Fear of Success

Overcoming Fear of Change

Fear of Success

Learn how to recognize, and overcome, your fears.

© iStockphoto/DNY59

Laura's boss has just announced that the company has just won a bid to create a national marketing campaign. And he is hinting that he wants Laura to head this project. All that she has to do is let him know that she's interested by the following Friday.

Laura always hoped for an opportunity like this. She knows her work and management skills qualify her for the job – and she knows that it would likely lead to a promotion, or at least to some much-deserved recognition.

However, by the time Friday arrives, she's created a list of reasons not to head the project. And by the end of the day, she still hasn't talked to her boss.

Does this situation sound familiar?

Fear of success is actually quite common, and it can cause us to lose out on a lot of opportunities in life. When we're too afraid to take risks and move forward on our goals – either consciously or unconsciously – we get stuck in one place, neither moving forward nor backward.

In this article, we'll examine the fear of success: what it is, how to know if you have it, and what you can do to overcome it.

Fear of Success

Psychologist Matina Horner first diagnosed the fear of success in the early 1970s. Her findings, especially as they related to fear of success in women at that time, were incredibly controversial.

Since then, however, most scientists and psychologists agree that fear of success exists for both men and women.

Fear of success is similar to fear of failure  . They have many of the same symptoms, and both fears hold you back from achieving your dreams and goals.

Signs of Fear of Success

The biggest problem for many people is that their fear of success is largely unconscious. They just don't realize that they've been holding themselves back from doing something great.

If you experience the following thoughts or fears, you might have a fear of success on some level:

  • You feel guilty about any success you have, no matter how small, because your friends, family, or co-workers haven't had the same success.
  • You don't tell others about your accomplishments.
  • You avoid or procrastinate   on big projects, especially projects that could lead to recognition.
  • You frequently compromise   your own goals or agenda to avoid conflict in a group, or even conflict within your family.
  • You self-sabotage   your work or dreams by convincing yourself that you're not good enough to achieve them.
  • You feel, subconsciously, that you don't deserve to enjoy success in your life.
  • You believe that if you do achieve success, you won't be able to sustain it. Eventually you'll fail, and end up back in a worse place than where you started. So you think, "why bother?"

Causes of Fear of Success

Fear of success has several possible causes:

  • We fear what success will bring – for example, loneliness, new enemies, being isolated from our family, longer working hours, or being asked for favors or money.
  • We're afraid that the higher we climb in life, the further we're going to fall when we make a mistake.
  • We fear the added work, responsibilities, or criticism that we'll face.
  • We fear that our relationships will suffer if we become successful. Our friends and family will react with jealousy and cynicism, and we'll lose the ones we love.
  • We fear that accomplishing our goals, and realizing that we have the power to be successful, may actually cause an intense regret that we didn't act sooner.

Overcoming Fear of Success

You can use several different strategies to overcome your fear of success. The good news is that the more you face your fears, bring them to the surface, and analyze them rationally, the more you're likely to weaken those fears – and dramatically reduce your reluctance to achieve your goals.

Take a realistic look at what will happen if you succeed with your goal. Don't look at what you hope will happen, or what you fear will happen. Instead, look at what is likely to happen.

It's important not to give a quick answer to this. Take at least 15 minutes to examine the issues, and write down your answers to questions like these:

  • How will my friends and family react if I accomplish this goal?
  • How will my life change?
  • What's the worst that could happen if I achieve this goal?
  • What's the best that could happen?
  • Why do I feel that I don't deserve to accomplish this goal?
  • How motivated am I to work toward this goal?
  • What am I currently doing to sabotage, or hurt, my own efforts?
  • How can I stop those self-sabotaging behaviors?

Another useful technique is to address your fears directly, and then develop a backup plan that will overcome your concern.

For instance, suppose you don't push yourself to achieve a promotion, and the biggest reason is because you secretly fear that the additional income and recognition would jeopardize your family relationships and your integrity. You're worried that you would be so busy working to maintain your success that you'd never see your family, and you might be forced to make choices that would destroy your integrity.

To overcome these fears, start by addressing your workload. You could set a rule for yourself that you'll always be home by 7 p.m. You could tell this to your boss if you're offered the new position.

For issues involving integrity, you always have a choice. If you set maintaining your integrity   as your top goal, then you'll always make the right choice.

By creating backup plans that address your fears, you can often eliminate those fears entirely.

Tip:

Sometimes people will react negatively to your success, particularly if they've been perceived as being more successful in the past. If people are this small-minded, and they can't rejoice in their friends' success, do you really want to know them?

Key Points

Fear of success is common, but many of us don't realize that we have it. Self-sabotaging activities – such as procrastination, negative self-talk, and fearing what the success will bring – may hold us back from achieving our goals and dreams.

If you think that you have a fear of success, identify why you're afraid of accomplishing your goals. The more you face your fear, and analyze the reason for having the fear, the better able you'll be to overcome the fear and move forward in your life.

This site teaches you the skills you need for a happy and successful career; and this is just one of many tools and resources that you'll find here at Mind Tools. Click here for more, subscribe to our free newsletter, or become a member for just $1.

Add this article to My Learning Plan

Comment (1)
  • Yolande wrote Over a month ago
    Hi all

    Someone I spoke to regarding the fear of success had a total knee-jerk reaction and said that he didn't fear success at all...yet his life told the opposite story. When we started talking we eventually got to the topic of potential. I asked him what he thinks he can achieve it he really reaches his full potential. He told me what he thought...and then said, "You know what, maybe I am a bit afraid of success after all...". I think many of us suffer from fear of failure or success to some extent. Facing your fear and doing something practical such as working out a rational plan B as suggested in the article, may spur us on to action. In the end, you deserve to be all that you can be and to reach your full potential.

    Kind regards
    Yolandé

Where to go from here:

Join the Mind Tools Club

Click to join Mind Tools
Printer-friendly version
Return to the top of the page

Create a Login to Save Your Learning Plan

This ensures that you don’t lose your plan.


Connect with…

Or create a Mind Tools login. Existing user? Log in here.
Log in with your existing Mind Tools details
Lost Username or Password
You are now logged in…

Lost username or password?

Please enter your username or email address and we'll send you a reminder.

Thank You!

Your log in details have been sent to the email account you registered with. Please check your email to reset your login details.

Create a Mind Tools Login
Your plan has been created.

While you're here, subscribe to our FREE newsletter?

Learn a new career skill every week, and get our Personal Development Plan workbook (worth $19.99) when you subscribe.


Thank You!

Please check your Inbox, and click on the link in the email from us. We can then send you the newsletter.