How To Avoid Fear Of Success

Biz Markie is telling a story in “She’s Just a Friend” a popular rap song from 1986.

Watch the video if you don’t know the song:


He’s in love with a girl and planning a life with her. He asked her her name and “She said it was, ‘blah blah blah’ ” and then he tells a story of hurt, betrayal, and how he’s basically given up on pursuing lifelong intimacy.

The story is told to his male friends who are just having a fun time making jokes (“your momma’s so old, when she was born, Central Park was just a plant!” “Your momma’s hair is so nappy she needs painkillers to comb her hair.”) and then two girls pass and all the guys are distracted but Biz Markie just waves them a way.

Then he has a story for the guys, “let me tell you a story about my situation…I was talking to this girl from the U.S. Nation.”

She wanted him to wait for a year before they slept together- so she was “just a friend” and whenever he called her, a guy would pick up the phone.

Who’s that guy? he would ask.

And she would say, “oh, he’s just a friend.”

So the entire notion of friendship is turned upside down. Friends are bad.

It’s a risk to be a friend with a girl. She might betray him. And friendships with guys are mostly surface, trading insults, telling stories, laughing.

Intimacy (with men or women) is kept on the surface. Any dive deeper and you can be eaten by sharks.

This was Biz Markie’s biggest hit ever. It’s from 1986 but if you go to his website right now and click from page to page, the song keeps replaying.

He’s been in a ton of other stuff but a song from 30 years ago is the one that defines him.

Every time he refers to the girl in the song he calls her “blah blah blah” as if that’s her name (or, in one case, he just refers to her by her first name, “blah blah”). He does this in part, because he’s angry at the betrayal, but also because she’s a placeholder for any woman in his life (or the life he is suggesting for his male friends).

Biz Markie is a tortured soul.

(Imagine, three years ago someone making a bet with me: I bet you can never say in a blog post, and have a well-justified argument for it, the line “Biz Markie is a tortured soul.” Well, now I just won that BET!)

The message of his story is that YOU can be hurt also. So be careful.

But there’s more: Biz Markie wants to be an accepted musician. In the middle of the song he’s playing the piano, dressed like Mozart (the movie, “Amadeus” had just come out) but he’s singing off-key on purpose.

On the one hand he wants to say he’s a musician, among the greatest. And on the other hand, he deliberately sabotages this by singing off-key and dressing somewhat like a clown (he’s even called “the clown prince of rap”).

If the song wasn’t a big success he could say, “I was just fooling around.”

Is there such a thing as “fear of success”? I don’t know. Who would be afraid of success? Success isn’t a bad thing so why be afraid of it.

WHAT PEOPLE ARE AFRAID OF of is “fear of no success” – the idea that they can aim for the stars but only hit the ozone layer and never break free into outer space.

So they take all of their talent and preparation and hard work and they make a masterpiece (“Just a Friend” is still considered one of Billboard’s top 100 rap songs of all time) but it’s too close to the sun. They heat up and they are afraid to take that final step into outer space and they fall to the Earth.

I think I go through this sometimes. I’ve turned down opportunities and had excuses for turning them down but perhaps they would’ve been the thing I needed to really “make it” at that time.

Maybe I could’ve started a new business in the past few years. Or maybe I could’ve kept one of my old businesses running instead of repeatedly either selling them or shutting them down. Or maybe some relationships in my past I gave up too early on (although I’m very happy in my marriage).

So what’s helped me since then?

Every day showing up. Even doing crap every day. Every day being prepared and trying my best.

Every moment until this second I’ve been preparing. If you prepare correctly, you only need faith in the outcome.

Outcomes are unpredictable. Uncontrollable. Only your preparation beforehand was under your control.

Nobody knows anything. Which is why news, TV pundits, polls, academics, scientists, lovers, are such poor predictors of the future.

I read recently of one person who was afraid to ask a woman on a date. So his therapist said, “go to a mall a few towns over so nobody knows you. Stand by the escalator. Ask every woman coming down the escalator to have a cup of coffee with you. Keep doing it until 50 say “Yes.”

The guy did it. He never got to 50 because so many women were saying yes and it took up the whole day. Who would’ve thought?

Biz Markie is still living off of “Just a Friend.” I don’t know him. And he’s been successful but maybe he was always afraid of getting too close to the sun: with relationships (“just a friend”), with music (the clown vs Mozart), and with his career (he’s a guest on Sponge Bob and performs mostly covers and “Just a Friend” at his concerts).

I’m deathly afraid when I launch something that it’s going to fail. Or if I publish a book that it will flop. And that’s happened to me many times. So I do less publicity for it. Or I have sub-par technology. Or whatever.

I always used to make sure I came prepared with my excuses. “Well, it didn’t work because I didn’t do any marketing. I BLAME the publishers. Or I BLAME Wall Street.”

When I used to run a hedge fund, I was terrified I’d have even one bad trade. I was so afraid that I never really let myself raise that much money so I could at least limit the people I would fail in front of.

Sure enough, I failed. Not because I lost a lot of money for the fund (the fund was up over 100% in just two years), but because I didn’t raise enough money.

My business strategy failed because of my fear of failure as opposed to fear of success.

“Success in life” doesn’t mean anything. “Life” is too big an umbrella. We all have different definitions. For me it means:

to want nothing, and to get everything I want.

But “success in a hedge fund business” means you raise a lot of money. “Success at acting” means you make enough money from acting that you can support yourself. “Success in business” usually means you have increasing profits or you sell your business for a nice amount. And so on.

Define what success is for the various themes in your life. (Goals change, so live by themes instead).

Then back it up. If you have an idea of where your business or art needs to be five years from now, then where should it be one year from now.

Then where are you a month from now. Then what do you need to do TODAY to get the success you want one month from now.

Then today, DO IT.

But sometimes I just want to hang out with my friends and make fun of them and laugh and just hang out. That’s success also and it’s ok to balance it all out.

For me, I need to balance it out a bit more. I need more people who are “just friends.”

“Your mom is so poor she went to McDonalds and put a shake on a layaway plan.” Thought Catalog Logo Mark

James Altucher is the author of the bestselling book Choose Yourself, editor at The Altucher Report and host of the popular podcast, The James Altucher Show, which takes you beyond business and entrepreneurship by exploring what it means to be human and achieve well-being in a world that is increasingly complicated.

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