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Mind Tools Newsletter 166: Fear of Success
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Fear of Success
Minimizing Distractions
Path-Goal Theory
Dealing with Burnout
Other Side of Innovation
The Way We're Working
Communication Cycle
A Final Note
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Mind Tools Newsletter 166 - November 9, 2010
Fear of Success?

Many of us are familiar with the concept of the fear of failure. But what about the fear of success?

Believe it or not, having a fear of success is actually quite common. Many people who have this fear aren't even aware that they have it, which is why it's holding them back from achieving their goals and dreams.

In this week's Editors' Choice article, we're highlighting the signs and symptoms of fear of success, and looking at strategies that you can use to overcome it, and move forward in your career. (You'll find help on many similar topics within our Career Excellence Club.)

Get Rid of Distractions!

Our other article this week is a comprehensive guide to getting more done by minimizing and eliminating distractions. Use our strategies and tips to be at your most productive, all of the time!

Enjoy the articles!

James Rachel

James Manktelow and Rachel Thompson - Essential skills for an excellent career!

Featured Resources at Mind Tools
Fear of Success
Fear of Success
Overcoming Fear of Change
All Readers
Do you fear success? You might not even realize it if you do! Find out how to recognize and overcome this fear, so that you can take full advantage of the opportunities that life offers. All Readers' Skill-Builder
Minimizing Distractions
Minimizing Distractions
Managing Your Work Environment
All Readers
Distractions break our concentration, lower our productivity, and cause us stress. Learn how to minimize or eliminate the most common workplace distractions. All Readers' Skill-Builder
  ... And from the Career Excellence Club
Path-Goal Theory
Path-Goal Theory
Discovering the Best Leadership Style
Club Members
This theory helps you identify useful leadership styles to use, based on the situation and your team's motivation. All Members' Skill-Builder
Dealing with Burnout
Dealing with Burnout Club Members
As someone who enjoyed working 80 hours a week, Lisa was struggling to keep her energy and motivation levels up. Learn how she changed her working habits, and find out about the effect it had on her, and on her organization. All Members' Coaching Clinic
The Other Side of Innovation
The Other Side of Innovation, with Vijay Govindarajan Club Members
In this interview, Vijay Govindarajan helps us think about how we can structure our teams and organizations to innovate successfully.
Premium Members' Expert Interview
The Way We're Working Isn't Working
The Way We're Working Isn't Working, by Tony Schwartz, with Jean Gomes and Catherine McCarthy Club Members
This book can transform the way that you work, so that you're more productive and more energized. Find out more about it here.
Premium Members' Book Insight
The Communication Cycle
The Communication Cycle
Six Steps to Better Communication
Club Members
Are you an effective communicator? Use this six-step checklist to organize and improve your communications.
All Members' New Tool
What Is... Finance Management?
What Is... Finance Management? Club Members
What do finance people do? How does financial management impact on your organization? Take this short training session to get more of an understanding of finance and its functions. All Members' Bite-Sized Training™
Editors' Choice Article
Fear of Success
Overcoming Fear of Change

Laura's boss has just announced that the company has won a bid to create a national marketing campaign. And he's asked Laura if she wants 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.
Fear of Success
Learn how to recognize, and overcome, your fears.
© iStockphoto/DNY59
However, by the time Friday arrives, she has 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 opportunities in life. When we're too afraid to take risks and move forward on our goals - either consciously or subconsciously - 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 (member only article) 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 backing a worse place from 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 may fall if 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 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 likely to happen, and what's the best that could happen?

  • Why am I scared of accomplishing this goal?

  • How motivated am I to work toward this goal? How can I increase this motivation?

  • What am I currently doing to sabotage, or hurt, my own efforts?

  • How can I stop those self-sabotaging behaviors?
Where you identify risks and problems, make a plan to mitigate those risks or solve those problems. And where you identify actions that need to be taken, add these to your To Do List or Action Program.

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 partly because you secretly fear that you'll be so busy working that you'll never see your family, and partly because 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 (member only article) 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.

Sometimes people will react negatively to your success, particularly if they've been perceived as being more successful than you in the past. If people are this small-minded, and they can't rejoice in your 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 suffer from a fear of success, identify why you're afraid of accomplishing your goals. The more you face your fear and analyze what you're worrying about, the better able you'll be to deal with these issues and move forward with your life.

A Final Note from James

It can be really difficult to recognize if you have a fear of success. But once you've recognized the signs and symptoms, and identified the causes, it's quite easy to put together a plan to overcome it. If you think you may suffer from fear of success in any way, do take the steps we recommend. It sounds dramatic to say it, but with just 15 minutes of reflection, you could transform your career!

Our next newsletter looks at using the social networking website Twitter. We'll show you how to use it in your work, and we'll highlight how you can use it for professional development. We'll also provide some tips and advice to help you get started if you're new to tweeting!

Until then, all the best!

James Manktelow

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