Fear of Success – Is it holding you back?
Fear exists to protect ourselves from threats we face, on a spectrum from mild to life-changing. If we didn’t feel this emotion, it could lead to fatal consequences. Fear is a response to physical and emotional danger stemming from millennia ago. It has played a vital role in driving evolution, allowing the human species to survive. Fear of success is another story.
Fear is a natural and universal human emotion. Some people fear spiders, some people fear heights; but we all know what it feels like to be afraid of success. With the rise in entrepreneurship, the opportunities for success are greater than ever before–but so is the potential for failure. This article explores why we all have these feelings when it comes to our own achievements, and how you can use them as motivation to succeed!
We no longer face threats such as fighting off animals or battling the elements, which were immediate and dire consequences for early mankind. We now face lower risk stresses such as elevators (claustrophobia and heights), public speaking etc. but some individuals still develop extreme flight-or-fight responses when presented with these situations.
Fear doesn’t just come from negative stresses but also positive ones. As humans, a lot of us are more afraid of success than we are of failure. Although success is viewed as a very desirable outcome, often we will self-sabotage to avoid achievement. This sounds counter-intuitive but imposter syndrome or perceived fraudulence is a well-known experience and involves feelings of self-doubt and personal incompetence that persist despite your education, experience, and accomplishments.
Although success is viewed as a positive outcome, there are a few reasons that people fear doing well. A key point to note is that people fear the consequences of success, not success itself. With achievement comes expectations and these can be intimidating for the majority. The path to success is generally paved with making sacrifices, persisting through difficulty and recovering from failures. As humans, we constantly aim for a state of comfort or homeostasis so it’s no wonder that many choose to avoid these risks.
We already briefly discussed imposter syndrome and this is just one of the ways fear may be holding you back from conquering the game of life.
- Feeling misinterpretation: Excitement and anxiety manifest themselves the same way in the physical body. This can be misinterpreted and cause people to avoid situations that could possibly trigger these emotions.
- Backlash avoidance: We live in a society that is still governed by social norms and a fear of success sometimes means challenging these norms. For example, although there change afoot, research shows that women generally tend to avoid self-promotion because it still challenges traditional gender roles. They tend to associate negative consequences with success, fearing the economic or social backlash.
- Negative experiences: Success often breeds jealousy and can invoke negative reactions from others such as being called a “show-off”, lucky or potentially others wanting to free-load. This is considered a form of hardship and may lead to avoidance in the future.
- Poor self-efficacy: This refers to an individual’s beliefs in their ability to be able to achieve their goals. Research shows that people who fear success lack self-efficacy.
- Social anxiety: Success will undoubtedly put one in the limelight and if you are shy and socially anxious, this is a nightmare scenario.
It’s important to find the courage to face your fears, especially if you want to obtain success and live the life you deserve. The things we don’t want to do, are theoretically the things we do want to and need to do in order to achieve our ideal outcomes. We have some tips on how to find courage:
- Identify and label your fear: If you are able to label your fearful thought as just that, a fearful thought, it allows you to distance yourself and gain a healthy perspective. Changing your “fear” to a mere thought rather than reality releases you from its power.
- Analyse the fear: We can only change things that are within our control. Are you able to avoid a specific outcome, or perhaps better prepare for it? Are there elements that are outside your control and are no good worrying about? Make a list and gain clarity to enable you to face your fear.
- Keep your eye on the prize: If you are thinking about facing a fear and preparing a plan of action for it, there must be a potentially good outcome. What could you gain? Look ahead to the positives and maintain focus on your goals.
- Strategize: Taking your time, formulating a plan about how to tackle your fear is perfectly acceptable.
The classic saying “Failing to plan is planning to fail” still rings true. Barging head first to conquer a fear may suit you but if you need time and to form a plan on exactly how you are going to do so is also just fine. People who have different plans on how they are going to react to different scenarios tend to meet their goals more successfully.
Fear of success can be obvious or it can lie beneath the surface, and you may not even be aware it’s there! It’s a genuine fear that can cost one greatly in a personal capacity. Hopefully, we’ve been able to help you identify it and given you some tools to be able to conquer it!