Why Do We Fear Success?

Do not mistake the fear of success as a fear of trying and failing. Sure, taking the chance in life to be the person you want to be, whether it’s a career move or a relationship move or some other ambition you hold, is a very vulnerable choice because you might fail, but succeeding and failing are opposites. Succeeding by definition means you didn’t fail. Yet, many people fear succeeding as much as they fear failing.

To illustrate, I’m going to tell you about two recurring dreams I used to have.

In the first dream it is early morning and I am trying to wake up and get out of bed, but my limbs are heavy and I can’t move them, I can’t even open my eyes. I hear someone come into the room and sense them looking at me, but I’m unable to speak. I begin to worry about whether the blankets or my pajamas are covering me appropriately. Sometimes in this dream, there are multiple people who parade in and out of the room while I lay there mute, paralytic and struggling to wake up.

The second dream finds me desperately in need of a restroom, but the only facilities available are toilets overflowing with excrement. I search rows and rows of stalls and each one opens to a toilet I refuse to use. When I finally find a pristinely clean toilet it is located in an open space with crowds of people walking by. I am forced to choose between a clean toilet with no privacy and a disgusting toilet in a stall with a lock. In the dream, I keep searching but never find a toilet that is both clean and private.

These dreams contain a fear of being exposed. The fear of exposure is about success. I was afraid of exposing my capabilities, my creativity, and my true self, to the world. I spent many years being afraid of succeeding. Why?

Success is an unknown. As much as we may plan, work and sweat to gain success, what we’ll find there is an unknown with a big fat “Now what?” waiting for us. During the planning and the doing phase, we can feel good about ourselves, but we fear actually attaining our goals because it means facing the next step which might be altogether different from everything we’ve hoped it would be. Take heart, the “Now what?” gets answered long before you get there. Achieving your goals is not like climbing a mountain with a peak labeled SUCCESS that you will inevitably have to come down from. As you start to achieve, new plans and goals will emerge that prevent you from ever needing to ponder the dreaded “Now what?” question.

Success sets us apart. Succeeding may set us apart from many of the people around us. If we are more successful than our friends, families, and colleagues, we fear those relationships will change. Here’s the thing, your friends, family, and colleagues will genuinely be happy to see you succeed, and proud of their association with you. By succeeding you will inspire the people around you to push themselves to follow their own ambitions.

Success creates expectation. Yes, with success comes… get ready for it… EXPECTATION! If you succeed everyone will see what you are capable of achieving and then our fear is that we’ll never be able to relax and maybe slack off a bit, right? While the expectations of others may bring unnecessary pressure to your life, it is your own expectation of yourself that you serve, not the expectations of others.

Feeling more aligned with who you want to be and having a measure of success in life is an amazing place to be. I no longer have those recurring dreams about searching for a clean toilet or the inability to wake up. Letting go of my fears allowed me to put my energy towards building the life I want.

What sort of fears of success or fears of failure have you had or still have? What’s holding you back?

Other articles about success and failure: How to Turn Failure into Success

5 Reasons Why Failure Is Good

©Love Wide Open

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