I’ve talked before about various types of fear and how they can hold us back from the life we really want to be living. But I recently received a couple of emails from people who have been wondering why they keep changing their minds about their goals just when things seem to be going really well, which made me think that it was time to address the idea of fear of success in a general post.
The concept of “fear of success” is kind of counter-intuitive. Everyone understands the idea of fear of failure, and fear of the unknown. But actually being afraid to succeed? It’s not something that really makes a lot of sense on the surface. But success, especially success in relation to a major dream or goal that you might be working towards, is going to cause change; things will be different if you succeed in making that dream come true. And the bigger the dream, the bigger the changes are likely to be if you are successful. For a lot of people, this can be really scary and can be a trigger for the fear of success.
How do you know if you have a fear of success?
A fear of success is rarely obvious and is often disguised in the form of:
- Never actually completing a project or achieving a goal (although you might be working madly towards a lot of them all at once)
- Frequently doubting yourself, your abilities or the worthiness of your dreams
- Feeling that your work is never quite good enough
- Constantly procrastinating or talking more about what you’re planning to do rather than what you’re actually doing
- A habit of always changing your mind about what you want just when things are about to go “big” with what you’ve been working on
Fear of success is actually very common, although it’s generally an unconscious thing. It’s almost always because, on some level, we think that the bad parts about being successful in our goal will outweigh the good parts – and there are always going to be both good and not-so-good changes resulting from your success. If your subconscious is focused on what it sees as the not-so-good consequences of your success, then you will constantly be unconsciously sabotaging yourself so that you don’t succeed (and therefore you won’t have to suffer the not-so-good stuff).
For example, if your goal is to become rich and famous, you might be consciously focused on what you think is the good part of that (it would be fun, you’d be able to shop whenever you want and never worry about money, etc.) but your subconscious mind might be thinking about the bad parts (ingrained beliefs that rich people are “bad” and you don’t want to be a bad person, you wouldn’t know who your “real” friends were versus those who just like you for your money, you really have no idea how to look after massive amounts of wealth properly, etc.)
If your subconscious mind feels that the possibility of fame and fortune suddenly turning you into an arrogant self-obsessed jerk who will be hated by everyone you’ve ever known outweighs the potential fun of being able to jet-set around the world in your private jet, then you are not going to succeed in your goal. It doesn’t matter whether you would actually turn into that jerk or not, it’s what you believe on that subconscious level that matters. It’s that belief that impacts your actual reality.
How to deal with a fear of success
The best way to deal with these subconscious fears is to start becoming aware of them so that you can deal with them conscsiously. It starts with understanding that there are both good and bad aspects to any dream or goal that you have. So, if there is a particular goal that you’ve been working towards, ask yourself what would happen if you were successful. Really take some time with it and think about it (this is not something that you do in thirty second – take at least 15 minutes to really think about what your life would be like if you were successful). Write down everything that comes to mind — the pros and the cons – and don’t try to censor yourself, just let the ideas flow as they come.
The idea here is to let anything that might be hovering around just below surface level float to the top so you can actually see it. Oftentimes, just acknowledging any potential bad or scary stuff is enough to make it lose its grip on you. Once you see the bad things for what they are (and remember that they are just possibilities and not guaranteed fact), you can set up contingency plans to deal with them before they happen. You can figure out ways to work around any potential bumps, you can do some research to find out how other people who have already achieved what you want to achieve deal with these same issues, or you can decide that the issues aren’t as bad as they seem and that you’re just going to live with them and be OK with them.
Facing your fear of success head-on and figuring out how you plan to deal with the inevitable changes that will come with your success before you get there is usually enough to get yourself back on track to achieving your original goal.
photo credit: (c) Can Stock Photo
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Hi Nathalie! That was really good. I have come to face adversity head on myself lately. I do not shy away from it, become depressed by it, or allow it to rule over me. I face it and embrace it. I just grew tired of being afraid all the time, listening to what others have to say about stuff, which is a reflection of their own fears, not mine, and leading a mediocre life, which sucks. I feel universal forces are with you always, but you actually feel them working when you are not afraid, I would say almost all fears are fabrications and just won’t come into reality. They are just limited beliefs.
You know, I saw After Earth for the first time the other day and I thought of you and how you are so easily able to find the LOA aspects to so many books and movies. There’s a line in the movie when Will Smith’s character, General Raige is talking to his son, who has to go out alone on a very dangerous quest, in order to save both of their lives. And the boy is terrified. And Raige says:
How LOA is that? The whole movie was very philosophical and heavily Taoist. Which is probably why it was so widely panned by the critics. When you’re dealing with that kind of topic and you have characters that are as complicated as these two, you kind of need more time to develop them and let people get to know them than you generally have in a feature-length film. But I would love to see that script expanded and turned into a novel — I’d be buying it, for sure!
