“Afraid of Happiness” Club

I can easily relate to the phrase, “fear of failure.” As far as fear goes, it might be the most obvious. “Fear of success,” on the other hand, sounds preposterous. I’m a perfectionist who prefixes every Google search with “best.” Success in itself isn’t even a success to me; it is what is expected. I thought success was my programmed (genetic) default. There is nothing scary about success; is there? 

As the year is wrapping up and my 365-day writing project is coming to a close, I feel a new sensation I hadn’t encountered. I feel trepidation that something good will occur. 

What happens when my dreams become more tangible, like a lucid dream? When I land an agent who believes in me and makes me her little project (doesn’t every girl ultimately want to get “discovered?”) I will get my book deal and it will explode like Harry Potter, only for the over 40+ crowd who teeter between the chick-lit and self-help aisles. I will appear on The Today Show’s fourth hour with Kathie Lee and Hoda. I’ll get an advance on my next book. More donut shop stories. More tales from the advertising world. More Russian modern family inappropriate anecdotes. Chronicles of the Clowns on Wall Street. (I can go on all day.)

When all of this transpires, I will be even more scared than I am now. In that scenario, I will have tipped the life scales in my favor triggering the ultimate paralyzing fear: waiting for what will balance it out. I believe in the Yin and Yang; how opposite forces may actually be complementary, interconnected, and interdependent in the natural world, and how they may give rise to each other as they interrelate to one another.

Translation: with the good, you get the bad.

I had to get the flood in order to get a new kitchen. Yet, as I enjoy my new kitchen, I don’t think, “This is my reward for going through something crappy.” Instead, I look around and secretly think, “now what?”

As the year rounds out, I find myself waking up with a sense of “waiting for it.” I dread the phone ringing. Whenever my husband calls out from across the room, I don’t know what will follow when I say, “What?” I don’t exhale until it’s something simple like the gas won’t work or the tiles won’t fit or they sent the wrong parts for the pantry drawers. Each day something annoying or stupid happens, I’m grateful it’s not something worse. I can handle these things; they have solutions.

It’s the uncontrollable with which I struggle. I have no power over the scariest things. The mystery of tomorrow is terrifying to me, rather than exhilarating. At the same time, I’m “grateful as fuck.”* Thankful I can wake up healthy and have another chance to play the game. I use the game metaphor for life often because it seems so “on point:”** I can usually attempt to find a strategy to win but a game, by its very nature, implies there is an element of chance and serendipity involved.

My habit of finding the “reason for things” is closely connected to my “fear of happiness” as they are two sides me trying to gain control. If I relax and go with it, the wave of life will wash over me and what I really want is to learn to surf. Life is a series of lessons and metaphors and cliches, where we ultimately all share the same ending.

My husband is convinced my fear of good comes from my Russian cynical pragmatic upbringing (or genetics). My pessimistic parents (who I excuse with the label of “realists” because they had to overcome an oppressed life and defect as refugees to a new country) subconsciously brainwashed me to look for faults, mistakes, and anticipate the worst. My mother is convinced there is a bullseye of bad luck on her life. These were also the same people who didn’t settle for a life without freedom. They went for more and I will do the same.

Yet I find myself most anxious when I’m at my happiest. What kind of crazy psychosis is this? I’ve come full circle. Like proving a math theorem, in the course of an essay I have unwound the mystery behind my “fear of success.”

I am Dostoyevsky meets Nora Ephron.

Fear, you jackass, you mind terrorist, you dwell in every fold of my brain. I will liberate you with writing.

* Millennial-speak in an effort to be relevant, hip, and mostly I try to drop an F-bomb at least once a piece.

** I did it again.

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