It sounds like an imagined phobia. 

How can we be afraid of success when we spend our lives trying to be successful?

You see, most people wouldn’t reel off fear of success if asked what their top limiting beliefs were, but yet it affects a surprising number of people.

It seems far more logical to have a fear of failure – something we can all relate to. 

The fear of failure is widely recognised and there’s a whole host of literature and resources to tell us how to be aware of it, how to deal with it and the impact it has on our lives.

The fear of success is more subterfuge because of its seemly illogical nature, yet it can have equally serious consequences for us. It can result in us not taking action, being halfhearted in our ambition, sabotaging ourselves and ultimately leading lives that are not as fulfilling or impactful as they could have been.

The fear of success and the fear of failure can even exist within us at the same time.

I’ve noticed them both in myself. When I left my comfortable corporate job to start my own coaching business, I experienced both fear of failure and success. When I asked myself, “What if my business fails?” I found that my answer was easy and a little reassuring. I could just go back to the corporate world. 

I had much more anxiety when I asked myself, “What happens if this really succeeds?”

Why? Because I was heading into the unknown. Would I become a different person? Would I still fit in with my social network and peers? Was I really good enough to sustain success?

You see, success often means being visible, reaching more people with your message, having a broader exposure. And this can be intimidating.

When we start to be more in the spotlight, we open up to other people’s judgement and opinions – it’s a vulnerable place to be. We may feel the need to live up to others’ expectations – or their imagined expectations of us. We may start asking the question – are we worthy of having all of our desires?

And then unbeknownst to us (because this mostly happens subconsciously) we can end up sabotaging our success because of the subconscious fears we have around what happens if we achieve it.

Why we are so afraid of succeeding

Our fear of success comes from many different places. But for most it originates in childhood with experiences that left us believing that things were unavailable to us, or that we didn’t deserve to have more than others.  

For others it comes from a fear of who we’ll become when we attain success in case this new version of ourselves doesn’t align with our feeling of who we are worthy of being.

I’ve outlined some of the key root causes below:

Imposter Syndrome

Imposter Syndrome is a psychological phenomenon that causes us to invest in the belief that we are inadequate or incompetent. It manifests itself as a feeling of being a fraud and undeserving of status, success, or accomplishments. 

It can also be about being scared to become visibly successful because everyone might finally realise they have made a mistake believing in you.

It exists as a recurring belief that you’re incompetent and do not deserve success — the idea of achieving greater success can exacerbate these feelings of inadequacy. 

Fear of the unknown

Fear of the unknown comes from being unable to anticipate what comes after you succeed. You may know what reaching success looks like to you, but if you haven’t considered what is beyond that success – you head into uncharted territory. This can be terrifying. 

Our subconscious mind loves what’s familiar, because it deems it as ‘safe’, so if beyond success there is a void which may contain new financial, social, academic, familial, and identity pressures we can avoid success at all costs because we’re terrified of what may lie beyond. 

Unconscious guilt 

As fear of success is cultivated in most of us from an early age, if success wasn’t a familiar or known environment in these years, it can be more comfortable to play down achievements and accomplishments to remain connected and equal to family, friends, and community. 

There may be a strong association that success can earn criticisms, envy, or resentment from others – making it safer to not seek success so that we avoid negative reactions. 

The cost of success

There can be a perceived sacrifice involved in reaching success. Whether this is in the form of time, health, sleep, freedom, fun… 

If your desire for success conflicts with a core value you hold, it can mean you sabotage yourself at every turn. For example, from my own experience I had a perceived cost of success that meant sacrifice of time with my family. 

 Uncomfortable in the spotlight

Observing and admiring the success of others is completely different from experiencing it yourself. No matter what your definition of success , the more successful you become there are more eyes are on you. With those eyes comes pressure, both from the outside and the inside, and this can difficult to bear. 

So what are the best ways to overcome your fear of success? 

Now we come to the good news part! There are ways to combat this fear of success. You can do this by exploring your negative beliefs and learning how to re-channel these into techniques which are supportive for you and the future you want to create.

  1. Define YOUR version of success

Success means so many things to so many people, yet we talk about success without digging below the surface to see what it means to each of us individually. Have you ever defined success for yourself? If not, now is your chance! 

Take a piece of paper and brain dump all the things that make up success to you. Really consider if each one of the things on your piece of paper is your idea of success or if it comes from someone else – perhaps a parent or a caregiver.  If it comes from someone else, ask yourself the question – do you want to keep it and own it for yourself or do you want to let it go?

Now you can begin to envision YOUR version of success and consciously become more familiar with the concept. 

2. Name your fear

A certain power dissipates from things once they have been exposed. If you can recognize you’re displaying fear do not avoid it. Do what seems unnatural and lean into it. 

Can you identify what’s underneath it? Is it a fear of the unknown, or of a sacrifice that you might have to make to achieve it? Is it a combination of subconscious blocks? Be honest, and don’t shy away from the insecurities that make you wriggle or feel embarrassed or shy. 

Demystifying fear of success by looking at your subconscious blocks is a big step towards becoming free of it.

3. Reframe your mindset

There is no uniqueness in having this fear of success. Give yourself permission to be successful and imagine yourself as YOUR version of success. See if you can write the positive opposites down for any subconscious blocks you identify with and then remind yourself of these on a daily basis. 

Your mind is a powerful thing. 

Take the time to set your intention and then work with your mind to think and feel yourself into your most successful life.

4. Get uncomfortable

Part of the reason we are so scared of success is because we don’t like change or the unknown. Our minds love what’s familiar and we’re programmed to find the idea of instability and the unknown terrifying. Change is uncomfortable.

Getting familiar with the uncomfortable takes time, it’s a process. Accept the inevitability of discomfort on your trip to the top, and don’t let unknowns keep you from doing what you know you need to do. 

Start small with pushing your comfort level boundaries – ask yourself the question what if I wore something I wouldn’t usually wear? Or what if I asked a question I wouldn’t usually ask? Teach yourself to be uncomfortable little by little.

Letting go of your fear of success is a journey. It involves embracing the uncertainty of a future that is built entirely by you. You need to step into a place of self-trust and learn how to define how you see success so that you can focus on the growth and beauty your journey offers.

Make the choice to empower yourself today and start thriving in a life that is entirely of your own making.