There are times when we hold ourselves back because of a fear of success when everything is actually in our favor. Here are six steps to overcome the fear of success and how to recognize it.
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Fear of Failure Versus Fear of Success
Let’s first put a couple of definitions on the table to work with. Fear of failure and fear of success.
Atychiphobia, the extreme fear of facing the unknown, is the far end of the spectrum when it comes to a fear of failure. The truth is that we all fail, and while we may let our fear of another failure hold us back, it is also the fuel that helps us learn from our mistakes and do better the next time. That is if we get through the fear part and take action. There is a driving question of “What if it all goes wrong?” behind the fear of failure. It could come from pride or from a sense of duty to others.
Signs of a fear of failure include the following (WellMed):
- Negative self-talk around failing before even trying/planning
- Feeling like you can never achieve a goal
- Worrying that you will disappoint others if/when you fail
- Procrastinating, because deep down feeling there’s no point in trying
- Talking down your own abilities to achieve your goal
The fear of success, however, is nuanced in its differences. Where the fear of failure is driven by “What if things go wrong?” The fear of success is driven by “What if things go right?” and worrying about how others will perceive you after you have found success. Some of those thoughts and fears can include the following:
- People will realize I’m a fraud
- I’ll be trapped in a new daily grind
- I’ll have to leave my job/turn my passion into work
- My friends will think I’m stuck up
- This will take me away from my family
It’ll manifest in similar actions as the fear of failure in terms of procrastinating until the opportunity passes you by, or making great progress only to quit at the finish line. It’s nuanced in the sense that your concern is that if you succeed in your goal it will bring more hardship than you want to handle.
I Faced My Own Fear of Success – and Still Do
Most of my friends don’t know that I was recruited out of high school to play tuba for a conservatory of music. I was really into heavy metal music, I guess. That’s not the point. The point is that I could have had a full-ride scholarship. I could fulfill a dream of performing with an orchestra that recorded soundtracks for movies.
Instead, my head started to fill with thoughts around what if I am really good at music, especially tuba, and that’s all I am? Giving private lessons, playing in polka bands, telling in essence dad band jokes like that heavy metal music reference I made earlier. Here was the kicker, it was not noble enough. You can’t save lives playing the tuba.
As a result, I never practiced my audition pieces for the Conservatory of Music at the University of the Pacific, and I all but ghosted the band director there. I still showed up to audition unprepared, and still made the third chair out of five tuba players, but I didn’t apply to get into the Conservatory. This would just be for fun while I majored as a pre-medical student.
This wasn’t any better. I had the capability to do well. My 2.18 grade point average did not say so, but I tutored classmates to pass the same classes I was failing. I would read the material for a quiz or exam after the actual event. Many of you would recognize this as self-sabotage. I had the ability, I had the learning agility, but I would not apply it when it was needed to get to the next level. Deep down I was afraid of things like I may have to go to medical school for another four years, I’ll have to work in a hospital forever (some irony here if you know what I do for a living), people will expect me to take care of them. The end result was that I set the stage to not get into medical school.
Does any of this resonate with you?
Whether it is a fear of failure or a fear of success you face, you can overcome it.
Let’s look at six steps that will help you overcome your own fear of success.
6 Steps to Overcome the Fear of Success
There are 6 steps I have been using since the start of 2013 to help myself overcome my own fears of success. They are described and listed below.
1. Recognize fear of success in myself
Your fear of success is a mindset issue and a self-talk issue. To fix a problem, you need to first acknowledge there is a problem. Writing down your thoughts in a journal helps you see what you are up against. Ask yourself the following questions:
- What are my goals? How will I know I have succeeded? Where am I now? (assuming you don’t have written goals already)
- Where am I procrastinating towards my goal(s)?
- What resources do I keep diverting away from achieving success?
- What are actions I stop short of completing never to return to them?
- What am I pretending not to know about my own fear of success/failure?
It’s just you and your journal. No one is going to judge you for what you write down. You may be tempted to write what you think others expect you to say. If you lie in your journal to yourself, you’re only cheating yourself.
2. Get accountability from a group of trusted advisors.
Having a small group of trusted people who are encouraging, yet also have the ability to be candid, will keep you focused on my desired success. The biggest, and most important, ingredient in having accountability is that you must be open to the accountability in the first place. The maximum range for an excuse with this group needs to be 0.0 meters. They must know this, and you must honor it from the beginning.
I seek accountability from three sources: (1) my wife, (2) the Lima Charlie Network (and now they know, I suppose) (3) and the Christian Podcasters Association Gold Membership program which includes a biweekly group coaching session with somewhat of a mastermind approach.
3. Immediately address and change the self-talk in your mind to set yourself up for success
Take the positive feedback and suggestions from your accountability group, and rewrite the self-talk in your head. It took time to write negative self-talk into yourself, and it will take time to rewrite your mindset. It helps to have accountability partners who will keep you on track, or course correct you.
4. Give yourself the challenge to take “one more step”
Bil Cornelius once said, “When you fail to handle one problem, it multiplies (Cornelius, 2010.)”
In the same way, when you fail to take that next step, the likelihood of not being able to take subsequent steps also multiplies. The way to completing a journey is taking one step after another, so when faced with a fear of success, break milestones into less daunting steps and then agree to take the next “little” step. Seem simple? It is. The hard part is making the commitment to actually do something about that little step.
5. Achieve that next “one more step”
Nike said it best, “Just do it!” I say, “Just do one more!” With the fear of success, the temptation is to stop after the first milestone. Chances are there are multiple milestones awaiting you. Celebrate your win, then “Charlie Mike” (continue mission).
6. Repeat steps 2 through 5 until you reach that milestone of success and share your progress with your accountability partners
Success comes from doing the same simple steps consistently over and over and over. You build momentum this way and before you know it you have the success you’ve wanted and it seems to carry itself. I recommend you read Good to Great by Jim Collins about building flywheel momentum. Another great book is Atomic Habits by James Clear.
The journey is worth it, and the impact you will have on your success will change lives for generations. The world around you needs you to overcome your fear of success.
This article was originally posted on Lima Charlie Network in April 2022.