This article is written by Angela Civitella, a certified business management coach and the founder of Intinde.
Research first diagnosed the fear of success a couple of decades ago. The findings, at the time, related to fear of success in women, and the results proved incredibly controversial.
Since then, however, most scientists and psychologists agree that the fear of success exists for both men and women. Fear of success is similar to the 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?
What are the causes?
The fear of success has several 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 the 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:
• 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 that 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.
Fear of success is common, and many of us don’t realize that we have it. If this is your current situation, it’s time to let go of the chains that are holding you back from reaching the ultimate level of success in all that you do. Trust me, once you break free, you’ll never look back.
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