Scared of Success Are You?

Dukeo » General » scared of success
5 responsesGeneral3 min read

You’ve read all the motivational messages that talk about how the fear of failure can prevent you from ever being a success. A lot of people are so afraid they’re going to fail to achieve their dreams that they never even make the attempt. But for some people, it’s the exact opposite. Some people actually sabotage themselves so they can’t achieve their dreams because they’re afraid of what will happen if they do.

How can someone be afraid of success? On the surface, it doesn’t make any sense. Success is a ‘good‘ thing, it’s failure that’s ‘bad’. So shouldn’t you be happy when you succeed? And if that’s the case, why would you be scared of success?

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Some psychologists chalk this fear of success up to some Freudian father/son issue that originates in early childhood and others say it has its roots in bullying or abuse we may have received as a child that leaves us with a poor self-image. Essentially though it boils down to this: People who are scared of success are generally afraid of the changes that will come once they achieve that success, not the success itself. They’re not afraid to win. They’re afraid of what’s going to happen after the celebration.

Once you succeed at reaching your goal, then what? You usually have to set a higher, harder-to reach goal. Something new and better to strive for. A goal you might not feel you’ll be able to reach. After all, there comes a point where you’ve done your best and you just don’t have anymore to give. Maybe you feel like you’re not smart enough to go any further or you don’t have the necessary skills or commitment. If you’re afraid of not being up to that next challenge, you might find yourself sabotaging your own chances of success with the original challenge. Then you’ll never have to worry about what comes next.

Or maybe you don’t want the additional work or responsibility that comes with success. You know you’re up for a promotion at work. But along with that new title and the big raise, you’ll also have a lot more work to do and you’ll be responsible for an entire department instead of just your own little desk. You know you could never turn the promotion down so you do little things to sabotage your own success – you start coming in late or missing meetings or deliberately making mistakes. If you kill your chances of getting that promotion then you won’t have to worry about taking on the additional work and responsibility.

Some people are afraid they won’t be able to handle success. Will they be expected to act differently? Will they have to dress differently? Will people treat them differently? Will their friends be jealous? Will they have to abandon their old friends and start moving in new circles? Sometimes it’s easier just to maintain the status quo than go through the stressful changes that might occur when you become successful.

Some people are afraid they won’t really enjoy success once they achieve it. What if reaching that lofty goal completely changes their life in ways they can’t yet imagine? What if success isn’t really all it’s cracked up to be? What if having more money just complicates their life? Better to stay right where you are, where you’re content, than to risk being unhappy when you achieve success.

And some people have low self-esteem and just don’t feel they deserve to be successful. All their life they’ve had someone telling them they’re worthless or not deserving of the finer things in life so naturally that’s what they believe. To be successful at something and actually achieve a goal or receive a reward would be contrary to everything they believe.

So you see, there are any number of reasons that people are scared of success. The trick is learning to recognize the signs that might indicate your one of those people. Do you find yourself constantly coming within spitting distance of success and then it suddenly slips through your fingers? Do you always blame your failures on someone else or some outside influence? If so, then maybe you’re guilty of self-sabotage because you’re afraid of success.

The next time you feel success slipping away, stop and look at the situation. Are you doing something subconsciously to make yourself fail? And if so, what is it you’re afraid of? Confront your fears head on, with commitment and determination, and give yourself permission to succeed. After all, you’ve earned it.


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  1. Sergio Felix

    Hey Steven,

    I sabotage myself every single day and you can easily spot that pattern through my blog since I got started with marketing.

    Sure, sometimes I can overcome this but as soon as I start making real progress towards something big and I’m about to reach it, something comes out of nowhere and for one reason or another, I fail to complete the final assignment.

    Not embarrassed to admit it as it’s something that bothers the heck out of me but apparently it hasn’t bothered me enough to get it going like I should.

    Oh but I’ll get there, I just don’t know exactly when and great post man, first time here and I already like you!


    1. Steven

      Thanks for your comment Sergio. It sounds like an issue of both fear of success, and procrastination. I think you have to make sure you stay focused on that project until in gets to a “good enough” stage where it can be released.

      Once a project goes live, it’s a lot easier to keep working on it because you can see results. On the other hand, as long as the project is in development and it stays private, you are kind of working in the dark…

      Are you able to pinpoint exactly what’s your issue?

  2. Christian Spoerl

    Great article. The only thing we have to fear, is fear itself. Let go, and follow your dreams. If you don’t have a plan, someone else has one for you !

    1. Steven

      That’s very inspiring Christian. Following your dreams is one of the best pieces of advice I ever heard.

  3. Eric

    Love the article, this how I always describe fear to other people. Being overcome by fear is like submitting to peer pressure. Fear is your friend, he’s there to guide, advise, and warn you. Like all friends, sometimes you should listen to them and sometimes you shouldn’t.

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