I anticipate I have probably already divided my audience in half, just by opening this post with that quote. Some of you are probably wondering whether I've lost my damn mind. "Who in the heck is afraid to succeed?!"
Others of you might know exactly where I'm going with this.
For those of you who are jiving with me, read on. My goal with this post is to share what I've learned over the years as I've worked hard to alleviate my own fear of success. I hope it helps you make progress on your own heebie-jeebies in this area.
For those of you who think I'm crazy, read on if you're curious. It might be more relevant than you think. Fear of success is a sneaky little devil, and it masquerades as other symptoms. It might even apply to you without you even realizing it.
My name is April Seifert. I'm a Social Psychologist, life-experience junkie, and the host of the Women Inspired! podcast. My passion is helping people take intentioned action so they can live their most fulfilling, regret-free lives.
My goal today, is to give you a kick in the pants to hopefully help you manage your Fear of Success and allow yourself to be great.
What is the Fear of Success?
At its core, the Fear of Success is the fear that accompanies stepping way out of your comfort zone, becoming more visible, and opening yourself up to criticism and failure.
It can leave its victims frozen in their tracks or simply too distracted to make progress. It is a crasher-of-big-dreams, and it is some of the stickiest glue that holds us squarely inside of our comfort zone, unable to break out, grow, learn, and actually SUCCEED.
It can be an M-Fer to spot because of it's chameleon-like tendency to disguise itself as other types of fear. When you break these fears down, you can see why the Fear of Success is so powerful.
Many of its component fears involve risking damage to important interpersonal relationships. Here are a few:
- Fear of being seen / judged. "At some point, everyone will see what I'm doing, and they'll judge my every step." Taking that one even further, "I'm already uncertain of myself, I don't need to hear more criticism and uncertainty from other people."
- Fear of leaving others behind. "The more successful / wealthy / fulfilled I get, the less my friends and family are able to relate to me and really understand me. I'm the first one to do something like this. This is why they always say, 'It's lonely at the top.'"
- Fear of letting people down. "If I become a huge success, so many other people will depend on me. What if I can't keep it up? What if I let them all down?"
If the fear of damaging important interpersonal relationships isn't terrifying enough, the Fear of Success brings with it some additional fears that are terrifying in their own right. The icing on the cake if you will.
- Impostor Syndrome. "What if I start down this path, and I realize that I'm not really as good as I thought I was?"
- Self-Limiting Beliefs. "Who am I to think I can pull something like this off? There isn't anything special about me. Who am I to think I can do this? "
- Fear of failure. "The higher you rise, the harder you fall, right?"
- Fear of change. "If I do pull this off, what will my life even look like? Am I ready for things to change that much? Will there be challenges that I don't see coming? What if the grass isn't greener over there?"
Yup, that shit is terrifying.
As a result, you might find yourself experiencing some / all of the following classic, textbook symptoms of the Fear of Success:
- Persistent planning...with no real action
- Easy distraction
- Inability to focus & work on 1 thing at a time
Each of these symptoms is a way to self-sabotage, ensuring you never achieve success at the level that scares the pants of of you.
What You're Really Risking
All of the fears I outlined above are terrifying. However, I've saved the best for last. The kahuna of all mammoth fears. The thing you should actually be afraid of when it comes to the Fear of Success.
Read this next sentence twice. Staying inside your comfort zone when your mind / soul / the universe / god / some other force is telling you to reach for more means you're accepting a life of mediocrity.
And that shit is REALLY terrifying.
Imagine where our society would be if everyone denied the world their passion and their gift because they were afraid of what would happen if they REALLY succeeded? I'm writing this post mere days after Elon Musk rocketed a Tesla Roadster into orbit around the Earth.
We are collectively more advanced because of Elon Musk's achievement. Collectively, we had a new door of opportunity open for us because Elon Musk moved forward in spite of the fears and uncertainty I'm sure he probably had. That is far from mediocre.
Are you the next Elon Musk? I don't know. Maybe. (I'm not willing to say 'no' because everyone doubted that dude, and they're all eating crow now.)
Regardless, by letting the Fear of Success keep you inside your comfort zone of mediocrity, you're already letting us all down. Collectively, we need your gifts. We need your genius. Don't deny the world of what you have to offer because you're afraid. Ask yourself, W.W.E.M.D.? (What would Elon Musk do?)
Lessons from Women Inspired!
