Why You Fear Success


We all want to be successful. That’s why we get up and get going and work hard. And why not? With success comes fulfillment. And happiness. And, let’s not be coy about it, money. Sometimes lots of money.

Who wouldn’t want all that? Who would resist their own innate desire to become successful?

Well, as it turns out, a lot of us. Success is tricky.

Fear of success is one of the most common issues my clients grapple with. After dozens of conversations about it, I’ve come to know that many of us harbor hidden beliefs about success that are actually very negative. These negative beliefs are due to our fear of the change that success will bring – and how that change will mess with our sense of certainty and significance.

The first change we fear is the end of striving. Striving is deceptive. Conventional wisdom tells us that the period of striving toward our goals is a time of risk and uncertainty. We don’t know if we’ll launch the product, earn the degree, get the job or fix the problem. But the truth is, striving, especially the kind that occurs over a long period of time, becomes habit. It becomes comfortable. We’re used to it, it’s predictable and many of us are quite good at it. In other words, striving is the opposite of risky and uncertain. It’s safe and certain.

As many of you know, I’ve been writing a book for the past two years. I’ve loved nearly every moment of it. It’s been a certainty in my life. I’ve worked on my book in some capacity nearly every day for those two years. It’s been the thing I do. It’s been the thing I talk about. It’s been the thing my friends and family ask me about. It’s been my constant companion. I’ve enjoyed the striving. And once the book is published, I’ll miss it.

But now, as my book nears its publishing date, I’m feeling apprehensive. And sure, there’s the fear of failure, as I discussed in my last post: What if no one cares? But there’s something else going on too. What if the book is a success? That is, what if people do care? And if it is, and they do, what does that mean?

This is the second change we fear. If we’re successful, I mean really successful, how will our lives change? How will it change our relationships? Will our newfound success take over our lives and rob us of the time to do the things we want? Will we be held more accountable for our words and actions? Will we be responsible for bigger results and more people? Will more money give us freedom, or will it create new headaches? Forgive the pretentious rap lyric reference from a middle-aged white woman, but The Notorious B.I.G. really did get it right – Mo Money, Mo Problems.

And this is where our need for significance comes into play. Once we’re fabulously successful, how will we remain so? And if we fail after we’ve been successful, what does that make us? Who are we then? Well, we’re a failure. And a big one too, because we had so far to fall.

So look at that. Fear of success is just fear of failure in disguise. Sneaky huh? We’re each a funny jumble of complexities, we humans.

Hop on over to last week’s post to learn more about fear of failure, a phenomenon called The Resistance, and how to overcome them.

P.S. My book, The Unstuck Leader, is on its way! Sign-up for my email newsletter (green box at top-right on desktop, or at the bottom of this post on mobile) to be one of the first to know when it’s released later this month.

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The Unstuck Leader book is now available.
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