Have you ever had an experience where you sabotaged your own success, even when you longed to be successful?
It’s a strange and disconcerting situation in which to find yourself.
On the one hand, you dream of accomplishment and glory.
On the other, you overtly or passively subvert your every effort.
What’s up with that? And why are we afraid of the very thing we all long for?
- What Is Fear of Success?
- Why Am I Afraid of Success?
- Signs You Are Scared of Success
- How to Overcome the Fear of Success
- Final Thoughts
What Is Fear of Success?
Is it possible to be afraid of success? The answer isn’t as straightforward as it seems. So, what does it mean to fear success? Let’s unpack this achievement phobia and why it happens.
- This fear manifests as apprehension and anxiety related to achievement.
- These feelings can be so powerful that you undermine your efforts so you don’t face the success.
- You’re not so afraid of success itself as you are of the potential consequences of it. It’s the fallout that fosters the fear.
Matina Horner, a psychologist and former president of Radcliffe College, pioneered the concept of fear of success, particularly in relation to women and success.
In 1964, she conducted a research study asking men and women to complete a story about the future of a struggling medical student.The imaginary student was a man for the male participants and a woman for the female participants.
Horner determined the women in the study had high anxiety levels about allowing their imaginary medical student to succeed. They couldn’t reconcile their desire to excel with the 1960’s view that women who were ambitious and intelligent were unfeminine.
Although fear of success is more common in women, especially in the workplace, men are not immune from this fear and also undermine their potential in response to the possible consequences of success.
Why Am I Afraid of Success?
Since achievement often involves sacrifice, relationship turmoil, or unexpected change, we may stop short of success to avoid these things. Read through these reasons to see if any apply to you or someone you know.
You’re afraid of how success might impact you and your relationships.
People might reject you, become jealous, or see you as trying to be better than they are.
Others might demand more of your time or money or expect more from you than you want to give.
Or you may have more responsibilities and less time to spend with a spouse, kids, friends, and extended family.
This loss of time with them could impact the quality of your close connections.
Potential for Failure
You recognize the more you achieve, the greater the possibility for failure.
You fear climbing too high on the ladder of success because the fall will be much more painful.
If you don’t try too hard to achieve, you won’t have to face the embarrassment or shame of failure.
Discomfort with Change
When we’re successful, change is inevitable. We become different people in the eyes of others and our own eyes.
Change can be deeply uncomfortable, as it requires a kind of death of the old self.
We fear this new person, and we fear how others will respond to our successful new selves.
Resistance to Challenge
Success sets the bar higher than before. Now we are expected to perform at a higher level, which might mean harder work, more hours, and continued challenges.
We may have to give up more of our time and energy, and we aren’t sure we want that.
Lack of Belief in Your Abilities
This lack of belief is also known as low self-efficacy. You don’t have faith in yourself that you have what it takes to be successful, even when you do.
When you don’t believe in yourself, you’ll view every challenge or setback as proof that you can’t succeed, so you’ll give up too soon.
Hating the Spotlight
If you’re an introvert, shy, or have social anxiety, you may resist success because it thrusts you into a position that makes you deeply uncomfortable.
You don’t want more people looking at you, expecting things from you, and wanting you to be in the limelight. You’d rather avoid accomplishment than face these possibilities.
Signs You Are Scared of Success
As author and spiritual thinker Marianne Williamson reminds, “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us.”
If you suspect you might fear your own potential for achievement, these are some of the signs to watch out for:
- You feel guilty about successes and worry about those around you who haven’t experienced the same success.
- You neglect to share your accomplishments with others.
- You feel you undeserving of success and the accolades that accompany it.
- You procrastinate on projects that have the potential of bringing you recognition.
- You compromise yourself, your ideas, or your goals in order not to offend or undermine others.
- You believe success is temporary, and you won’t be able to sustain it.
- You find yourself stepping into the shadows and out of the spotlight.
It is true success can have negative repercussions. People might perceive you differently or even dislike you because you’re successful.
You might have to work harder to maintain your level of achievement. You will experience internal and external changes as a result of success.
However, the consequences of holding yourself back from success are far more profound and painful.
- You will experience a loss of self-respect and integrity.
