People talk about fear of failure all the time, but I’ve talked to many people who fear success. Of course, the two often go hand-in-hand because we often fail by not even trying to succeed. If this is you, don’t worry. We’ve all been there, and there is a solution. These fears are often noticeable in our conversations, and come in several forms of internal and external dialogue. Listen to how you talk to yourself when an opportunity to do something new arises, and see if this might apply to you.
The most common form of fear of success I hear is that at some point in our lives we were told that we weren’t very good at something, so we either stopped doing that thing, or stopped trying or learning. We believe we don’t do it well, so we don’t. Of course we will fail if this is our attitude going in. Maybe a teacher or parent or boss or a mean kid in school told us that we can’t spell or don’t know how to dance or aren’t very good at keeping things orderly. And maybe in that moment, we weren’t very good at it. They probably didn’t mean for us to take this to heart, but we did, and then we made it a part of our identities. Now whenever dancing comes up, we cringe, just knowing we “can’t” do that.
Sometimes fear of success comes in the form of being a beginner. I know that when I start to do something I’ve never done before I feel clumsy and inept. I don’t want anyone to watch me or give me advice or even know I’m learning until I’ve got it mastered to a point where I feel comfortable showing it off. I love to hear the good things others say about me, and I don’t hear that when I’m just learning something new. However, if I want to grow and develop throughout my lifetime, I’m going to have to try new things. And the only way to be successful at anything, really is to practice until I am good at it. If I never try, I can never succeed.
Fear of success also comes from comparing ourselves to others. Mentoring with someone in your field who has years of experience is a great way to learn the tricks of the trade without having to do it the hard way and reinvent the wheel. And chances are, you will be watching that person and trying to figure out how to do what they do so well. It’s easy to forget their years of learning and improving because you weren’t there as they were doing that. It’s easy to see that you aren’t even close to where they are and to begin to judge yourself based on their superior performance. In rare cases, a person is just a natural at a particular job or sport or endeavor in life, but most of us get better with time and patience and knowing that there is a lot of room for improvement before we become the mentor to some other struggling newbie.
The fourth way I notice fear of success in conversations is when we believe that we have to be the best in order to be a success. Success comes in many forms, and only one person can be the best in anything at any one time. Chances are, that isn’t going to be me or you. You can be a great salesperson without being the best in the region and getting all the awards. You can be incredibly successful, too! Your definition of success is your own, and it’s never a problem to strive to be the best, but that’s not the only way to succeed.
So, what’s a person to do? Start small. Find a way to build confidence in yourself by doing the beginning pieces well and then build to do bigger things. Search out learning environments that are supportive and encouraging so that you feel good even when you don’t reach your goals, which will make you want to keep trying. Compare yourself to yourself. Measure your own improvement instead of using a yardstick to measure everyone against. Get a coach to help you look at your plans and goals to make sure they are realistic and they are exactly what you want to do instead of what you think you “should” do. And, finally, redefine what success is for you. Take the time to discover what makes you feel like you’ve accomplished what you set out to do, and take some time to savor that when it happens. You might even begin to look for other ways to be a success.