Fear of success and how to overcome it

Maria’s boss has just announced that the company has just won a bid to create a national marketing campaign. And he is hinting that he wants Maria to head this project. All that she has to do is let him know that she’s interested by the end of the week.

Maria always hoped for an opportunity like this. She knows her work and management skills qualify her for the job – and she knows that it would likely lead to a promotion, or at least to some much-deserved recognition.

However, by the time Friday arrives, she’s came up with a list of reasons not to head the project. And by the end of the day, she still hasn’t talked to her boss.

Does this sound familiar?

Fear of success is actually quite common, and it can cause us to lose out on a lot of opportunities in life. When we’re too afraid to take risks and move forward on our goals – either consciously or unconsciously – we get stuck in one place, neither moving forward nor backward. 

So let’s take a look at what fear of success is, how to know if you have it, and what you can do to overcome it.

Fear of Success

First to diagnose the fear of success was psychologist Matina Horner in 1970s. What she has found was incredibly controversial. Since then, however, most psychologists agree, that the fear of success actually exists.

Fear of success is very similar to the fear of failure and both these fears hold you back from achieving your dreams and goals.

Signs of Fear of Success

One of the biggest issues for most of us is that the fear of success is unconscious. We just don’t realize that we have it and that we have been holding ourselves back from achieving something really great.

If you have the following thoughts or fears, then you might have a fear of success on some level:

  • you might feel guilty about any success you have, no matter how small, because your friends, family or work colleagues haven’t had the same success
  • you don’t tell others about your accomplishements
  • you procrastinate or try and avoid completely big projects, especially those that could lead to recognition
  • you often self-sabotage your work or goals by convincing yourself that you are just not good enough
  • subconsciously you feel that you don’t deserve the success, that there is nothing special about you
  • you think that if you do achieve success, you will not be able to sustain it and will eventually fail

Causes of Fear of Success

Fear of success can have a few possible causes:

  • We fear what success will bring – for example, loneliness, new enemies, being isolated from our family, longer working hours, or being asked for favors or money. 
  • We’re afraid that the higher we climb in life, the further we’re going to fall when we make a mistake. 
  • We fear the added work, responsibilities, or criticism that we’ll face. 
  • We fear that our relationships will suffer if we become successful. Our friends and family will react with jealousy and cynicism, and we’ll lose the ones we love. 

How to Overcome Fear of Success

There are a few different things you can do to try and overcome your fear of success. The more you face your fears, analyze them and go to the root of the problem, the weaker your fears become and it will become easier to achieve your goals and do what you really want.

Technique number one

First, think about your goal, and then think about the worst possible outcome that can happen if you achieve it. Those worst outcomes are exactly your fears. So work through them one by one and try and find the solution as to what you would do if those situations were to materialize.

Technique number two

The second, is take a look at the questions below and work through either all of them or just the ones that are relevant to you. You will recognize the questions, when you go through them.

Take at least 15 minutes to look through and write down your answers to questions like these:

  • How will my friends and family react if I accomplish this goal? 
  • How will my life change? 
  • What’s the worst that could happen if I achieve this goal? 
  • What’s the best that could happen? 
  • Why do I feel that I don’t deserve to accomplish this goal? 
  • How motivated am I to work toward this goal? 
  • What am I currently doing to sabotage, or hurt, my own efforts? 
  • How can I stop those self-sabotaging behaviors? 

Another useful technique is to try and address your fears directly, and then develop a backup plan that will overcome your concern.

For instance, suppose you don’t push yourself to achieve a promotion, and the biggest reason is because you secretly fear that the additional income and recognition would jeopardize your family relationships. You’re worried that you would be so busy working to maintain your success that you’d never see your family, and you might be forced to make choices that would destroy your integrity.

To overcome these fears, start by looking at your workload. You could set a rule for yourself that you’ll always be home by 7 p.m. You could tell this to your boss if you’re offered the new position.

By coming up with the plan that addresses your fear, you can often eliminate those fears entirely.


Sometimes people will react negatively to your success, especially if they’ve been perceived to be more successful in the past. If people are this small-minded, and they can’t be happy for their friends’ success, do you really want them around?

Key Points:

Fear of success is common, but many of us don’t realize that we have it. Self-sabotaging activities – such as procrastination, negative self-talk, and fearing what the success will bring – may hold us back from achieving our goals and dreams. 

If you think that you have a fear of success, identify why you’re afraid of accomplishing your goals. The more you face your fear, and analyze the reason for having the fear, the better you’ll be able to overcome the fear and move forward in your life.


One Comment

  • EmaratForex

    Interestingly enough, in all my years of recruiting, I’ve noticed a pattern. While people say they want to succeed, when it comes to actually taking the job offer, an overwhelming sense of fear and paralysis takes over, which usually ends up with the person missing out on the opportunity altogether.

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