We commonly hear about the fear of failure, but could there also be a fear of success?
Most of us say we want success, but when we actually think about success it can have some major consequences that many of us aren’t willing to face.
Often instead of reaching our full potential as individuals, we sell ourselves short and settle for less, because we don’t feel we’re truly ready to handle the success we’re actually capable of.
The humanistic psychologist Abraham Maslow wrote a lot about the concept of self-actualization – recognizing our full potential as individuals – and he shared compelling reasons many of us try to avoid this greatness in our lives.
This article will describe 4 key reasons why people tend to fear success. Simply becoming more aware of these reasons is a great starting point in accepting this fear and working to overcome it.
1. You fear the sense of responsibility that often attends recognizing your own greatness, talents, potentials
When we discover our skills and talents it provides us with a sense of power, but also responsibility.
Karl Marx famously said, “From each according to his ability, to each according to his need.” When we recognize our abilities, there is a sense of obligation to use them to do good things for both ourselves and others – and that can seem very daunting at first.
Success in any area of life requires that we put ourselves on the line and take responsibility for the consequences of our actions (both positive and negative).
It usually means we are seeking to better people’s lives, but we also sometimes let them down. That’s a risk we have to be willing to take whenever we try to do something to the very best of our ability.
2. You fear that an extraordinary life would be out of the ordinary, and hence not acceptable to others
All successful people stand out from the crowd in some way.
A big part of what makes them successful is that they are an exception to others, so it’s natural that people will notice their unique passion and drive and take a keen interest in it.
The problem is that many people can’t handle this kind of attention. They fear being in the spotlight, having other people watching them with a close eye, and always being judged by others in some way.
If you want to overcome your fear of success, you have to accept that other people are going to be attracted to it, probably with both good and bad intentions.
Some people are going to see your success and want to take advantage of it. Others may greatly admire your success to an irritating point of fanaticism.
The good news is the majority of people who see your success will just be regular folks who like seeing people do good things, so don’t worry about the people who idolize you or demonize you.
3. You fear that you’ll seem arrogant and self-centered
Another huge fear people have about success is that they think people will begin to see them as arrogant and self-centered.
Our culture has conditioned us to think of “success” as a selfish and individualist thing that means getting whatever you want, and then screwing over anyone who gets in your way.
This couldn’t be further from the truth. Success almost always takes place in a social environment that requires trust, cooperation, and support from many people before “success” becomes any kind of reality for anyone.
You can’t find genuine success in your life unless you have a positive influence over other people. Therefore, success is just as much about creating value in your life as it is about creating value in other people’s lives.
Success isn’t “self-centered,” it’s a healthy balance between meeting the wants and needs of both “self” and “other.”
If you fear success because you think people will see you as arrogant, make sure you remind yourself that successful people often make the world a better place for everyone.
4. You have difficulty envisioning yourself as a prominent or authoritative figure
For most people, success requires a shift in our perspective in how we see ourselves.
This can be scary because it means we have to start looking at ourselves in new and sometimes uncomfortable ways that don’t fit with our current self-perception.
We often like to believe that we are fixed beings – and we try to stay true to our “core self” – but the truth is that we are constantly changing and evolving with every new day and new experience.
If you identify your “core self” with failure and disappointment, then you have to change your view of yourself to actually allow success and happiness in your life.
You need to first start seeing yourself as an authoritative and influential figure in whatever it is that you do, because if you can’t picture yourself being at the top of your game, then it’s unlikely you’ll find the motivation and inspiration to actually get there.
Your fear that you aren’t “good enough” could be a confidence issue, or it could also be a sign that you just aren’t passionate enough about your current goals.
If you’re truly passionate about what you do, and you believe in the good in what you do, then that passion can beat any fear.
Discover more tools to daily growth in the digital guide The Science of Self Improvement