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Fear of Success

(written for

I’m sitting here on my sore rear end from a 50-mile bike ride: Del Mar to Oceanside, La Jolla back to Del Mar. I encountered some obstacles naturally—accidentally getting on the freeway (I did not know my legs could pedal that fast), and riding down a very steep hill, just to discover we’d made an error and needed to return up that same hill. I hadn’t had enough to eat, consumed no chocolate, and was sweaty and tired with burning thighs.

Sounds like fun? It was. Actually it was fantastic.

I got to ride with a friend, look at the waves, smell the ocean, watch the birds, chat with other cyclists, feel the sun on my skin, be at peace, and do something good for my body and soul. Afterwards I put my protesting thighs into a nice, warm jacuzzi, then ate some ice cream – with toppings. I was tired but felt strong, empowered and healthy.

And most importantly I felt…successful.

For someone who spent a large chunk of her life being overweight (morbidly obese at times), success is not a feeling I am used to. I’ve started and failed diet and exercise programs hundreds, if not thousands, of times. I would begin – falter – fail. Time after time. Year after year. Getting heavier and heavier in the process. Failure was a way of life for me. I’d dropped out of college, stayed in a bad marriage, put in half-hearted efforts at work, gotten out of shape. I wasn’t so much afraid of failure, I think, as afraid of success. Being successful, after all, requires effort, discipline, sacrifice and self-realization. If I actually became successful, I would have nothing and no one to blame my unhappiness on. I would have to start looking at me—taking responsibility for my own life.

Just over three years ago I realized I would have to either save myself or die young. I discovered that the power to change was in my hands and my hands alone. There was no prince on a white horse coming to save me and fix my life. I had to do it—by myself. I began taking better care of my health. Started eating fruits and vegetables, exercising, and eventually Spinning®. Each Spin class I was able to do more, stand longer, push harder, ride stronger. This enabled me to add entries into the “success” column in my head, to begin counter-balancing the massive “failure” column. I eventually lost 82 pounds.

But as the successes started to mount, I overshot my abilities and ended up taking a huge mental leap backwards—trying to climb Mt. Palomar in San Diego on my very first outdoor bike ride. I had the wrong equipment; ran out of water; overheated. I foamed at the mouth, cried, walked, pushed my bike and cursed. In my eyes, I had failed once more. But unlike the “old” Helen, this time I did not let failure beat me completely. I did not fall back on over-eating. I did not stop making an effort. I did not give up. I began riding more outdoors. Participated in group rides. Slowly regained my confidence. 21 months later, this last April, I rode Mt. Palomar again. I didn’t have to but I needed to. For me. To face my fear of failure and success. I flew up that mountain without shedding a single tear—except for the one that threatened to leak out when I reached the top.

The 50-mile bike ride Sunday? Somewhat hard. But I’ve already had my failures—and recovered from them. I now know what I am capable of. I am no longer afraid—of mountains, the scale, life, or success.

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jen caulfield
13 years ago

great article miss natasha! so proud of you.

13 years ago

Awww thanks, Van.

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