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Fear of Success: Do You Have One Of These 6 Symptoms?

Fear of Success Do You Have One Of These 6 SymptomsI saw the bright yellow headline: “Are you afraid of success?”

It irritated me so much that I slapped the magazine back onto the waiting room table.

Who is afraid of success!?  I thought.  I’m sick of people inventing anxieties and then foisting them upon the rest of us! 

Well.  (:: scuffs shoes ::)

Funny thing that I’ve come to learn:

MANY of us are afraid of success.  But we don’t often realize it.

We may see little evidences that something’s off:

– That we are working slowly, hesitantly, or not at all.

– That we’re mentally upgrading every Facebook notification to Urgent! Must Go Read! status and taking every sniffle as a clear sign we’re not well enough to work.

– That we’re making beautiful, detailed marketing plans and not actually doing any of the checklist items.

– That we’re getting partway through our plans, and then not showing up at a key moment because we were knocked down by a wave of anxiety.

Fear of success is easy to miss, because it looks a lot like garden-variety procrastination and insecurity.

It’s easy to shrug fear of success off by saying “meh, I’m just procrastinating” and never bother to look closer.  Maybe they are the real problems, of course – and maybe they’re not.  One thing is for sure:  Procrastination is hard to stop if it’s not ‘just’ procrastination.

So today, let’s take a good look at where the fear of success can show up in your life.  If any particular ‘symptoms’ prick at your heart, take note.

“Succeeding” looks a little different for everyone, and so everyone’s ‘symptoms’ will be a bit different.

Success might be measured in followers, income level, available space in your calendar, or simply how you perceive yourself.  I’m not here to judge your metrics.  I only bring this up to say that the way you define success will change the possible fear symptoms you experience.  It’s worth looking at each one.

Here are six symptoms of fear of success.

See if any of these statements resonate with you:

IMG_0017#1:  “What if I don’t actually want the spotlight on me?”

You might observe and admire the success of others, wishing that when you posted something on Instagram, it was met with hundreds of instant likes.

But then again, you don’t actually like the spotlight.  The idea that hundreds of people are looking at you and evaluating you is kind of freaky.

Plus, what if you stop being entertaining and the spotlight goes away?  What if it’s more painful to gain and then lose the spotlight than to never have had it at all?

Having thousands of strangers stop by and gawk takes you out of your loving, cozy corner with familiar friends and family.

That’s scary.  And the idea of an audience amplifies another possible fear –

#2.  “What if a gathering audience brings out detractors, trolls, and assorted meanies?”

When you duck your head a little and play to a small audience of existing fans, you typically hear little else but kindness and praise.  Even failed attempts are met with support and “well, you’ll get ’em next time!”

When a small group of fans know and love you, you rarely have to defend yourself or guard your emotions.

I once heard a YouTube star talk about her growing audience.  She said something like, “I can always tell when a video of mine went viral, because the number of nasty comments explodes.  New views bring new viewers, which is great, but along with them come new trolls.  I’ve had to learn to see these surges in negativity and just say to myself ‘Oh good, I’m reaching more people!'”

The bigger you get, the more people there will be who miss your point, launch tirades, throw grenades of useless criticism (even if you’d be okay with helpful critique), and generally vandalize your emotional space.  That’s less comfortable than your current cocoon of people who have known you for a long time, give you the benefit of the doubt, and are invested in both you and your work.

It’s easy to want to stay where you are.

#3: “What if, when the time comes, I won’t deliver?”

This fear is NOT about a lack of actual skill.  (Of course if you actually can’t do a job, you shouldn’t take it.  That’s unrelated to what we’re talking about here.)

This particular fear arises after it’s clear you have the capability to do something.  When, despite having the skills, you haven’t started getting or even reaching for the jobs you’re ready for.  Because you’re worried – what if you choke?  Then everyone will think you can’t do it.

The Impostor Syndrome can sneak in here.  The Impostor Syndrome, as the name implies, is a where you start to think your own success is just a charade on your part.  That despite an indisputable external track record of accomplishments, you’re afraid that you’re going to be exposed as a fraud.  You think everything was just luck, or you barely managed to pull it off, and you’re afraid that you won’t do it this time and everyone will know.

Plenty of high-achieving people have Impostor Syndrome. 

In fact, Impostor Syndrome sufferers often work several times harder than actually necessary to make sure they don’t fail.  But that just perpetuates the cycle because they think they succeeded only because they barely pulled it off with all that work, and they actually aren’t skilled.

