At first glance, the phrase “fear of success” seems counter-intuitive. Who would be afraid of success? Doesn’t everyone want to be successful and reach their goals? It seems more typical to fear failure, right? The more I contemplated this phenomenon, though, the more it makes sense. Keep reading for three reasons why we fear success (number three is PROFOUND). But first: You must define success for yourself.
What does success mean to you? Naturally, it brings up different images for all of us. What does it look like for you specifically? Does it mean reaching your goal weight? Becoming CEO of a company? Starting a company? Earning your doctorate? Being a stay-at-home mom? For me, success would mean being a full-time writer and earning a comparable income to my current career. See how this is subjective?
Fear of Change – When you envision your idea of success, fears might start popping into your head like the conversation bubbles in comics. Many of these fears come down to the fear of change, and they are enough for us to sabotage ourselves. If you are successful, how will it affect your household? Will you have time to still contribute to chores and upkeep? How will your children be affected? Will you get to see them as much? If you step into your power, how will it affect your marriage or significant other? Will you outgrow your friends? What if you don’t have anything to talk to them about anymore? How will you handle success? What if you don’t know how to balance the new finances? Will success change you?
Take a deep breath, friend. These questions are not without merit, and your fears have validity, but do you see how you can drive yourself crazy with the what ifs? One of my pet peeves is when you get enough courage to express your feelings to someone, only for them to respond, “Oh, you shouldn’t feel that way.” Friend, I’m not gonna do that to you. Your fears are real, and your feelings are legit. It’s okay to feel all the fearful feels.
The truth is, though, that since you’ve never reached this level before (again, whatever you define success as), you don’t know how you will react. You don’t know how it will affect your family. You don’t know. Period. So, then it comes down to two choices: Are you going to sabotage yourself and make excuses or are you going to trust yourself?
Let’s break those two ideas down further. Sometimes we sabotage our success, and we don’t even realize it. For example, have you ever dieted and couldn’t lose the last five pounds? There could be very real physiological reasons for this, but in my experience, sometimes we start eating more than we should because we fear what will happen after we reach goal. I know it sounds crazy, but many of us do this, and it can apply to various aspects of our life.
Further, we might hold ourselves back and not go all in our goals. I’m a High School Counselor, and I frequently talk to students about consistency in terms of grades. I tell them, if you only try half the time, half is still only 50%. And 50% is an F. F for failing. The same is true of our efforts. If we only try sometimes, clearly, we won’t reach our goals. You can’t be successful if you sabotage the race before it starts. But what we do, though, is allow ourselves excuses for not being successful. I tried all the diets. My boss doesn’t like me. I tried, but I had to take the kids…
If we look at the alternative, trusting yourself, you could allow yourself to have different outcomes. When we think of change, our mind often drifts to negative possibilities; hence, the litany of “what-if” questions, but what if we take control of those questions and give them a positive spin? What if your significant other is so proud of you and shows so much interest in your pursuits, that it makes your marriage stronger? What if you speak at Career Day at your daughter’s school? What if you reach your goal weight and can buy clothes off the rack from now on? What if you get the promotion and are inspired to keep going?
Friend, don’t you trust yourself? Don’t you trust that whatever comes up, you will get through it? Isn’t that what we are teaching our children? That it’s okay to take risks? TRUST YOURSELF. You can handle whatever success brings, for better or for worse. You know why I know that? Because you are still you. You handle the bad. Now it’s time to let yourself handle the good.
Fear of failure – Fear of success is the flipside of the fear of failure. Afterall, if you reach the pinnacle of success, there’s only one way to go, right? The premise of gravity teaches us that what goes up, must come down. So that must apply to success, right? Maybe. I know that’s not the answer you want to hear, but we don’t know the future. Things aren’t black and white. When I was a child, a family member frequently said she was “waiting for the other shoe to drop.” That can be a very limiting way of looking at life that keeps us boxed in our comfort zones.
But if that other shoe did drop, why can’t you just go get a new one? Why is the world over if you don’t have the other shoe? Don’t you have the wherewithal to create new way? Friend, TRUST YOURSELF. Again, we can choose to sabotage ourselves and stew in the negative “what-ifs,” but can also continue to be successful.
If you have a best-selling novel, maybe the next one won’t sell as well. If you earned a 4.0 GPA in undergrad, maybe you won’t do as well in graduate school. If you helped your child be potty-trained by 2 years old, maybe the next one will still be in diapers at 3 ½.
Friend, what if your next novel sold even more copies? What if, in graduate school you earned another 4.0 AND were made teaching assistant? What if your next child potty-trained herself earlier AND easier? Come on, instead of preparing for the worst, let’s work for the best!
Let’s enjoy the process. Let’s get lost in the creative moments. Let’s enjoy every single second, for better or worse. The cliché is true – you win some and you lose some. But you must trust that you can handle whatever success brings.
Fear of Your Own Power – In Psychology Today, Hara Estroff Marano wrote, “Women especially fear success because they are afraid that being powerful enough to create the life they want will render them unlovable.” Wow.
Deep breath. If we are honest with ourselves, we fear that our power might be too much for other people. You might wonder if your partner or friends would prefer someone simpler and with less vision. This might force uncomfortable conversations you would rather avoid. You know what? Your power might be too much for them. If that is true for some in your life, then it’s a reflection of them, not you. You can’t control others’ reactions to your ambition.
On top of that, you are not responsible for others’ feelings. Sure, you might worry that your power might make them feel less powerful, inadequate, or hurt their ego, but this is not a zero-sum game. You can both be powerful, confident, and have self-efficacy at the same time. There is enough room for everyone.
I’m not going to sit here and pretend that any of this is easy to navigate, and I’m not going to lie and promise you will find the perfect soulmate for the rest of your life who will embrace your power with you. At the end of this fear is more unknown. My hope for all of us is that we can step into our power and our relationships remain intact, but we cannot predict the future.
At the end of the day, though, we can’t make choices out of fear. What is your worst fear? Is it that you might end up alone? If you think it is, then I submit that what is driving your fear is the insecurity that you are not good enough. If you are whole, then you are okay being alone.
Some of this might be controversial and might not ring true to everyone, but whatever happens, in all areas of our life we must commit to going all in. That means for us, for our relationships, for our children, all of it. Like I tell my students, 50% is still failing. What kind of life are you going to choose to live?
Did today’s topic resonate? Do you have a fear of success and didn’t even realize it? What part did you identify with the most? Comment below!