Most of us understand and easily recognize fear of failure. But there’s an equal and opposite fear of success that often hides among the more obvious obstacles to greater productivity and higher levels of achievement.
This largely unrecognized fear of reaching our goals and accomplishing what we really want is fairly common. In particular, it thrives among people who are not in close touch with their conscious and unconscious feelings and motivations.
Here are some suggestions for eliminating any such fear of success that may live in you:
Signs of the Fear
Fear of success is sneakier than many other fears in that it operates primarily within your subconscious. That’s why few people actively recognize that, internally, they don’t want to succeed. Instead, they see only the external obstacles and difficulties they encounter.
But there are some specific signs that can lead you to recognize your underlying fear of success. They include:
Compromise. You’re willing, perhaps even eager, to water down your goal or divert your efforts toward someone else’s goal. You may feel you’re are doing this in order to demonstrate friendship or loyalty, or possibly to avoid imposing your judgment and choices on others.
Guilt. Every step you take toward your goal produces feelings of sadness and regret. You may believe you feel bad that others aren’t moving equally well toward their goals, or because you broke some eggs on the way to making your omelet.
Procrastination. You don’t work toward your goal nearly as often or as hard as you could. Something else always seems to feel more urgent or important.
Secrecy. You feel reluctant to tell others about the milestones you pass on the way to your goal. You might believe you’re just wary of others’ jealousy, or perhaps you’re sparing them any realization that you’re farther along than they are.
Self-doubt. Deep down, you’re not confident you deserve the rewards that will come with the accomplishments you seek. Alternatively, you may worry you’ll fail to maintain whatever level of success you somehow achieve. To you, the seemingly obvious strategy is not to go there.
Roots of the Fear
If your history shows one or more of these signs, it’s time to consider why.
There may be some objectively rational reasons. For example, at higher levels of success, you honestly may experience:
- Greater loneliness, as fewer people will be able to understand and empathize with whatever the more successful you will be thinking, feeling, and experiencing.
- More enemies, as certain people will feel newly jealous or angry over your success, and strive to bring you down.
- Isolation, as the time-demands resulting from your success will pull you away from the people and things you currently love.
- Never-ending requests, as more and more people will seek to gain something from you for themselves.
- Phony relationships, as others will try to curry your favor or pretend to feel warmly about you for reasons of their own.
There may also be some emotional or psychological factors driving the fear, such as an expectation that:
- The more successful you become, the worse you’ll feel when – inevitably – you fail to sustain that success.
- Success will require more work, broader responsibilities, and a thicker skin against criticism than you can possibly muster.
- Subordinates, colleagues, friends, and even family will feel less affection for the more successful you.
- Success will bring regret and despair rather than satisfaction and happiness.
Combating the Fear
While the fear of success tends to spring from deep-seated thoughts and feelings, there are some strategies that can weaken or even erase it, as follows:
Strategy 1: Objectively Evaluate Success
Fear of success gets much of its power from unrealistic expectations: of how you and others will feel, of how it will impact your work and your life, and so forth.
You can combat this aspect of the fear by thinking objectively about the actual impact you’re likely to experience from the success you seek. Think about this on your own, of course, but also talk with others you trust to get their take on how success will likely affect you and the world around you.
You may find it’s not likely to be as terrible as you imagine.
Strategy 2: Look for the Source of Your Feelings
Fear of success often grows from experiences and mis-perceptions you’ve accumulated in years gone by. That’s why it’s helpful to consider what you’re really afraid will happen if you achieve the success you want, and where you got that fear.
Many such fears are irrational and unlikely to come true. Others may have been true at one time, but no longer.
By examining the sources of your feelings, you create opportunities to weaken and replace them with more positive and supportive ones.
Strategy 3: Identify and Change Behaviors
Fear of success nearly always results in behaviors that undermine your achievements. If you can identify and change these behaviors, you will stop working against yourself and hampering your progress toward your goals.
Consider such behaviors as:
- Scheduling: How often and how hard do you work toward your goals? Can you work longer or harder in those directions?
- Tactics: What are you doing to accomplish your goals? What are you doing to reverse those accomplishments?
- Coooperation: Are you allowing others to help you accomplish your goals? What can you do to receive more help?
Like most fears, the fear of success does not stand up well to the light of day. The more accurately you recognize this fear and its symptoms in you, and the harder you work to mitigate it, the less it will hold you back from the specific successes you desire.
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