It’s not true, of course.  (But when did truth ever make feelings feel less real?)

And if you suffer from the Impostor Syndrome, you’re going to be afraid that this next big job will prove that you have been a fraud all along, and everyone will see.

So you keep yourself in a holding pattern of doing safe, low-profile, undemanding, boring work.  Even as you look to the next level and long to be there.

#4:  “I’m afraid success will turn me into something I don’t want to be.”

20101011_Personal_Meadowbrook_fall_3339Sometimes, fear of success comes from having certain ideas about successful people.  Like:

“Successful people are all loud.  They’re all popular.  They’re obsessed with money.  They’re kind of jerks.  I’m not loud or popular, and I don’t want to turn into that.”

Or:

I know someone who became successful and then started being really snobby.”

Or:

“Some of the people I most admire for their kindness and goodness are not what you’d consider ‘successful.’  And that’s okay.  So maybe I should be like them.  Plus, I saw an article once about how CEOs are all narcissists, so obviously nice people don’t seek that out.”

Thinking that success is correlated with terribleness can hold you back from doing your work.  Who would want to turn into an unlikeable ogre?

#5.  “I’m worried that if I become successful, I won’t have time for the things I do now.”

If you had the business you want, how would the way you use your time change?

Maybe you’d have to double or triple the clients – and therefore, the work hours.  Or you’d need to hire help and have to spend time managing people.  Or you’d spend a lot more time doing technical, spreadsheety things that make the corner of your right eye twitch.

What about your kids, your volunteer work, and the dust collecting on your workout DVDs?  What if you don’t WANT your eye to twitch?

Success sounds kinda stressful, then.  No one wants to work all the time.  And if all you currently see accompanying “yay my client list is full” is “wow, I won’t be able to read my kids bedtime stories anymore,” then you’re probably going to quietly hold yourself back.

#6:  “I don’t actually want things to change.”

You probably have a pretty good work routine now.  Or at least, you know what “working” looks like.  You come home, you fire up the laptop, do 3-5 things you’re used to doing, check Facebook, send some emails, and are done for the night.

Running a fully successful business might require you to do a totally different set of things.  Installing and using new programs, hiring assistants, writing new contracts, meeting new people, mastering new skills, trying new marketing avenues, and generally just doing a bunch of stuff that you’re not doing now.

It’s easier to keep opening your laptop, doing the 3-5 things, checking Facebook, and sending some emails.

Humans aren’t terribly motivated to do extra work.  Even simply changing a routine requires the effort of figuring a new one out – never mind the work the new routine entails.  It’s also just hard to get your head around a new set of relationships, roles, and tasks.  Change is scary and hard to imagine beforehand.

Do any of these sound familiar?  So what now?

Here’s your assignment.

Fill in the blanks:

1) Success to me is: ___________________________________________________
____________________________________________________________________
___________________________________________________________________.
Also, ____________________________________________.
And it would be great if ___________________________.

 

2) What feels scary about that?

You might have to fiddle with the question.  If you think “Nothing feels scary about making a hundred thousand dollars with a long waiting list” – then maybe this isn’t your issue, but you could also try these questions:

What would have to change for me to get there?  What feels uncomfortable about that?
What am I putting off doing that would get me there?  What feels so noxious about it that I’m avoiding it?

____________________________________________________
____________________________________________________
____________________________________________________.

You can only solve a problem if you identify it first.

Next time I’ll tell you exactly how to walk these fears back – but you have to locate them first.

In the meantime, let me know in the comments if there are other ways you’ve had a fear of success come up for you – it always helps to hear from many experiences!

P.S.  It feels weird to leave you on kind of a downer note.  (Fear! Failure!)  So here’s a picture of a puppy:

20120611_puppies_7517GWYWThis post is part of a series called

Get What You Want This Year. 

Want me to let you know when the next one is up?

