Being a Successful Entrepreneur and Success Guilt

Overcoming the fear of success as an enterprenuer

Our world is becoming more specialized as are our jobs.  Advanced technology careers like engineering, coding, and software development are in high demand with the average Silicon Valley engineer making a median salary of $105,000 per year.  As workers, we are rewarded with specialized skills and training providing us increased income-earning potential and job security.  Life is good.

Experts like Seth Godin talk about Linchpins at work and the growing shift towards being successful in your career versus mediocrity.  But something lurks behind the shadows.  It is an ever growing struggle, a divide between the haves and have-nots; the linchpins and the linchpots.  While a Silicon Valley engineer can live comfortably, the average cashier in 2010 made $9.52 an hour.  If that cashier works full time at 40 hours a week, that equates to a salary of almost $20,000 per year. That’s $2,000 below the US poverty level for a family of four.

Doing Without and Finding Success

I feel this struggle in my own life as my father is a blue collar worker that was a faithful company man working as a printing pressman for nearly 35 years.  That is until the company left him and many others to outsource the work to Mexico for lower hourly wages and other tax benefits.  My dad spent nearly 2 years unemployed as he continued his job search, refusing to work for wages less than his unemployment benefits provided.  His skills as a printing pressman were specialized – but not in high demand, as the focus has shifted to jobs in technology.

As a child, my dad worked hard and provided me and my sisters with a roof over our heads and guidance that led me to college and to where I am today as an entrepreneur.  We were poor and shopped for school clothes at garage sales.  We grew our own vegetables and raised chickens, pigs, and cows so we would have food to eat.  It was only later in my teenage years did I understand how my family did without.

Experiencing “Success Guilt” as a Successful Entrepreneur

Doing-without makes me feel guilty about the success that provides the life I’m living right now.  I struggle.  This struggle is a burden I carry.  My husband I have done well for ourselves. We purchased a home in 2006, own a car outright, and have very little debt.  I don’t worry about where my next meal comes from.  I shop garage sales for fun.  I don’t clip coupons, and for that I feel tremendous guilt.

Now, when I attend family functions I do not fit in and maybe that’s of my own doing, yet I feel the need for acceptance instead of uncomfortableness and false assumptions that I find instead because I am a successful entrepreneur.

Overcoming Fear of Success

This anguish, confusion, and anxiety I’m feeling is a common one among celebrities, survivors of great tragedies, and professional athletes – except that I’m none of those.  I’m guilty for being mildly successful.  This life I’ve made for myself as an entrepreneur.  This life we’ve made for ourselves has me fighting an inner battle with myself.

Success was making me guilty, and I’ve had enough.  I’m overcoming this fear of success and I will not feel guilty for the success I have already earned.

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Jessica Miller-Merrell

Jessica Miller-Merrell is the founder of Workology, a digital resource that reaches more than a half million HR and workplace leaders each month and host of the Workology Podcast. Jessica lives in Austin, TX, with her husband, daughter, and an assortment of furry family members.


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