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Fear of success

Last week we discussed fear of failure being a reason why people may not make progress towards their goals. This week we'll look at fear of success.

Fear of success may sound like a strange thing to hold you back but it is nearly as common as fear of failure.

Success leading to failure

A fellow entrepreneur, V, is in a great place with her business with it growing and staff taking on more hours. However, she worries about the business growing so much that it will collapse. Clearly there is an element of fear of failure in this, but it is also fear of being so successful that the success will disappear. A related issue may be fear that the business gets so big that it is no longer controllable or what you wanted in the first place.

Something I ask in this situation is:

  • How much success do you want?

  • What motivates you towards growth?

It's not uncommon for some business owners to realise that there is an optimum size beyond which they they don't want to grow. And that's ok. But you have to realise it first. There is an assumption when it comes to business growth that bigger is always better, but if that takes you away from what motivates you in the first place, then it might not be what you really want.


Another element of fear of success is around identity. Who are you if you're not the person working towards that goal? If your identity has come bound up in the pursuit of the goal, actually achieving it may be uncomfortable because then you have to come up with a new identity. There are 2 things I ask in this situation:

  • Are there other goals beyond this first one? (These may give you a way to a different identity).

  • What currently make up the other bits of your identity that won't change when you achieve this goal?

Worry about bigger expectations

Worry that people will expect more can also be part of fear of success that sabotage people's progress to goals. 'If I succeed at this, maybe I have to do bigger and better things'. Again there are 2 good questions to ask yourself. Answer them honesty:

  • Why would they expect more?

  • What if they do?

I really like the what if they do question for a whole host of coaching topics. Sometimes we get so caught up in imagining that people will react badly about something, that we don't stop to consider what happens if they do.

Is this really your goal?

The biggest underlying issue around fear of success can sometimes be about your motivation to pursue your goal. If you keep asking yourself why you have this goal and the answer often ends up being about other people and their expectations, the reason you are afraid of success and you aren't making progress towards it, is because it isn't really your goal in the first place. It's someone else's. It could be you've taken on an idea that you think someone else wants for you or it could be something that you think you should do (weight loss is a common one in this latter camp). Ask yourself this:

If I know I can achieve my goal, and that I don't have to care about what other people think, what would I want to do?

Because you can achieve so much more than we're often willing to believe. Dream big and dream for you. Let other people's dreams belong to them.

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