I hope you are well and happy.
I hadn’t gone through my emails for some time and as a result, I have some catching up to do in reading your posts. As they are listed most recent first, this one especially jumped out at me.
I have been doing this my entire life. Some of it, I see in retrospect, is self-sabotage. I think that results from fear or feelings of unworthiness. Or, I’ll get completely immersed in something and be so on fire for it, and actually be making great progress… then, as I am on the verge of getting whatever it is or getting to wherever it is, I fizzle out. I always wonder why. Had I put so much energy and obsession into whatever it was that I just burned myself out? Let it run its course and saw it was something I really didn’t need or want after all? Sometimes, yes, but not with all of my dreams and goals. As I have matured and grown wiser, of course the goals have too. They have more depth but they are much larger as well. Maybe I’m daunted by them. Maybe if the progress isn’t coming in the areas that I really hoped for, I begin to doubt that they will manifest or that I can manifest them.
Another thing to consider, especially in the area of limiting beliefs, as you brought up, is the old saying, “Be careful what you wish for… You might get it.” Maybe I’ve watched too many movies that seem to drive this point home. It’s as if they’re all trying to teach us not to reach higher or try harder. Take the analogy of the person who discovers a genie in a bottle. The person gets three wishes, blah, blah, blah. The wishes come true, all right… but things never quite turn out the way the person hoped. Rather, they usually go completely awry. This is a horrible message to send to people! My gosh–they should be ashamed. No wonder so many people are afraid to move forward. I wonder why there cannot be more positive messages portrayed, and more success stories shared. People could sure use those for inspiration and validation.
I declared that I wanted to accomplish something in particular a long while back and as I am learning more about the ins and outs of it, I am beginning to wonder what I was thinking. Am I sure I want to proceed with this? Doors are opening, but not the ones I hoped would, nor do they seem to be leading me to the ultimate goal. They could, but there’s no guarantee that I’m not wasting my time, and at this point, I simply don’t know either way in order to make that call. I think I’m going to push on through and see where it goes, but I guess more than anything, I fear it may end up being yet more wasted time. I feel I’ve wasted so much being lost and going in circles already. As I edge closer to 50, there’s a real anxiety about hurrying to get there and it doesn’t help that I still feel 12 inside.
Does my ambivalence show much? 😉
Hi Ayla! I’m so glad you’re back, and I hope that you are also well and happy. 🙂
Fear of success is a very, very common phenomenon, so don’t beat yourself up about it. I think it’s something that most of us grapple with to one extent or another, throughout our lives. And I totally understand what you’re saying about being on fire for something and then fizzling out just when you’re on the verge of achieving it. I have soooo been there!
The closer we get to achieving our goal, the more the unconscious limiting beliefs we have will start to assert themselves. This is why we tend to let go of our dreams just when we’re about to make a really big break-through. All the doubts start flooding in and we second guess ourselves like there’s no tomorrow. And it’s not that we’ve burned out or decided we don’t want it after all, but rather, it’s our fears stepping in and taking over. And this is where we have to stop and make a conscious decision about who gets to control our destinies — us or our fears.
There are a lot of messages that we are subjected to over the course our lives that reinforce these fears and limiting beliefs (“be careful what you wish for” is just one of them, there’s also “you can’t have your cake and eat it too” and “ancient Chinese curse: may you live in interesting times” and all those types of sayings). When you think about how often we are indoctrinated with these messages, you’re right — it’s no wonder so many of us are afraid to take the path less travelled and go after what we really want.
If you’re trying to figure out what to do next and are worried about taking the wrong path, might I suggest that you read the article I wrote about the Mike Dooley conference I went to… if you scroll to the bottom of the page, I think Insight #7 and #8 might help to put your mind at ease. In essence, there are no “wrong” paths… just different routes that will all end up bring you to your destination, as long as you remain clear about what it is you want.
Also, I do understand that feeling of wasted time. I’ll be hitting that big 4-0 myself, soon. When I start feeling that way, I like to think about Susan Boyle. She was 47 when she did X-Factor, and is now an international multi-platinum recording artist. She is the one I think of most whenever I need to remind myself that it is never too late to make my dream come true. If you haven’t read it, I found her autobiography The Woman I Was Born to Be: My Story really inspirational.