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Why Fear Success?


It may seem completely counterintuitive, but one of the greatest obstacles to success is often fear that we may succeed. It’s that petrified stagnation that prevents us from looking for another job, pursuing advancement, and even taking actions we know will bring about change. Perhaps we’ve become so accustomed to failure that the idea of success is unbelievable. We don’t want to get our hopes up, and we may also fear the side effects that would come with success.


(Photo Credit: Masa Sakano/Flickr)

Here are a few reasons some workers are afraid of getting what they want from their careers and their lives:

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1. Moving Forward

Sometimes, success feels inevitable — but that’s not always a good feeling.

“The fear of success is very real because the future is real — we’re all heading there — and what we imagine for our future has an enormous influence on us,” Ti Caine, a hypnotherapist and life coach, told Psychology Today.

Success represents change, and often seems to take us on a wild, madcap ride, with variables outside of our control.

2. Stuck in the Past

Our fear of success is also tied up with our focus on the past. Based on experience, we have preconceived notions of what success means, and/or we have seen how success affected others we know and love. So, instead of focusing on a potentially positive future success, we’re looking behind us.

3. Focus of Success

The whole idea of success and failure is slanted.

“Workers who put their careers first are typically rewarded; workers who choose their families are overlooked, disbelieved, or accused of unprofessionalism,” says Anne-Marie Slaughter, in The Atlantic.

For some workers, the choice is impossible. How can we chose one over the other, in order to do what it takes to pursue success?

4. Gender Perception

“Are women less ambitious, less interested in power? No,” writes Caroline Turner in Forbes. “Some want it in the masculine form. Others just define it differently. They demonstrate it differently. These women may be turned off or shut down by the masculine definitions of power and ambition. They may not want to reach the top in the same way or for the same reasons as men.”

Women tend to take a more collaborative approach, which defines them (and limits them); but if successful women act in ways that are more “masculine,” they are “disliked.”

5. Loss of Identity

There’s also a sense that we might just lose ourselves in the trappings of success — appearance and all. It’s not just about that professionalism or career synchronicity. There’s something much more fundamental we fear we may lose, and might even throw away, in our pursuit of success.

What might happen when you are successful? Anything. You could become a different person, or you might just find a new sense of purpose and rejuvenation. You might just change the world.

When we limit ourselves, only considering the negative part of the giant puzzle that makes up our lives, our tunnel vision threatens to limit all those positive experiences we might have had, as well as put up barriers to the wealth of successful paths we could take in the future.

Tell Us What You Think

Do you fear success? We want to hear from you! Leave a comment or join the discussion on Twitter.

Esther Lombardi
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