Fear of Success: What To Do When What You Want Is Scary

April 10, 2019
Fear of success is a legitimate thing. And it’s one that probably prevents us from moving forward more than anything else, largely because we don’t recognize it as a common issue with owning a business. But it’s as prevalent as any other roadblock, and we don’t yet have the language or the tools to identify it and deal with it.

Fear of Failure vs. Fear of Success

In the business world at least, we talk about the fear of failure all the time. (I have opinions on failure, but let’s stay focused here). Fear is a way for our brains to protect us, but it’s the same way our brains respond to the good things, too. Our bodies react to excitement in the very same way they react to stress or anxiety.

When we think about being successful, our bodies create the same physical response that causes us to brace and protect. The more we succeed and the stakes get higher, the more we exhibit the same behaviour as if we were under stress or pummeled with anxiety — irritability, impatience, delayed decision making, hair trigger tempers, etc.

When failure is our big worry, we understand that and can make sense of it. We can find support and cameraderie, and cheerleaders and tools. But what about when our inertia is actually derived from envisioning what life looks like if we actually do what we are setting out to accomplish?

That doesn’t make sense, does it? Why would we be worried about getting what we want?

Crippling Ourselves

For months now, my client had been spinning her wheels. Despite numerous conversations with various experts, she continued to flounder when she thought about working on her business.

She couldn’t explain it. It just happened. She had ideas and intentions but no matter what, she kept turning her attention to something else which was not going to move her forward.

She was frustrated, angry with herself, bewildered as to why she was still sitting in the same spot months later.

Maybe she just wasn’t cut out to be a business owner. Maybe she just didn’t have the personality. Maybe there wasn’t a market for what she had to offer. Maybe, maybe, maybe.

This was the ongoing dialogue in her head, until it came out one day in our conversations that she was actually terrified of what would happen if she actually accomplished her goals.

The idea of achieving what she set out to do elicited a fight-or-flight response in her body and, to protect herself, she’d find a way to make her progress stall.

Sound familiar?

What It’s Really About

Fear of success is a real thing. And it’s one that probably prevents us from moving forward more than anything else.

But don’t we all want success? Well, yes. But it’s more complicated than that.

When we fear success, we are fearing one of a few different circumstances:⠀

  • Fear of selling out. This is big for creative professionals, and those in the health and wellness space. It’s based on the fear that we have to compromise integrity in order to be successful. This is very often derived from the entitled and envious masses shaming these professionals for *gasp* wanting to be compensated for something that is in service to others, or that is supposed to be in the domain of the wild and free.
  • Fear of becoming someone else. This one is based on a fear that we have to be a different person if we want to be succcessful. That only someone who is extraverted, or ruthless, or much better at being a salesperson, or *insert your favourite limiting belief here* can be “successful”.
  • Fear of being judged. Judgment is all about creating assumptions. If the world doesn’t know you, they will see the things you already don’t like about yourself and assume you are much less than you are. They will create opinions about you and you will be “blacklisted”. Your community will abandon you for having an opinion they don’t like, or doing something that compromises their beliefs.
  • Fear or losing what you have. Listen, you’ve got a good thing going right now. Your life is comfortable, you’ve got what you need. You’re content. While it’s actually totally fine to decide that you want to keep your life exactly as it is, it’s not true that you have to compromise where you’re at in order to succeed. You can grow in whatever way you want, and growth doesn’t mean your situation has to change. It’s up to you.
  • Fear of not being able to sustain the success. What if you can’t keep growing after you’ve “gotten there”? It feels so hard just to reach the goals you’ve set already, how could you possibly move past that once you arrive? What will people think of you if you can’t sustain what you’ve achieved?

These are all derived from the prolific unknown, and from our conditioning around success. Since we all tread different paths, there could be so many reasons for arriving here and so many stories intertwined in our journey.

Getting Out From Under Fear

So what are the best ways to try and address these beliefs and wrest yourself from their stranglehold?

  • First and foremost, build yourself a plan. I mean, a legitimate, multifaceted plan. Get as many ducks in a row as you can. Half the reason we feel anxious about our success if that we don’t know what it’s going to look like getting there and what it’s going to look like when we arrive. Having a plan helps us visualize what’s going to go down, and we can then design this to suit our needs. Being really intentional is going to help with addressing a number of these fears, and clearing out at least some of the unknowns.
  • Define what success means to you. Half of the problem is that we are constantly being told what success means, but we have to decide what success actually means to us, and what feels good. Doing work in a way that is aligned with our values is so critical to success. Knowing what you want in your business and what success looks like to you is going to help you ensure you can get there without compromising what you want, and that you can create a path that doesn’t leave you selling out or becoming someone else.
  • Know what your boundaries are. There is nothing in the “success formula” that says you have to compromise what you want in order to grow. If you’re worried about becoming a version of yourself that you don’t like, or that you’re going to lose what you have and hold dear, creating firm boundaries will keep you rooted in your values, and will give you the confidence that you’re staying true to yourself. Go as far as to write them down, identifying your deal breakers explicitly so that you know exactly when they occur and you can navigate away from them.
  • Clear your mindset. Fear of being judged is bunch of mindset gunk. There are a plethora of exercises to help you clear that away, and there is also a lot of power in creating your aforementioned plan. If you are confident that there is a tactical way to get where you want, you’ll feel less anxious about not measuring up. You can see the way there, and feel more confident and focused on your work. You have so many channels to tell your story, and to share yourself. But here’s the truth — most of the time, people don’t hear you. You have to fight for their attention. No one is standing there, waiting to tell you what you’ve done wrong. You have to do cartwheels with no clothes on just to get noticed half the time. So don’t worry about being judged. You probably need to worry more about grabbing anyone’s attention long enough just to hear the great things you have to say!
  • Shift your focus to service. Fear of being visible can be rooted in a whole slew of old stories and socialization. While this is the domain of mindset coaches, life coaches and therapists, you can work some simple shifts into your perspective by focusing on the fact that you are providing a service. If you don’t do your important work, how will the market get what they need? If you don’t show them what’s available to them (in a new way, a new format, a different place or with different focus), you can’t serve them, and their lives will not benefit from what you have to offer. The most important thing you can do to help others is to be successful at what you do. Then, you will have more time and resources to put towards giving people what they need. And this doesn’t just count for health and wellness. Even entertainment is a service, and can provide much needed relief from stressful and busy lives.
  • Be clear on who you are, and what your business is. When I work with my clients, the very first thing we do is create their business blueprint, which is like the DNA of your business. It’s the foundation that intertwines who you are, what your business passions are, how you want to work, your values and your skills with how you’re going to deliver value to your customers. Because this foundation rests on who you are, this becomes your yardstick for making decisions and guiding the activities you undertake in your business. With this solid foundation in place, you’re less likely to stray from where you want to head, and that your success will be aligned with you and your values.

Learn More

Still wondering about this fear of success thing? It’s a big topic! In order to dig deeper, I’ve created a quick 2-part video to help flesh out this topic:

Watch Part 1 here.
Watch Part 2 here.

Tell me in the comments…

So I’m curious to know… are you keeping yourself stuck worrying about what’s going to happen when you reach your goals? Or, what’s worked to help you get through this?


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