For some people the fear of success can be much bigger and more daunting than the fear of failure. Though this may seem a bit ironic, it actually makes a lot sense. Most of us have learned how to cope with failure in some way. It’s a natural, inseparable part of life and learning. Failure doesn’t usually feel good, so wanting to avoid it at least seems reasonable.
Success, on the other hand, is supposed to feel good. It’s what most of us spend our lives trying to define and achieve. So when people are over come with a fear of success, they get confused at the apparent contradiction and don’t know what to do with it.
The truth is though that the fear of success is just like any other fear. It’s just another way of describing our deeply rooted desire to avoid some potential future pain.
Fear is a biological quality that helps us to avoid hurting ourselves or others. But it is also a very loud and clear sign of the kinds of things that we think- whether consciously or subconsciously, warranted or unwarranted- are dangerous or painful. For this reason within all fear there lies a potential opportunity. If you can learn to change your mindset and read those signs, you can totally transform the way you live and work for the better.
So, do you know what your fear of success is telling you? If you are struggling to come up with an answer, here are ten ways that fear of success typically comes up, what it may be telling you, and how to get past it:
The 10 Flavors of the Fear of Success
1. You fear change. In other words, you have a hard time stepping outside of your comfort zone. It is quite natural to fear change. Any new situation or environment sends out an alert, “I don’t know what’s happening here.” That alert makes us nervous and cautious. The fix for this is to break down the areas of change into small actions or steps, and then make a plan to slowly, but surely get comfortable with each area. Realize that once you take those first steps, some of this process may happen naturally. You will begin to do things and they’ll work. You’ll get comfortable doing good work and succeeding, and the fear will slip away, often without you even noticing that it went!
2. You fear who you’ll become. Sometimes people fear success because of who they think they may have to become in order to achieve it. This can come from a few different places:
- You witnessed another person become successful, and you don’t want to be like this person. This can happen in particular when that individual is a close friend or family member.
- You may feel that if you reach your goals you will somehow lose your personality and have to to start being what other people (such as clients, fans, or family) want you to be.
- You have a personal definition of what successful people look like and how they act, and you fear the process of trying to fit into this mold.
It makes sense that if you don’t want to become that successful person, you’ll resist the outcomes you think will lead you there. But the truth is, these projections are typically inaccurate. If you are struggling with this fear, then do yourself a favor and start searching for successful people with similar personalities to yours. They’re out there! Use them as an example for motivation, and where possible try reaching out to them for advice and encouragement.
3. Your definition of success scares you. Following on the heals of the point above, you are afraid of the assumed demands on your time or yourself. If you are an introvert, for example, then you may be reluctant to move forward, because success might mean having to constantly interact with others. If you don’t like working long hours you may put off getting ahead because you think that success will mean maintaining a demanding schedule. First, you have to figure out if your assumptions are really true, and you can only do that by looking at others who are doing something similar to what you want to do. If your assumptions are correct, is there workaround? Are there things you can do to avoid or lesson the “dreaded” aspects of being successful?
4. You’re afraid of social disapproval. If you’re surrounded by people – especially friends and family – who are critical of you, or who expect you to fail, or who are not successful themselves, then your success will change those relationships and often make things difficult. Sometimes, these people may technically love and support you, but they don’t understand or value the goals you have chosen for yourself. The bottom line over here is that you shouldn’t spend too much energy trying to bring these people over to your side (even if their disapproval hurts). Instead, you need to surround yourself with people who “get” what you do and who want your success.
5. You don’t believe you’ve got what it takes. Often, fear of success is really just a cover-up for a fear of failure. You don’t fully believe in yourself or your ability to carry through and persevere till you reach your goal. There are two ways around this. The first is to set the bar low at the beginning and to make small steps. Let your little successes along the way help you to feel more confident about yourself. The second is to surround yourself with a network of people who can support and encourage you and who are going in a similar direction.
6. You feel overwhelmed by the learning curve. Sometimes “I can’t do it!” results from a lack of knowledge or efficiency, and the perceived process to acquire that knowledge or efficiency can be overwhelming- especially if you need to learn a complex thing from the beginning. This problem is easily fixed as long as you are committed to the effort. You have to spend some time breaking down the major skills and competencies you need to acquire into small manageable steps, follow one or two(!) authoritative sources on the subject, and then make the effort to get through those steps till you reach your goal.
7. You don’t think it can be done.Here’s a big secret to success: the most successful people out there didn’t reinvent the wheel; they either figured out how to make that wheel better or they used the same wheel in unique ways. Achievement and success aren’t rocket science. Analyze what you have to do to achieve your goal, look to others who are already successful, and then incorporate some of the strategies that they’ve used in order to create your own success.
8. You don’t feel like you deserve success. For some people, lying at the core of their fear of success is the belief that success isn’t really meant for them. They feel unworthy and undeserving. In order to overcome such issues of low-self esteem and a poor self image, the first step is to just be aware that it exists. You can’t treat the cause if you can’t find it. Depending on the severity of the feeling, it may pay to consult with a qualified therapist as well.
9. You don’t really know who you are… and are afraid to find out. Do you ever take time to reflect on your life and consider what your purpose is in this world? Most of us get so caught up in the day to day details, plans, responsibilities, events, and updates that we can forget the bigger picture and how we fit into it. When you know who you are and are comfortable with it, you can connect it to a life’s mission. Then the need to be successful and happy just makes sense. You do the things that matter the most, you help those around you, you make integrity and being a good person a priority, and you know that this isn’t just about you. It’s also about the bigger picture that you’re part of.
10. You fear a leap of faith… Ultimately, almost every instance of success involves some kind of leap of faith. I don’t mean jumping blindly into a business idea or project. I’m a firm believer in having a plan and doing what you can to demonstrate a need. What I mean here is that in order to really move, grow, and achieve success in business or in life there will always be those points where you will need to take steps forward even when you are not completely sure of the way or of your ability to stick to the path and even when those steps may hurt. You’ll take those steps because you believe in and want the goal, because the “pain” of standing still, of potentially missing the boat, is greater than the discomfort that can come along with growth. This goes beyond change. It’s a kind of sublime paradigm shift that challenges the natural order of the universe where everything else tends to take the path of least resistance.
In short, your fear of success does not have to be a roadblock. With the right attitude, you can turn a detour into an opportunity to learn more about yourself and ultimately reach a more fulfilling and enriching experience of achievement in business and in life.