3 Ways to Overcome the Fear of Success

Anita has always been a hard working individual. Her talents and hard work made it very easy for her to move up in her organization. Having received three promotions in the last 5 years, Anita was up for a promotion again; this time into senior management.

Instead of doing all she could she to stand out and be the chosen candidate, Anita started to pull back in her efforts. Though her work never suffered, the gusto with which she used to approach her job seemed to vanish. Anita had dreamed of this opportunity since she started in the company but now that it was at her door step, she was afraid—afraid of succeeding.

The fear of failure is well known and even accepted as normal. The fear of success, however, was particularly controversial in the late 1960s and early 1970s when Matina s. Horner introduced the concept. When studying the psychological reasoning behind what motivates women, Horner asserted that women fear succeeding and therefore weren’t motivated to achieve success. The fear of success is the belief that attaining achievement will have negative consequences. Since Horner’s assertions, psychologists and those interested in the study of women’s motivation achievement and behavior, have tested and expounded on the concept.

For many women I work with, the idea of success is a great motivator as long as it remains an idea or doesn’t threaten their core beliefs. A certain level of success is acceptable but based on one’s experiences, worldview, and upbringing, moving beyond what is acceptable can become frightening. When confronted with the reality of success,  many women like Anita, hesitate to move forward.

Do you fear success?

According to one career advancement resource, “if you experience the following thoughts or fears, you might have a fear of success on some level:

  • You feel guilty about any success you have, no matter how small, because your friends, family, or co-workers haven’t had the same success.

  • You don’t tell others about your accomplishments.

  • You avoid or procrastinate   on big projects, especially projects that could lead to recognition.

  • You frequently compromise   your own goals or agenda to avoid conflict in a group, or even conflict within your family.

  • You self-sabotage   your work or dreams by convincing yourself that you’re not good enough to achieve them.

  • You feel, subconsciously, that you don’t deserve to enjoy success in your life.

  • You believe that if you do achieve success, you won’t be able to sustain it. Eventually you’ll fail, and end up back in a worse place than where you started. So you think, “why bother?” “

The fear of success can be just as crippling to your career advancement and your leadership, as the fear of failure.

Here are 3 ways to begin to overcome the fear of success:

  1. Confront the core beliefunder the fear

If you, like Anita, fear that moving into senior management will make you work longer hours thereby leave very little time for your family, then address the core belief about your workload or time management. It is not the promotion you fear, it is the compromise. So address the compromise. Speak to your family and supervisor about your concerns to brainstorm remedies.

  1. Count your success

Recount all of the successes you had that did NOT have the negative consequence you fear. Anita was promoted several times and was able to maintain a good personal life. She had friends who were excited for her and congratulated her. When Anita looked at the facts, she found the evidence for her fear was lacking. Chances are you have experienced success on terms you love. Take the time to journal or list those times. Solicit the help of a friend, colleague, or supervisor to help you recount your success.

  1. Recognize your success serves others.

A lot of the leaders I work with love to serve. They believe their job as the leader is to serve their staff, customers, clients, shareholders etc. If that is the case for you, then remember the words of Marianne Williamson who said, “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, ‘Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?’ Actually, who are you not to be? …And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.

By embracing your success you are giving other permission to the same. What better way to serve those in your charge then by releasing them to be great simply by being great yourself.

By identifying the core belief of your fear, recounting the ways your success brought you happiness, and by remembering that your success serves a greater good, you, like Anita, can boldly embrace the new opportunities before you with confidence and purpose.

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