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Is Your Fear of Success Holding You Back?

Fear of Success

Table of Contents

Summary

There's a wealth of advice out there on how to overcome fear of failure, but what about fear of success? This article gives you an overview of how fear of success can manifest, its consequences, and practical strategies to help you to embrace and own your future success!

Do You Dread What May Lie Ahead? 

Imagine this: You’re feeling pretty happy at work. You’re a part of a supportive and collaborative team that gets along well and works hard to hit their goals. Then, one day, out of the blue, you’re approached by the Vice President of your company. She says she’s extremely pleased with your recent productivity and leadership abilities, and she offers you a promotion to the position of Team Lead.   

At first, you feel excited. After all, this could be a huge step forward in your career. But that excitement is short-lived.  

Your mind begins to spiral out of control with worries about what may happen if you were to accept the offer. You think to yourself:

  • “What if I can’t keep up with all my new responsibilities and I let everyone down?”
  • “Will my team be jealous of my promotion, or even respect me as their new boss?”
  • “I’m doing so well already. I don’t know if I need to move up the ladder right now.”
  • “I’m not sure I deserve this.”  

These thoughts reflect what it can be like to have a fear of success.

Fear of success has more to do with fearing the potential outcomes related to being successful, rather than success itself. For example, you may fear that your achievements will lead to criticism from others, self-doubts about your abilities, damage to your personal and professional relationships, and overwhelming changes at work and home. 

But true growth comes through pushing through the fear of the unknown. It’s about not letting the question of, “What happens once I get there?” rule your thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. And while it can feel uncomfortable to confront a fear of success, it’s important to overcome it. Once you stop letting your fear hold you back, you can begin to reach your full potential and live a more authentic life! 

The Consequences of Having a Fear of Success 

The wellbeing effects of fearing success can range in severity and vary from person to person. But many people who have a fear of success experience

  • Anxiety about the future, related to their potential success. 
  • Decreased life satisfaction. 
  • Difficulty with setting and/or following through on goals. 
  • Low motivation. 
  • Sleep difficulties. 
  • Decreased energy levels. 

Additionally, fear of success can cause people to behave in ways, consciously or unconsciously, that lessen their anxiety and general emotional discomfort. Specifically, they may engage in: 

  • Avoidance: They may try to avoid taking on new responsibilities, trying new hobbies, being the center of attention, setting or following through on goals, or discussing what success looks like for them with others.
  • Self-Sabotage: They might engage in unhelpful behaviors, like frequently being late, missing deadlines, or not being attentive during conversations, which reduce their chances of success. They also may develop a mindset of complacency, leading them to believe that there’s no need to try something new when life is already going okay for them.
  • Perfectionism: They may set an impossibly high bar that they’ll never be able to reach. 
  • Quitting: They may enter into a cycle of approaching the finish line for a goal but quitting before they cross it. 

If you’re struggling with your fear of success, know that you are not alone – it’s a common obstacle that many encounter. But with the right support and strategies in place, you can overcome it.  

Strategies for Overcoming Your Fear of Success 

Consider trying out some of the strategies below, in order to begin to confront your fear of success: 

Work to Identify When Your Fear of Success is Holding You Back: Because you unconsciously may be placing barriers in front of your success, it can be difficult to recognize when you’re engaged in unhelpful behaviors. If you struggle with identifying when you are holding yourself back from being successful, consider reaching out to a trusted friend or mental health professional. You can ask these individuals to help you gain insight into your fear-based behaviors (and the roots of them). Through talking about your experiences, you may be able to uncover behavioral patterns that are feeding your fear, in order to address the issue and move onward (and upward!). 

Re-Think Your Definition of Success: A fear of success is sometimes driven by negative beliefs about what accompanies success. Perhaps you’ve always believed that success only leads to having more complex responsibilities and problems, or that success can be damaging to your relationships with others, in your personal life and at work. Take a moment to examine your negative beliefs surrounding success, as well as the evidence you have to support those beliefs. You just may find that your beliefs are irrational, which can help you to realize that success may not be such a bad thing after all. 

Focus on the Positive: It can be easy to become overwhelmed when thinking about the potential challenges that your success might bring. To combat this, do your best to concentrate on the positive life changes and opportunities that may accompany your success. Consider the doors that could swing open as a result of the hard work you put into reaching your goals. For example, your success could inspire those around you or enable you to give back to your community in a meaningful way. Focusing on the good aspects of achieving a goal can help you to get and stay motivated and beat your fears.

Breaking free from the negative cycle of fear of success can be challenging, but it’s crucial for living a life full of joy and authenticity. Remember, allowing success into your life enhances your overall wellbeing. Continue to take small, deliberate steps to confront and overcome this fear. In doing so, you’ll gradually move closer to embracing the success you truly deserve. 

Scholarly Sources 

Cherry, K. (2021, May 20). What is the fear of success? Verywell Mind. https://www.verywellmind.com/what-is-the-fear-of-success-5179184 

Herndon, J. R. (2022, June 6). What is fear of success? Verywell Health. https://www.verywellhealth.com/fear-of-success-5323157 

Moe, K. (2021, December 6). Fear of success: Why we’re sometimes afraid of being our best. BetterUp.  https://www.betterup.com/blog/fear-of-success  

Tsatiris, D. (2021, May 16). The fear of success can sabotage your life goals. Psychology Today. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/anxiety-in-high-achievers/202105/the-fear-success-can-sabotage-your-life-goals 

Yilmaz H. (2018). Fear of success and life satisfaction in terms of self-efficacy. University Journal of Educational Research, 6(6):1278-1285. doi:10.13189/ujer.2018.060619   

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