- You’ll likely feel resentment and anger toward those who impact your decision to hold back.
- And you might even jeopardize your professional and financial future.
How to Overcome the Fear of Success
You don’t have to accept your fear of success and live a compromised life.
With a few mind shifts, you can learn to embrace your greatness and pursue accomplishments without guilt, shame, or discomfort.
1. Reclaim authenticity.
If you desire success and have the potential for it, then choosing to avoid it is a choice to be someone you are not. Recognize that you can’t be happy and fulfilled by compromising your values, goals, or integrity.
2. Accept discomfort.
All change, even change for the better, involves some level of discomfort and uncertainty. We fear this discomfort will be unbearable or worse than it actually is.
By accepting the inevitability of discomfort, you minimize the effects of it. And the joys of success often make the discomfort far more bearable.
3. Release “shoulds.”
One of the success traps is the belief we should be someone or do something because others around us (or society) tell us so.
This mindset goes back to being authentic and living within our integrity. Accept and embrace that you know best what is right for you. If you want success, then you should go for it.
4. Enjoy challenge.
We often fear challenges because we think we’ll fail or anticipate hard work or drudgery. However, challenges can be positive and enjoyable if you change your view of them.
They stretch us, keep us focused, and put us in the state of flow where our minds are so engaged we lose track of time. Shift your thoughts about challenges to see them as positive rather than negative.
5. Reframe failure.
The fear of success is often a disguise for the fear of failure. To attempt success, you put yourself at risk of falling on your face.
However, if you view failure as a stepping stone to success, there’s nothing to fear. Failure is evidence you’ve taken action and attempted a challenge.
It also provides opportunity for learning and growing, providing information you can use for your next success.
6. Don’t think, just act.
You might be sabotaging your success unconsciously. But on the other hand, you could be overthinking it.
Overthinking leads to confusion, “analysis paralysis,” and unnecessary procrastination. Yes you do have to think to analyze decisions and choose your best actions, but set a thinking deadline after which you must take action.
Don’t allow rumination to continue indefinitely, or you’ll never get anywhere.
7. Find your tribe.
Align yourself with people who aren’t afraid of success and who joyfully go after it, knowing they are fully deserving of everything success provides them.
The quality of people you surround yourself with influences your own state of mind and outlook. Allow the “growth mindset” to rub off on you.
Whatever you do, minimize your time with people who try to hold you back or who see life through a negative lens.
8. Celebrate every milestone.
Rather than diminishing your abilities and achievements, celebrate them.
Sharing your successful milestones and giving yourself a pat of the back isn’t a bad thing. It’s a motivator and an acknowledgment of your hard work and tenacity.
The people who want the best for you will celebrate with you.
9. Have a vision.
When you create a vision for the life you want and set goals to make that vision a reality, you have something specific to work toward.
In this way, you can see every success along the way as a stepping stone to realizing your vision. You have a passion for what you are doing, and nothing will hold you back.
Even if success feels uncomfortable to you, knowing your successes are part of a bigger plan can help minimize your discomfort.
10. Prepare for Possible Fallout
Concerned about how your accomplishments might impact those around you? Then do something about it to minimize the chances.
Talk to your co-workers, friends, and family and pull them into the loop of your concerns. Get their input and solicit ideas for solutions.
Apply this action to any worries you may have. What can you do now to ensure your fears are less likely to manifest?
11. Enjoy the journey.
Big successful benchmarks happen a few times a year, or maybe a few times a decade. They arrive and depart quickly.
Although it feels great to reach those benchmarks, the real, lasting fun is in the journey.
Take the pressure off of yourself related to success. Try to view every day as an opportunity for small wins and amazing experiences.
Savor the process as much as the potential outcomes. When you focus your time and energy on the present moment, you don’t worry about future success so much.
The choice to succeed or to hold yourself back from success both have consequences.
By holding yourself back, you diminish your true self and allow fear to control your life.
When you claim success, you’re creating your life on your own terms and sending the message to those around you that you won’t compromise who you are or the passionate life you desire.
Begin to change your thoughts about success and your reaction to it, and you’ll find the courage and enthusiasm to embrace the amazing person you are meant to be.