I host a podcast called Women Inspired!, and each week, I interview a new woman who is absolutely killing it in one way or another.
I have interviewed business moguls, plane crash / cancer / Holocaust survivors, award-winning authors, fitness experts, world champion skydivers / powerlifters / roller derby players, world travelers, and women who have achieved so much more.
After speaking to dozens of CRAZY SUCCESSFUL women, I have learned a thing or two about the Fear of Success, and I want to share those lessons with you.
LESSON #1: THE MOST SUCCESSFUL PEOPLE ARE TERRIFIED TOO
Almost every single woman I have ever interviewed openly and readily admits....no, SHOUTS FROM THE ROOFTOPS that she was terrified every step of the way.
Every single one of them is afraid, but they moved forward anyway. Don't believe me? Believe Lynn Broberg, a world-record holding skydiver with over 3,000 jumps. She admits that she is still afraid every single time she boards the plane! How does she get over it? By reminding herself of the positive things that will come out of it. "I'm going to have so much fun."
Other women I've interviewed, like Julie Burton, say they have conversations with fear on a daily basis. They acknowledge it, feel it, and then politely ask it to F-off because they have things to do.
Bottom line, you're not alone in your fear.
LESSON #2: BEHIND THAT WILD SUCCESS WAS A LONG ROAD OF HARD WORK....AND FAILURE
Success goes viral. Reaching an incredible destination goes viral. You know what doesn't go viral? The decade of work, failure, resilience, and gumption that came before that big success.
Pretty much every woman on my 'Pave the Way' podcast playlist will attest to this. Need more evidence? Remember Elon and his wildly successful little project to make his sports car orbit the earth? This video how he got there. How many rockets are you willing to accidentally blow up?
LESSON #3: THERE IS ONE KEY DIFFERENCE BETWEEN YOU AND PEOPLE WHO ARE ALREADY SUCCEEDING
I have interviewed dozens of women who have experienced incredible levels of success. Not only did they all admit to being constantly afraid (Lesson #1), but they all confess to being normal human beings.
That's right, normal. They don't cite above-average intelligence, a large inheritance, or any other advantage that would set them apart from us mere mortals. When you talk to them and dig deep, there is very little difference between them and you.
Except for one.
Consistently, across all of those interviews, the only difference between women who are wildly successful and you is that they started. That's it.
They had an idea, they didn't know how they were going to achieve it, they were terrified, but they took the first step anyway. And then they took the second step. And then they just kept going, figuring it out along the way.
LESSON #4: FIND YOUR PEOPLE & MAKE SOCIAL COMPARISON WORK IN YOUR FAVOR
The path toward success can be a lonely road, unless you find a tribe of successful people to surround yourself with. The guests of Women Inspired! repeatedly cite the importance of their tribe. The people they intentionally bring into their life to support them, understand and validate them, and to challenge them to do and be even more.
As a Social Psychologist, one topic I have studied is something called upward social comparison, which happens when a person compares themselves to someone else who they believe is doing better than them.
Upward social comparison can work for or against you in your quest to manage your Fear of Success.
As we've discussed, many of the fears that combine together like transformers to create the Optimus Prime of fears called Fear of Success have to do with our fear of losing our close relationships. Psychologists have found that we experience emotional distress when we're doing better than other people around us, and we believe they're comparing themselves to us.
Sounds a lot like the fears we talked about earlier, huh?
Fortunately, you can make upward social comparison work in your favor too, simply by upgrading the people you spend time with in your life. Surround yourself with supportive people who are doing a bit better than you.
When you surround yourself with a tribe, you are no longer on a lonely path. Rather, you're on a quest with a group of other people who are striving for similar things. People who understand the journey and its challenges. People who don't believe that your biggest dreams are crazy. People who set a new bar for what "success" looks like in your mind.
The World Needs Your Best
I have selfish motives in writing this post, I'll admit it.
First, I needed a place to collect my own thoughts and learnings on this topic because I too suffer from a hefty dose of the Fear of Success. I needed a post to come back to in times when I'm afraid to take the next step. One of those times is looming close on my horizon. (More on that later.)
Second, and most importantly, I'm writing it to convince you to get out of your comfort zone, stop playing small, wave a big middle finger at mediocrity, and share your amazing gifts with the world!
We need you.
Simple as that.
Need more convincing? Message me. I'd be happy to be part of your tribe.