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Is Fear of Success Holding You Back?

Often, we talk about how fear of failure can hold us back. However, in recent years we’ve heard a lot about how failure can precipitate growing experiences. In our careers, and especially in entrepreneurship, failure is an accepted part of getting ahead.

A bigger problem might actually be your fear of success.

As crazy as it may seem, there are those who are afraid of the consequences of success. The Chronicle of Higher Education (P. Monaghan, “Nothing to Do with Brightness,” 1989) pointed out at one time that half of those who went in for Ph.D.s didn’t finish. Instead, they stopped at “all but dissertation” (A.B.D.) status.

This fear of success might affect you more than just not finishing a degree. It could hold you back in your career [3], or keep you from achieving the success you want with your business.

Are You Afraid of Succeeding?

Sometimes, the fear of succeeding is tied to concerns about the consequences of success. Perhaps you are worried that you will have to go on to do bigger and better things. Often, once you have achieved a certain level of success, you are expected to continue along those lines? What if you can’t measure up?

Another concern is that success often comes with competition. When you are successful, that can put you in contact — and competition — with other successful people. Many people find themselves stressed out [4] by such competition. It makes sense, then, that it can be easier to simply stay the course, keep your head down, and not worry about standing out too much.

Finally, fear of owning your success can hold you back. In her book, Lean In [5], Sheryl Sandberg points out that many women are afraid of looking arrogant when they own their success. But this is something that can affect members of both genders. The fear of owning your success can play down your abilities, and lead you to lose ground to those who are more confident.

If you let your fear of success, or your fear of owning your success, get in the way, you could find your career stalling.

Overcome Your Fear of Success

Susanne Babbel, a psychologist who specializes in depression and PTSD, offers some great tips for overcoming your fear of success in Psychology Today [6]:

You will need to recognize the feelings that are keeping you from success if you want to overcome them. Be honest with yourself, and pinpoint the reasons that you are holding yourself back.

Then, look forward. Do you want to achieve success? Think about how you define success, and then take the steps to make it happen. When you start feeling the fear, think about positive outcomes of your success, and how your life will improve.

Have you ever felt afraid of success? How did you move beyond it?

(Photo: n2linux [7])