It is safe to say most of us have some fear of failure. It makes sense. No one wants to be defeated, let down, or embarrassed.
Interestingly enough, Fear of Success is the other side of the same coin. We are not as open to sharing our fear of success partly because, on the surface, it does not make sense. It is, however, a common fear.
Being successful comes with its own set of emotional issues. There are obvious issues, like the pressure to continue on your upwardly mobile path and maintain it once you arrive, but there are also more subtle issues. Feeling guilty or threatened by becoming more successful than your parents, your friends, or your spouse is rarely discussed but is a common occurrence. These fears can inspire feelings of isolation and fear of abandonment.
My husband Victor is a first generation American and the oldest son of Eastern European parents. He is a successful illustrator and combat artist. His first year out of Parsons School of Design, he made more money than his father had during most of his career. Vic felt terribly guilty about being more successful than his dad, which led him to minimize his accomplishments. None of us want to lose the love of a parent for any reason. This fear can negatively impact your actual success.
Another common area in which fear of success arises is in romantic relationships, especially among women. When I was single in New York City years ago, I found my success and financial independence created tension in some relationships, until I met Victor. Sometimes the issue was with me, feeling compelled to downplay my accomplishments so the man I was dating would not feel threatened. Other times, I felt resentment for dimming my light to appease the ego of another.
My dating experience inspired a fear of success. If my star continued to rise, would I end up with a fabulous life and no one to share it with? It is not surprising that I drew Vic to me once I decided that I had created an extraordinary life and would rather be single than in a less than extraordinary relationship. This decision came as a relief. I would no longer twist myself up into a pretzel to fit someone else’s idea of whom I should be and was willing to let the chips fall where they may.
It became clear that if I were to partner with anyone in a permanent way, they would have to bring some serious magic to the already awesome party. Getting to this point took many years of therapy, trial and error, and a willingness to be alone. I broke through my fear of success by believing that I could be successful and loved and that, as long as I did not marry the wrong one because I feared being alone, the right one would come along. (He did.)
As a psychotherapist, this is a trend I see with my successful female clients and friends. A disproportionate number of these women remain single even though they would like to be partnered. Some, who do find partners, give up successful careers in order to avoid being seen as the “one wearing the pants in the relationship” or out of fear that out-earning their partner will harm the relationship. Many women and some men give up careers to stay home with young children with great success. The motivation for the choice dictates the outcome. If the decision is fear-based, inevitably, resentment will build.
If fear of failure and fear of success are opposite sides of the same coin, the coin is Fear of Change.
With any change, we get anxious, excited, and are required to navigate new territory. This learning curve upsets the homeostasis in our lives until the change becomes the new norm. Some people are so frightened of experiencing this upset that they block their own growth and evolution to avoid it.
My friend Davidji says change is like breath: it isn’t part of the process; it is the process. In reality, the only thing we can count on is change. There is something very powerful and liberating about surrendering to change—it is where transformation and evolution reside.
Despite its inevitability, certain changes, like a career change, involve conscious choices. These choices involve giving something up.
Fear of change is fear of loss.
We lose the familiar to enter the unknown. Feeling guilty can also be part of this package if you are the person changing. You imagine how someone else might be feeling about changes in your life. Realize that these assumptions are colored by your own projection. My husband’s father never verbally expressed feeling offended or disrespected by Vic’s success. This did not stop Vic from fearing he might lose his father’s affection as a direct result of out-earning him. It is far more effective to simply ask the question rather than assume the worst. You may be pleasantly surprised.
To help you get to the root of your fear of success, find some quiet time, pen and paper in hand.
- What is holding you back from achieving what you want and continuing to strive higher? Is it a person, a feeling, a cultural standard?
- Once you know what’s blocking you, ask yourself what you want your life to look and feel like. What do you want more and less of in the areas of your life where you feel stuck, guilty, and afraid?
- What is the next right action to releasing the fear of success? Do you need to have a heart-to-heart with your parents about your feelings of guilt if you become more successful than them? Do you need to talk to a friend or partner about your fear that they will be angry or jealous of your success?
Remember, your life and career are a collection of your choices. I hope this post inspires you to think honestly and deeply about what is motivating your decisions. I hope you choose to embrace your unique gifts and allow yourself to shine.
I am cheering you on and, as always, am interested in hearing your thoughts. Please drop a comment here and start a meaningful dialogue.
You deserve to enjoy and celebrate all of your successes!
Love Love Love
Terri Cole, founder and CEO of Live Fearless and Free, is a licensed psychotherapist, transformation coach, and an expert at turning fear into freedom. For almost two decades, Terri has empowered companies, celebrities, professional athletes and individuals to Live Fearless and Free. Follow Terri on Twitter @terri_cole.