your fears, they become right-sized. What you fear stops being a threat and becomes a challenge.

And challenge is a good thing.

You’re less vulnerable than you think

Fear 1 not only exaggerates the threat, it shrinks your confidence in being able to meet the challenge. Step 2 in transforming Fear 1 into Fear 2 is accurately assessing your vulnerability?

What’s the worst that could happen if someone envies, judges, or rejects you? Give this some thought and write down the most awful answer you can imagine. Ask again, what’s the worst thing that could happen then? And again. Keep going until you have an accurate assessment of your vulnerability. (Trust me; you’ll know when you get there.)

You’re safe in the here and now

Bringing yourself firmly into the present is the third step in transforming Fear 1 into Fear 2. Memories of past hurts can feed Fear 1. This is especially true with memories of times when you were much younger. Fear 1 doesn’t notice that you’re feeling the emotions of a powerless child. When you relive them as an adult, they can seem cataclysmic.

One way to come into the present is to think of past experiences that make you fear prosperity. Remind yourself that that was then, and this is now. Notice that however upset you were, you survived.

There’s no excuse for under-earning

Yikes! I didn’t expect to write that. How heavy-handed. And I think my friend Bob was right. I was too easy on you last week. If you’re hobbled by these sorts of fears, you now know that they aren’t life threatening. You know that they are exaggerated and that, with some awareness of your part, they can be transformed into creative challenges.

You may have reasons why you are not yet free of under-earning. It is, after all, a process. But you have no excuse for sitting in your stuff now that you know you have a choice.
Your pushy pal,

Ack! I’m self-employed and I don’t want to under-earn any more! 

If you love what you do and are blocked from earning enough by fear and confusion, you need The Way of the Accidental Entrepreneur. That’s a bold statement, and I offer it most sincerely.  The Way of the Accidental Entrepreneur teaches you how to use three simple instructions to get clear, get clients, and get paid. You can learn more about it HERE.

Image Credit: Sean D’Souza, www.psychotactics.com