Fearing Success


“Success consists of going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm.” — Winston Churchill

We all fear something. One prevalent fear, that I don’t understand, is the fear of success (and this is almost as common as the fear of failure). We demonstrate this fear in many ways. We don’t complete our projects. We talk more about what we are going to do than what we actually do. We work on several projects at once, without really focusing on any of them. We consistently second guess ourselves. We are easily distracted. We never think our work is good enough. But, why do we fear success?

Are we too busy trying to fix the past? We have all heard that history repeats itself. But this is only true if we don’t learn from the past. People spend time trying to fix things in the past without living in the present. There is a need to continue to move forward and learn from our past failures, rather than reliving them.

It has been said that success is more complex than failure. As we begin to achieve success, we enter into new territory. New territory may be exciting, but it is also scary simply because it is new. Success brings change which may move us away from our familiar and comfortable situation; although the new situation may be better, it’s still new and different. This is little more than an excuse to not try to succeed.

Are we concerned we will disappoint? Many people are afraid that they will not be able to duplicate their success; authors, for example, sometimes never publish a second book because they are afraid of disappointing the people who liked their first one. This excuse is commonly paired with the belief we do not deserve to be successful. Sometimes, however, we fear that our success will not be seen as success by our family and friends.

Often, we fear success because we fear the risk that is necessary to achieve the success. We fear being judged if we fail rather than considering what we could learn from the failure to apply towards success. We believe the stories of overnight success, without realizing that overnight success follows years of hard work, effort, and failures.

Are we afraid of what we learn if we are successful? It is possible that success will demonstrate to us that we could have improved our situation sooner? Some are afraid of learning they have been underachieving. Or are we going to learn that we have been lulled into a sense of complacency because we were always given awards for coming in second, or trying our hardest?

We each need to define what success is. We need to know what it looks like. And this is personal, success means something different to each of us. Making this a clear goal, allows each of us to move towards success, without concern of what others think. Defining what success means to each of us makes it less frightening and more achievable.

The fear of success is real and holds many people back. However, what we need to understand is that success is never an accident. Instead of letting the past hold us back, it is time to let go of it. We have to do the work. We have to accept the challenges. And we have to prepare for the inevitable (and positive) changes that come with success.


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