Fearing Success

7 June, 2023

That sounds strange, doesn’t it? Success is what most of us yearn for. It’s what we strive for. It’s what many of us crave.

But there are people who fear success. The shy away from it. Not because they don’t want to be successful. Not because they don’t want to put the work in. But because the thought of success causes them stress.

I know this because I was one of those people. Over the years, I got over that fear (well, more or less). And in talking to others who also feared success I learned what causes that fear and how to get over it.

Digging Deep

What causes a fear of success? With me, there were several reasons. First, I didn’t believe that I deserved to be successful. I didn’t think I was talented enough, smart enough, or hard working enough to warrant success.

Second, I was afraid that I’d be exposed as a fraud. If I didn’t have what it took to be successful, being thrust into the spotlight would make bare all my foibles. The shame would be too much.

Third, I was afraid that I’d be expected to do bigger and better things. To become even more successful. I also stressed about reaching a plateau and not having anything else to offer. About not being able to go further.

Those are silly reasons, I know. But I wasn’t alone in embracing them. I’ve talked with numerous other people who thought along those lines. They sabotaged themselves (just as I did) when a glimpse of success was before them.

Beating That Fear

That’s not easy. It takes time. A big part of that is accepting yourself. Accepting your strengths and your real limitations.

Understand that you won’t succeed at everything you do. You might be successful in only a narrow band of pursuits. You might only succeed at one thing. Your success doesn’t need to be huge and world changing. There’s nothing wrong with any of that. Not everyone needs to be a hyper achiever to be happy.

Don’t worry about being seen as a fraud. You won’t be. You aren’t a fraud. You’ve earned whatever success has come your way. Don’t believe me? Look back the route you took to your success. Chances are, that success wasn’t overnight. It was a long road that you trudged along, working hard each step.

Don’t worry about the expectations and opinions of others. Those expectations and opinions have no control over you. If someone is disappointed when you don’t succeed, the problem is with them and not with you.

Finally, don’t worry about doing something bigger or better. If you do, great. If you stumble, then you stumble. Make an effort. Enjoy what you’re doing. Don’t do it because you yearn to be successful. That’s a quick path to becoming disenchanted with what you’re doing and failing.

You can be successful. Even if it’s just in a small way. You just need to let yourself accept that success when it comes.

Scott Nesbitt