When I was in elementary school, I played in a tetherball competition with the girls in my 5th grade class.
After beating several other girls, I was paired with the most popular girl in the class. All of the kids were standing around us watching our match, and I was ahead for most of the game.
It was thrilling to be kicking the butt of the most popular girl, especially since I wasn't much of an athlete.
But as the match went on, all of our classmates started cheering for my opponent. Every time she scored, there was wild enthusiasm. When I scored, there was silence.
So I threw the game -- I purposely messed up to allow her to score the winning point.
At the time, I wasn't conscious of my reasons for purposely losing. It was a quick decision, but a decision triggered by an accumulation of experiences and beliefs about myself.
I was afraid of succeeding because . . .
- I would have undermined the social hierarchy in our class -- the popular girl is supposed to win.
- I wasn't a natural athlete, so if I won, I'd be challenging the perceptions of all of my classmates.
- Maybe I was more athletic than I believed, and by winning, I'd have to challenge my own beliefs about myself.
These things didn't run through my brain in the moment, but in retrospect, I see how my fear of success was fueled by a fear of rejection, shame, and discomfort.
I didn't want to tinker with the status quo.
Have you ever had an experience where you sabotaged your own success, even when you longed to be successful?
It's a strange and disconcerting situation in which to find yourself. On the one hand you dream of accomplishment and glory. On the other, you overtly or passively subvert your every effort.