Are You Afraid Of Success?

By Ted Behr, M. Ed., CPCC, ACC

You are certainly aware that many people fail to achieve their goals in life due to the phenomenon known as “fear of failure.”  But are you aware that a major factor that is often overlooked is a state known as “fear of success”?

Scared man

Image courtesy of graur razvan ionut /

Fear of failure will lead many people into inertia – the inability to make a decision or take action for fear of receiving a rejection or negative outcome. This mental state is fairly easy to identify, and there are many tools in the personal development industry to help combat this plague and reprogram the mind for success. However, the fear of success is much more subtle, harder to spot and also harder to eradicate.

Perhaps you have this tendency in your life. Here are some indications of a fear of success mentality:

  • Studying and trying to implement self-improvement techniques and/or personal development tools but your life does not improve or even gets worse.
  • You settle for less than you feel you deserve or are capable of achieving.\
  • You start new projects full of enthusiasm and optimism but wane in your efforts or stop short before you have completed them.
  • You expect things to go wrong no matter how well the situation appears to be at the moment.
  • Can you identify your own patterns in the any of the above statements?

The fear of success can also make you behave in ways that hold you back. Look at the list below. These are the symptoms of the fear of success.

Procrastination – putting off what needs to be done or not doing what you know will bring you closer to your desired result. Everyone suffers from this inner ‘demon’ at some point in their lives (although some of us suffer from it more than others!).

Procrastination is a ‘success killer’! How can you expect to reach your destination if you do not take steps towards it?  Strive to do little things each day that will bring you small steps closer to your goal. Take action! Any action! Refine your steps as you go along but do not sit and do nothing. Taking action is the key ingredient in achieving success.

Can’t see the forest for the trees! – this is almost the opposite of procrastination but has the same effect on your movement towards your goals. In this situation, you don’t have a problem taking action, but you get so caught up in your action plan that you lose site of the goal.  You start to think and act as though your plan is more important than the end result.  When this happens, you miss opportunities to alter your path and reach your goals more quickly!

Thinking that the time is not right – have you ever waited until the timing was perfect before starting a venture?  Have you ever waited until you had more information on a better plan?  Was the timing ever perfect?  Did you ever have all the information?

Again ACTION is the key to the door to success. Taking small steps is always better than taking none or waiting to see if your foot is landing on the right spot! Even if your actions take you away from your goal, you have at least gained insight and knowledge about what does not work!

Being a perfectionist – this is similar to the point above and has the same effect, namely, that you never really move forward. No matter how good a job is when it’s finished it can always be improved! You may have heard that many great musicians tell how they hate listening to their own songs because they can find a million things that need improved. Yet, we still enjoy them.  A classic example of this is “Bridge Over Troubled Water” by Paul Simon. This song is hauntingly beautiful yet Mr. Simon does not think it’s good enough!

Seeing only problems – how do you use your focus? Do you constantly see only all the problems involved?  You can use this mindset to your advantage while you strive in your personal development to acquire an optimistic frame of mind instead.

Here’s how: Look at the problems and prepare a plan to deal with them. Every time you overcome one congratulate yourself. Use them as a gauge for your achievements. If you keep seeing more problems, remind yourself of how well you dealt with the others. Look at how far you have come! If you see a problem ask yourself, “How best can I overcome this challenge?” or “How quickly can I rectify this situation?” Use the problems as fact finders. Is there a real problem now?  If so then deal with it.  Is it a potential problem?  If so then create a contingency plan in case it does occur, but don’t get caught up in it – just be prepared.

So, enjoy the journey, follow the above guidelines and you will achieve success. Eventually your fear of success will dissipate and you will have moved a long way forward in your personal development.