Fear of Success is Real: Don’t let it limit your growth

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As it is whenever I start brainstorming (ok, dreaming) a new online business venture I start getting excited, then I get really really scared. What if it takes off? What if I can’t deal with the business that comes my way? What if I need to hire people and actually be responsible for them! OMG, I can’t breathe.

“Fear of success” may seem like a counterintuitive concept. However, this paradox makes more sense when we peel back the facade and acknowledge why we shy away from success.

The fear of success can cause you to self-sabotage your chances of succeeding. You can overcome this fear by acknowledging the fear, determining its origin, and identifying how it manifests. Then, change your mindset by visualizing success and adopting lifestyle strategies to overcome your fears. I know, real easy, right?

Fear of success seems bizarre, especially in modern-day culture when it’s met with enthusiasm and praise. However, this very real phenomenon can prevent you from achieving your goals and ambitions. So, keep reading to understand why we fear success and, more importantly, how to step into an alternate thinking pattern to overcome this fear.

Fear of Success Is A Real Phenomenon

Success equals change. We are all creatures of habit, with our minds hardwired to shy away from the unfamiliar. So, the possibility of success can fuel anxiety and fear, causing you to inadvertently self-sabotage and shoot down rewarding and fulfilling opportunities.

For example, you have the opportunity to expand your online business. Still, you procrastinate or shy away from the opportunity because you’re afraid of the potential success accompanied by business growth.

We often do not fear success itself. Instead, we fear how others (and ourselves) will respond to the success. We also fear being incapable of sustaining the potential outcome, consequences, and costs of attaining success.

Achieving success almost always comes at the cost of something else – a constant pull of time, increased workload, and greater responsibility.

The Reasons We Fear Success Varies

The reasons we develop a fear of success are complex and vary among individuals. Here are the seven most common reasons we fear success.

Imposter Syndrome

Imposter syndrome is characterized by an internal, psychological experience in which a person believes they aren’t as skilled and capable as others perceive them to be, despite achieving success.

You might be falling victim to imposter syndrome if you feel like a fraud, even in the areas where you excel. Instead of acknowledging your efforts, capabilities, and success, you attribute your accomplishments to chance.

For example, you started a successful online business. However, you refrain from promoting yourself because you fear lacking the same experience and expertise as other business owners in the same field.

Common signs of imposter syndrome include:

  • Your accomplishments don’t reassure you
  • You regard external recognition as sympathy or pity
  • Minor errors reinforce feelings of incompetency and self-doubt
  • You experience cycles of guilt, anxiety, restlessness, and depression

Backlash Avoidance

Backlash avoidance can apply to both genders. However, ladies, this one is typically for you. 

Researchers find that many women associate success with a greater negative consequence than men. Accordingly, women may experience fear of success from the anticipated potential social repercussions. As a result, they instead avoid self-promotion and conform to the expected norms to prevent social or economic backlash.

Childhood Experiences

The fear of success can be from childhood experiences built up through your lifetime (even if you’re unaware of it).

Childhood experiences like being belittled for success or scolded for bragging about your success can cause you to fear or avoid success. On the other end, if your achievements weren’t ever acknowledged as a child, you may become perfectionistic – which inherently sets you up for failure.

These adverse childhood experiences are ingrained in our neural pathways, seeping into adulthood.

Mental Health Conditions

Fear of success can coexist with mental health conditions like Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD).

These disorders can exacerbate the fear of success.

Introverted Nature

Introverts and socially anxious people may fear success because they fear the attention and external pressure naturally paired with success.

If you are an introvert, you may shy away from taking your online business to the next level because you fear public exposure and new social responsibility.

Misinterpreted Feelings

Excitement, anxiety, and nervousness share similar physical responses. As a result, you might interpret feelings of excitement as anxiousness or nervousness when approaching success, causing you to avoid the situation and triggers altogether. 

Poor Self-Efficacy

People who fear success tend to have low self-efficacy – one’s belief and ability to achieve personal goals. People with a poor sense of self-efficacy typically:

  • Avoid challenging tasks
  • Quickly lose confidence in their abilities
  • Believe that difficult situations are beyond their capability
  • Focus on failings and adverse outcomes instead of successes

For example, you fear growing your online business because you doubt whether you’ll be able to support the growth year after year.

6 Ways Fear Of Success Manifests In Our Lives

The fear of success manifests itself in various ways. Here are the six most common characteristics of the fear of success.

1. Lack of goals: People set low expectations to keep themselves from moving past the tipping point of success.

2. Procrastination: People irrationally delay starting or completing tasks despite the potential negative consequences as a form of self-regulation. Procrastination significantly lowers their chance of succeeding.

3. Quitting: People can quit when they’re on the verge of success to avoid the outcome and consequences of succeeding.

4. Perfectionism: Perfectionism is linked to quitting. People hold themselves to impossibly high standards, and when they inevitably short, they quit proceeding.

5. Self-handicapping: People who fear succeeding can succumb to self-destructive behavior or self-sabotage to derail their chance of success.

6. Mixed negative emotions: The fear of success can cause mixed emotions – guilt, anxiety, and pressure.

Alternate Ways To Approach Fear Of Success

It’s essential that you don’t allow your fear of success to define you. Instead, step into the unknown to overcome your fear of success.

Here’s how to approach fear of success:

1. Acknowledge your fear of success: Identifying and validating the fear of achieving success is the first step to overcoming the fear.

2. Determine the origin of fearing success: Take time to pinpoint the origin of the fear of success. Try tracing your past experiences with success to gain insight into why you are inclined to fuel your fear of success.

3. Identify how the fear of success manifests: You can use the list mentioned above as a reference to discover how you’ve been sabotaging your path to success.

4. Visualize Success: Develop a positive mindset and visualize yourself navigating the potential positive and negative consequences of achieving success. 

5. Journal: Journal your visions, goals, fears, and the positive and negative outcome of achieving success. Penning them down can help you keep track of and connect with your thoughts and responses. 

6. Manage stress and anxiety: Adopt lifestyle strategies that help combat the impacts of stress and anxiety. Consider techniques like journaling, meditation, exercising, eating healthy food, and resting.

7. Find support: Consider seeing a therapist to help you cope or overcome the fear of success. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) can help you counteract maladaptive thoughts and behavior with positive strategies for approaching success. In addition, Psychoanalytic Therapy can help you discover the unconscious influences that hinder your efforts to achieving success.

8. Take action: Finally, you need to face your fear and take action. You can start with the least fearful situations and gradually work your way to facing more challenging fears.


The pursuit of success can be anxiety-provoking and fearful due to the potential outcomes, costs, increased responsibility, and scrutiny. However, stepping into alternate ways of thinking and trusting your ability to grow your online business successfully will allow you to reach your fullest potential.

As usual, I know that was a lot of information, so I suggest choosing one thing to work on. Just one. So you are doing something to move forward and become better able to grow your online business. Maybe you’d like to read my article on the impact of Self Care on your business.

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