Fear of failure is something that has long been talked about, and totally makes sense. But “fear of success?” I mean, what kind of crazy talk is that?!
But it’s not crazy at all. It’s real. And left unidentified and unmanaged, fear of success results in self-sabotage, opportunities left untaken, and stagnation in your career or business.
Perhaps worst of all is the self-doubt and constant nagging questions that you ask yourself.
“Why did I say that?”
“Why did I turn that down?”
“Did I just shoot myself in the foot?”
“What just happened there?!”
Where Does Fear of Success Come From?
The following four areas (beliefs) perpetuate the fear of success.
1. What if I Can’t Handle It?
We’ve all seen celebrities reach that “pinnacle of success” only to crumble. (Remember Brittany Spears’ shaved head?)
While we want success, we don’t want embarrassment more. This is basically a preemptive fear of failure.
“It’s ok to fail as long as you try.” That is what we tell our children, right? Easier said than done, though.
The embarrassment and shame of failing after initial success can be paralyzing. What if you build a 7-figure business and gain visibility only to watch it crash down because it was too much to manage?
According to Brené Brown, an expert on shame:
“Shame is the belief that we are the mistake.”
That pill is a lot harder to swallow than a simple missed goal.
2. What if it Changes Me (for the Worse)?
“She forgot where she came from.” “He thinks he’s too good for us now.”
We have all either heard or said these phrases at least once in our lives. We have seen how new businesses, new successes and new opportunities change those who attain them. We feel a loss, perhaps jealousy even. Regardless of the feelings, we know we felt negative emotional responses to seeing someone else succeed. And we do not want to be on the receiving end of that gossip or emotional feedback.
Additionally, you want to honor your roots. You want to maintain friends and relationships that you’ve had for a long time. You want to stay grounded, and not become arrogant or self-important.
You are scared that success may change you in ways you do not want.
3. What if it’s Not What I Thought it Would Be?
You have a goal—a dream. And part of you desperately wants to reach out and grab ahold of that dream that stands right in front of you.
But what happens if you get your dream, and it isn’t all you hoped it would be? What if your success does not “fix” what you hope it will?
The inability to see the future—the unknown—is enough to stop anyone dead in their tracks.
4. What if My Success Puts Me in the Limelight, Only for People to See I’m Not That Great? What if I Lose My Privacy?
Did you smoke marijuana in college? Are you on your second marriage and your divorce is not something you want to relive in the limelight?
The fear of exposure is another shame-based type of fear of success. And it is closely tied to something called “the imposter syndrome.” We all are plagued by the imposter syndrome at some point and to some degree. It is simply the fear that we are somehow not qualified, not like the other experts in your field are. And, if we hit success, someone may find out that we are frauds!
The fear of being “found out” keeps people from taking even the smallest of steps to reach new heights.
4 Things You Can Do Right Now to Face Your Fear of Success
I wish I could just snap my fingers, say the magic words, and make it go away. But, even if I was a miracle worker, working through this is so much more useful. (What can I say? I firmly believe in that whole “give a man a fish and he eats for a day” thing.)
Embrace that overcoming your fear of success is a process. You can get that process started by taking the following four steps.
1. Ask Yourself, “When I Achieve This Goal, What Will it Look/Be Like?”
If you are envisioning a utopia, you may be setting yourself up for Success Stopper #3 mentioned above. If so, it’s wise to look at what challenges you might face at that time. While your success will take care of some issues and/or pressures, it won’t be a magic pill that fixes your life.
In the same vein, if you reach success and it doesn’t fix the problem you thought it would, find a way to accept this. You will have learned a lot along the way, which will help you figure out where to go from there.
Ask yourself this question for every fear you have in front of you.
2. Challenge Your Fear. Is it Legitimate?
Fear is nothing more than your brain conjuring up possibilities. While some of those possibilities are legit, most are not. So say them out loud and/or write them down. Then think about this: If someone you care about mentioned they had your same fear, would you dispute the truth of their statement?
Then discuss your fears with someone. Ideally this someone has achieved the goal or success you’re going after—they’ve been there and have been through the process. They can alleviate some of your concerns honestly and provide you with insight you may otherwise never know.
3. Create Affirmations to Support Your Movement Toward Success
I learned how to write affirmations from one of my favorite authors, Hal Elrod. The formula looks like this:
“I am committed to ___________________ (activity) ___________________ (frequency) so that I can ___________________ (ideal outcome) by ___________________ (date).”
For example: “I am committed to seeking out and learning the skills required for each step of my success so that I can equip myself to manage the new responsibilities of my new position by March 31.”
4. Engage Support.
You don’t have to face your fears or work toward your goals alone. We are meant to be in community. So hire a coach. Join a Mastermind group. Meet and check in regularly with a friend or colleague that is on the same path as you.
You will be more successful with support. It truly takes a village.