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What is Fear of Success if it isn't Fear of Success?

A lot of people have a fear of success, but hardly anyone ever admits to it because it just doesn’t seem to fit into our success-driven society. That’s a shame because this is an important issue that a lot of people suffer from, and as always the first step to overcome any fear is to address it openly and directly. So, to be able to find solutions to overcome the fear of success, we first need to know what fear of success is.

When you are afraid of success, you are afraid of some or all of the things that could happen once you become successful. Of course, everybody develops his or her unique mental scenarios of what could change once you become successful, but some of the most common limiting beliefs about the consequences of success are the following:

  1. Fear of Estrangement

    You are afraid that you won’t have enough time for your friends and family anymore.

  2. Fear of Publicity

    You hate to be in the spotlight and are afraid of all the extra attention you might get.

  3. Fear of Jealousy and Envy

    You are afraid that the people in your life become jealous of you.

  4. Fear of Criticism

    You are afraid that you couldn’t deal with the criticism that comes with success and the “haters” that might pop up.

  5. Impostor Syndrome

    Maybe you don’t feel deserving of success at all. This could be connected to the so-called “impostor syndrome”, which has the main characteristic that you don’t feel confident about your abilities. As a consequence, you are worried that at some point people who believe in your abilities will find out that you aren’t good at what you are doing. So, this aspect is also connected to fear of failure, although fear of failure itself is not the same as the fear of success.

The 4 Most Common Signs and Symptoms of Fear of Success

  1. Procrastination

    When you suffer from fear of success, what happens is that you manipulate yourself in various ways, fully aware that you set yourself up to fail. One of the most common ways of doing this is procrastination. I mean, you know you should be working on an important task that improves your chances to succeed in whatever you are after, but: You find so many other fascinating things to do that capture your attention. So, you put this important task off again and again and again. You even prioritize such exciting tasks as cleaning up your basement. In the meantime, your deadline rushes closer, and at some point, it is, of course, due. Then you have no chance of acing your assignment because you don’t have enough time left, which is a classic case of setting yourself up for failure.

  2. Perfectionism

    Number 2 on the list of self-manipulating behaviours due to fear of success is perfectionism. In a way, this is the opposite of procrastination. As a perfectionist, you put a lot of effort into the tasks you need to perform, but you do it so meticulously that you never finish them. For example, let’s assume you are writing a book that you want to get published. To avoid ever getting to that point, whether consciously or subconsciously, you research an endless amount of details that you want to incorporate into your book. You find new, fascinating and essential aspects all the time, and you keep working and working, but you never get to the point of publishing.

  3. Setting the Bar Too Low

    Another symptom of fear of success can be that you set your goals too low. With this tactic, you don’t even aim for success at all. And if you are setting ambitious goals, you find a reason to quit before you reach your goal.

  4. Negative Self-Talk

    Negative self-talk can also be a symptom or sign of fear of success. You know, things like “Why should they hire me with so many qualified people out there?”, “I’m not good enough,” “Damn, I’m so stupid,” and other things along that line. Negative self-talk is strongly associated with impostor syndrome.

Reasons for Fear of Success

Before we can dive into the solutions to overcome the fear of success, we first need to look at its causes. Fear of success has many different faces and symptoms, but it all comes down to one subconscious objective: Self-protection or self-preservation. Of course, the reasons why you subconsciously feel like you need to protect yourself through fear of success are different for everyone. However, a common theme is a low self-esteem or self-worth. Again, the reasons for low self-esteem or self-worth can be manifold, but all of them stem from negative experiences in the past. Combined with mimicking the behaviour of people we looked up to as a child, we have created limiting beliefs about success. Some causes for fear of success can be:

  1. Not Being Acknowledged

    Having parents that never acknowledged your good grades in school or your achievements in sports or anything else that was important to you, or

  2. Mobbing

    Cruel classmates who mobbed you for doing better in school than they did, or

  3. Shame

    You might try to fly under the radar because of some aspect of your life you feel like you don’t want people to know about, or

  4. Negative Image of Success

    You believe that to be successful, you have to become a “bad” person. You think that being successful means putting your own interests first.

And, of course, this list is not complete.

Now, any of these causes are bad enough by themselves, but: If you also have an overactive imagination paired with a generally pessimistic attitude, you are at an even greater risk of falling into the trap of fear of success.

Fear of Success: Solutions to Overcome it

Unfortunately, there is not this single, magical solution to overcome the fear of success. Instead, you need to tackle it from more than just one angle, and that means you have to work on both the symptoms and the causes. Working on only one part will cause you to fall back into your old patterns of thinking and behaving. So here are four solutions to help you overcome your fear of success.

