Fear of Success/Failure

Children who grow up with criticism
Learn to condemn themselves and others
Author Unknown

Fear of success can be just as paralyzing as fear of failure. Many people fear success because it tests their limits and makes them vulnerable to new situations. Even worse, success can expose weaknesses and force people to deal with their flaws.
We claim to want it, yet we sabotage success in countless ways:

  • We procrastinate.
  • We talk ideas to death instead of doing them.
  • We never quite finish a project.

Many of us stave off success because, deep down, we feel we’re not worthy.

Then sometimes, almost in spite of ourselves, success arrives on our front porch. It’s rather like having a baby: You know it’s going to happen, you plan for it, dream of it – and then suddenly it’s there, real – and you can’t believe it.

Success can feel scary, almost like a shameful secret.

Success carries a whole new set of fears:

  • of being rejected by people,
  • of having our parade rained upon,
  • of having our success somehow invalidated or
  • even ripped away from us overnight.

Success can feel good and bad at the same time.

Where do the mixed messages come from?
Many of us get mixed messages about success while growing up.

On the one hand, we were urged to do our best, to do everything perfectly and finish whatever we began, and criticised when what we did, did not reach “the” standard or we could do better.
Those were the words we heard.
The actions we saw told us otherwise.
People who did well – were constantly criticized.

So while we were encouraged to succeed, we also were discouraged – not because our parents wanted to confuse us, but because they’d internalized the same messages. Mum was taught in her youth that girls where to be slaves to the kitchen, while Dad was brought up with extreme discipline and was taught that you had to be seen as successful, no matter what

No matter how hard, we worked, and agonized, trying to get our parents approval, we could never achieve it, because our parents did not approve of themselves, so as children we took on the same shame as our parents

We also learned to be hypercritical of others, quick to find the flaw to elevate ourselves on the self-worth totem pole.
We, as children, where to be seen and not heard

As a result of my programming, I learned that I should be looking for love on the outside, and giving to others, was the rule to be obeyed. I learnt that as long as I did what others expected of me, I would be respected!!! therefore I became needy, because I needed others, to be successful. I not only wasn’t capable of success, I didn’t deserve to have it. I was a perpetual victim, always yearning and never having.

Did I really deserve success?

Sometimes people fear success because they don’t know if they can live up to their achievements. They don’t think they’re good enough or smart enough. They’re afraid they don’t have what it takes to rise to the challenge, and they don’t know if they can sustain their success.
And that’s where self-sabotaging behavior comes in.

It’s taken work to correct my faulty thinking about all this. Gradually, these truths emerged:

  • It’s OK to make mistakes. Everyone does. That’s how we learn: through a process of elimination.
  • Comparing ourselves to others isn’t constructive. And knocking someone else down to feel better about ourselves produces only temporary self-esteem.
  • One – or even ten – rejections doesn’t mean your idea (or you) is no good. Sometimes it’s just a matter of timing.
  • Dividing people into categories of have and have-not is simplistic and inaccurate. Contrary to appearances, nobody “has it made”. We all have our worries, our addictions and our insecurities.

We all deserve success – especially when we,ve worked hard for it. Success has many definitions. We each must decide what it means to us. Peace of mind may not be flashy, but it’s probably more important than driving a status-symbol car.

What is your dream of success? How are you getting in your way?


  • PCApproach

    I like this very much.This is so very true.I am new to this, hopefully I am doing it right.I will keep going inch by inch everything is a cinch. Love this

  • PCApproach

    I think this is a wonderful message.Just what I needed to hear at the moment.Thank you. Not really sure on how to tweet just learning

  • Catherine Morgan

    Great post. It is counterintuitive that people fear both failure and success. So easy to get analysis paralysis or to throw up roadblocks. I coach people around this every day!

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