Why would anyone fear success?
No one wants to feel like a failure right? We all want to feel competent and successful right? Yes and no. It turns out people do want to feel competent and they strive for the feelings of happiness they associate with success but they often fear success itself. This fear is sabotaging and keeps many people from achieving the exact goals and successes that they want.
It’s a strange thing but many people are in fact ambivalent about success. Underlying beliefs and self-defeating thoughts conspire to repel people from succeeding. They strive and work hard yet fear continues to hold many back. In fact your fear may even get stronger the closer you get to achieving your goals and vision of success. (Those, like me, who are on the hero/heroine’s quest may liken this to dark forces attempting to stop you from achieving your mission.)
Fear of success, or fear of getting what you want may also be fear of happiness. Ultimately fear of success is the fear of your own Power.
To create and sustain success it is essential to find and release any fear of success you may have. I will talk about how to do this further on. But first let’s look at why people fear success.
Reasons why people fear success:
Reason #1- Holding On to Negative Stories. One reason why people fear success is because they hold onto negative stories and beliefs about success and successful people.
Popular negative story titles include…
“It’s Lonely at the Top”
Chapters in this story include a) my success will make others feel less than, b) friends will be jealous of me, c) envy will make others revile me, d) I will be rejected, alone and lonely. This last belief may especially be a problem for women who are typically more relational and who in a patriarchal society are taught to be less powerful. We are often taught to be small and demure and supportive of others, not to lead or take the spot light. Through this lens success may be seen as unfeminine.
The woman holding these messages or beliefs fears that no man will want her if she is not the proverbial “damsel in distress.” By definition damsels are NOT successful and Prince Charming will not show up if you don’t need saving. This belief leads to another story entitled; “Some Day my Prince will NOT Come” so women who have this belief may stay small in order to be loved.
“Nice Guys Finish Last a.k.a. Mean Girls Finish First”
Chapter titles in this story include a) you have to be ruthless and selfish to succeed, b) it’s egotistical to want success, c) successful people are so full of themselves and d) to stay humble I must stay small.
Reason #2- Low Self Esteem is a Killer! The second reason people fear success is because they don’t believe they are good enough to deserve it or the happiness they believe will come with it. To succeed would be too much of a challenge to their deeply held view of themselves that they aren’t capable or good enough. Marianne Williamson sums this up best in her often quoted poem when she says “Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?”
Reason #3- Dreams are more fun than reality. The third reason why some people fear success is because it may be more fun to dream about it than to do it. In our dreams the attainment of our goals resembles a fairy tale in which we live happily ever after. We think success and reaching our goals will make us happy, but perhaps real life has shown us that sometimes what we dream of is not all it is cracked up to be. We may have expected happiness from goal attainment in the past and found that after a short while the glow wears off, so rather than achieve our dream and find it imperfect or mundane we would rather keep it as a fantasy and thus perfect.
Reason #4- Mediocrity is comfortable. This fourth reason is also a tricky one. Being mediocre is comfortable. It’s familiar. We resist the change of growth because it puts us closer to the unknown. The human brain resists change because we are wired to move toward certainty and to fear and move away from uncertainty. Also, sorry to say it but humans are lazy and we instinctually know that change requires more energy than to stay the same. To learn more about this check out neuroscientist David Rock’s explanation of the SCARF model of Influencing.
An addendum to the above reason is also related to laziness and fear of responsibility. Not succeeding means we don’t have to be responsible for what may come with success. Maybe we fear pressure in the future to sustain this success and not fail. By staying small/mediocre we avoid that responsibility and stress. In a convoluted way this aspect of fear of success is tied to fear of failure.
Reason #5- Your Ego is Not Your Amigo. Friedrich Nietzsche said “Whenever I climb I am followed by a dog called ‘Ego’” In many ways our ego and self-centeredness is at the root of the fear of success. One can see in the above reasons our desire for our own happiness, or our fear of being seen or fear of not being great or not deserving greatness. All of this is about ME, ME, and ME! It has nothing to do with others or being of service to others. This ties into our belief that success will bring happiness to us. Perhaps this shouldn’t even be our aim, but more on that in the discussion of the solution for fear of success below.
1) Identify and let go of self-defeating stories and beliefs. As a success coach and therapist I often suggest clients do some self-exploration through journaling. You can use the questions below to start you off.
a) What stories and beliefs do you hold regarding success and successful people?
b) Where did you get the above stories?
c) What do you find frightening about success? What or whom might you lose by being successful?
d) Consider this: what would happen if you were to achieve the success you dream of? What if the job changed dramatically, the income surged, the relationships were vastly improved? Look beyond the obvious (“I’d be richer/happier/better off”) and ask yourself, “What demands would there be on me if…? What would I have to do or be differently?”
e) Write out your best and then worse-case scenario around your success? Can you live with either outcome?
f) Free form it! Just get quiet and think about it, reread the above reasons for fear of success. Write down whatever comes to mind.
g) Do I deserve to be successful? Why or why not?
After journaling you should be able to identify the form your fear takes. Write these down on a separate piece of paper. Say a prayer or some words you like to ask for help in releasing these things. Burn or bury this list of fears (any ritual that is environmentally friendly will do).
2) Practice courage. You can build up your courage muscles in areas unrelated to the area in which your goals lay. You can get brave by taking risks and challenging yourself in other areas. Some suggestions include a) do one thing each day that you are afraid to do, b) learn something new, like a sport or skill, c) get physical with it, like rock climbing, SCUBA diving or even doing head stands or warrior pose in yoga! Being brave will get in your emotional and muscle memory with practice. Find and root out self-defeating beliefs, stories and thoughts. i.e. “no one will love me.”
3) Get your self-esteem up! If low self-esteem is your problem start out by making a list of your assets. Everyday write down three good things you do in each day and five things for which you are grateful. Do things you are good at. Focus on your good qualities and STOP being hard on yourself. If you expect success to cure low self-esteem be prepared to be disappointed. You have to work on the self-esteem first. This one is a tough one and many people benefit from therapy and coaching around this. If you want to learn how I help clients with this check out my coaching and therapy services.
4) Smash Your Ego. Since ego is at the root of this fear it must be dealt with. Ask yourself why you want to be successful. If it’s because you want to be great, rich, admired, powerful (somehow protected from human suffering) then this is a clue that your ego is driving the boat. (Now if you want to be of service to others or bring joy or something good to them you are moving in the right direction so keep going). You have to shift your focus away from self and toward service and others. Now this doesn’t mean you have to suffer. Doing work you love is important and will help you to stay motivated. You can find joy in your work, but do not hinge your happiness on a single outcome.
5) Surround yourself with positive people. Give support and be supported by others who are on a similar path, successful happy people who want to see you succeed. Stay away from naysayers and haters and those who reinforce self-defeating and negative beliefs and stories (they are poison)!
6) Create your ideal life (free of fear). I hope you didn’t put that journal away. Now I want you to write the ideal scenario of your success with only positive feelings. Write this in the present tense and only write about positive things. After you write it, read it to yourself out loud. See it as possible. Feel the good feelings. After this or instead of this you may want to make a vision board.
7) Do all of the above. Join the Power Breakthrough Day March 28 where we will be focusing on the above and much more.
I hope you found this article helpful. Leave a comment or visit me on Facebook at Vision Quest Retreats with Dr. Nicole Cutts
Success Doc ON AIR Tues. Feb. 24 2-3 est. on Inside Out 89.3 fm Washington, DC and ONLINE at www.wpfwfm.org (This Week’s Topic: Conquering Fear)
REGISTER TODAY “Power Breakthrough Day” March 28th (Early Bird Pricing Ends March 9)