1. Reprogram Your Subconscious Mind

First of all, find out why you are afraid of success. This first solution to overcome the fear of success is the hardest part, so give yourself time and not pressure yourself. Get a pen and paper, find a quiet moment, sit down and search within yourself. Search within your past and write down any events that come to your mind that make you feel uneasy about success. That might certainly not sound like the most pleasant or joyful thing to do, but it is profound, and it can make a huge difference in overcoming your fear of success. This process might make you feel a bit uneasy, which is why you must get into the right mindset before you start. Tell yourself repeatedly that you are only observing the past from a safe location and that nothing of what you see in your memories can hurt you. If it makes you feel more secure, maybe ask someone you trust to keep you company during this process.

Also, ask yourself: “What do I believe about success?” Write down any limiting beliefs you have about success and search for the reasons why you believe this. Cross-reference your beliefs with the events from your past, and you might be surprised by how they correlate. Which event caused what change in your mindset and attitude?

Fear of success is far more dangerous than fear of failure, because the subconscious mind works to prevent that which it fears. People may fear success because of low self-esteem and feeling of not deserving it; because it will increase what other expect of them. Fear of success shows up as anxiety, indecision, avoidance, procrastination or acceptance of mediocrity.

Joe Tye

Now, once you have a list of the events of your past and your limiting beliefs, it is time to examine them so that you can find out why these beliefs are not valid and why you can let them go. You might go about it like this, for example:

Let’s say you believe that successful people are lonely and isolated and do not have any friends. Ask yourself why you think that, and you might find out that the reason for your belief is your classmates mocking and mobbing you in school for getting better grades than they did. Now, look at it objectively. Children and also teenagers act irrationally sometimes. Most of them do not think about the consequences of their actions, but this changes once we grow older and more mature. The children who mocked you most probably feel sorry for it now that they are adults and wish they had never done it. So this belief is one you can safely let go of.

Repeat this process for the other events and beliefs you wrote down and find examples and logical explanations that make it clear to you that you can let go of all of these beliefs and replace them with new, empowering ones. You might have to revisit your findings several times, so really write them down and keep them so you can read through them whenever you start to doubt yourself. It might take a while to reprogram your subconscious mind as it is not easy to replace old beliefs you have had for years with brand new ones.

Check out our guided meditation on how to overcome your fear of success. It can help you with this process and also supports you with positive affirmations. You can listen to it daily to ensure you keep empowering yourself and make it part of your solution to overcome your fear of success.

2. Working on Your “Symptoms” as a Solution to Overcome Fear of Success

To overcome your fear of success, another solution, or rather part of it, is to work on your “symptoms.” So, once you have identified your causes and have started to reprogram your subconscious mind, it is time for step #2. That means you first have to find out what your exact symptoms are.

So, what do you do that keeps you from being successful? Do you procrastinate or waste time by being too much of a perfectionist? Do you set your bar too low, or do you abandon your goals too quickly? Do you dis-empower yourself with negative self-talk, or are there any other behaviours you need to quit? Research strategies for your specific problems and start to work on them today. Before you start, however, ask yourself if you are passionate about what you are doing. Do you honestly love that which you try to excel in? Check out our article on impostor syndrome to find out more about why this is key to overcoming your fear of success and why it is essential to make the other parts of the solution work.

If you are passionate about what you are doing, proceed with the other solutions to overcome your fear of success.

3. Expose Yourself to Uncomfortable Situations

As a third solution to overcome your fear of success, you can try to expose yourself to situations that make you feel uncomfortable. Why? Because this is how we grow. So, what are you uncomfortable with but would help you be more successful? Public speaking, maybe? For example, you could practice by preparing a presentation about something that would improve your workplace and talk about it in front of your co-workers. Doing what scares us usually boosts our self-esteem once we did it and we see that we actually can do it. Doing it again is not as scary anymore the second time around.

4. Surround Yourself With the Right People

Another thing you can do is #4 on our list of solutions to fear of success, and this is surrounding yourself with the right people. Having people around you who believe in you and encourage you is vital, so keep a distance from people who drain and discourage you and stick to those who build up your self-esteem.

Will These Solutions Work to Overcome the Fear of Success?

So, do these solutions to overcome your fear of success work? The short answer is: Yes, absolutely. The long answer is: It depends on you and how committed you are about working on yourself. Personal growth is not just about what you read and theoretically know, but primarily it is about applying your knowledge. So, take action and become successful! You deserve it!

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