Just hop on my email list: 

  • Nancy - *crying* Wow. #truth A related fear for me…”I want my services to have a luxury price tag but what if I don’t enjoy working with those who will pay what I’m asking?” (Assuming they’ll all be high-maintenance, superficial, energy vampires, who are impossible to please just for the sake of being so.) My comfort zone is people I know or people who know people I know. Ugh. Thank you for spelling out some of my other ridiculous fears for me! Knowing is half the battle, right? Onward and upward…ReplyCancel

    • Jenika - Onward Nancy! It’s an appropriate thing to think through – price tag and clientele style. I’d just encourage you to really think through the exact person you want to work with and tailor your voice just to them. The more you can narrow to that person, the more the ‘energy vampires’ will be pushed away. Good luck with the work of finding your people. Sending a high five!ReplyCancel

  • Rick - I have long suspected that I have a fear of success, but this post really confirmed it for me. I found #3,#5 and #6 really hit home. I think that the Imposter Syndrome fits me particularly well. I think I am afraid I won’t be able to handle additional work or higher level work, even though I get lots of praise from my current clients for my work. I operate in a narrow niche and would like to increase business in that niche but know that it would require a lot of extra work, some of it that I am not comfortable with. I started my photography business as a retirement hobby and turned it into a business. I loved your course on building an irresistible website and that is right in my wheelhouse as a former IT professional, but I haven’t gotten around to it yet. I find myself doing lower value tasks at the expense of the more important ones, possibly because I am not sure that I can handle more business even though that is my goal and there is no concrete evidence to suggest that. Sorry for the ramble, but this really spoke to me. Thanks for listening.ReplyCancel

    • Jenika - Rick! Thank you for sharing these thoughts, because this is exactly the kind of thinking I hope this post will inspire. I am familiar with doing “lower value tasks” at the expense of big ones, and all I can say is – once I start doing the big ones, I wonder why I didn’t engage sooner. I’m sure you’ve experienced that before, too. At any rate, the next post has some specific steps that might help, too. Cheering you on.ReplyCancel

  • Nancy - Man, this is such a great post. Spot on. I can’t wait for the next one!ReplyCancel

    • Jenika - Thanks Nancy! Glad you stopped by.ReplyCancel

  • Christina @ Martha, Martha - Oh man yes! I mean, yes!!! I’m doing all those things. Each new follower/subscriber filled me with fear, not joy! I have learned to lray thanks for the opportunity to reach someone and ability to do it well. Still scared! I can’t wait to see the next post.ReplyCancel

    • Jenika - Isn’t that funny how that works? Closer to what you want often means getting closer to fear. Your approach of being thanks for the opportunity to reach someone is beautiful. I love that!ReplyCancel

  • Carrie Lynn - Wow! Jenika, as usual, you nailed it. There are times when I read your posts that really hit home and this one does it for me once again. I am increasingly busy and seem to find ways to put off the most important to-do’s, including a major project that has been in the works for much too long! Thanks for the push and for the inspiration! I woul love to share this on my own blog for photographers to pass on the inspiration!

    Carrie Lynn
    Editor
    Master Wedding Photography (TM)
    masterweddingphotography.comReplyCancel

    • Jenika - Hey Carrie! Thanks for your kind words. So glad something resondated, hope it helps!

      You’re always welcome to link to my blog; for copyright and SEO reasons I can’t allow content to be republished, but you’re welcome to excerpt a few lines and link if you want to share! I’d be honored. Take care!ReplyCancel

  • Lenora - Yep! Terrified of failing and/or embarrassing myself. This is something I have recognized and try my best to deal with. It does slow me down, but I’m working on it! I’ve been a CPA (accountant) for 20 years and just started my business a year ago on a part-time basis. This is a huge step for me as someone that NEVER wanted to own their own business. But, this is what makes me happy so I tackle one think at a time. Thank you so much for the article and the puppy! I look forward to the next one.ReplyCancel

    • Jenika - You’re not alone! A huge number of my readers never wanted to own their own business, and I didn’t either. Good for you for moving forward toward what you want. I’ve got some other stuff planned for this year to address ‘fear of failing/embarrassing myself’ too – stay tuned. 🙂ReplyCancel

  • Rina - You are amazing. I used to always think the fear of success did not apply to me… How could it, of course I want to be successful! But the way you simplified it made me realize that a couple of these symptoms really apply to me! I have some soul searching to do… Thank you for another amazing post!ReplyCancel

    • Jenika - Right? Join the club! No one thinks they are. Maybe fear of ‘success’ is not it but ‘the lifestyle that goes with success’ or ‘things that go along with success’ or something. But however you term it, glad that you accepted this nudge to think things through. Best of luck!ReplyCancel

  • Daisy - You hit the nail right on the head, Jen! I experienced this fear while I was launching my website last October. Rather, I kept putting it off until I finally sat down in January & asked myself what the heck was wrong with me. And this ended up as the surprising answer! Thanks for putting it into words that clarified it even more for me. Will be sharing this on my Twitter feed & mailing list!ReplyCancel

    • Jenika - Hi Daisy! It’s neat that you had this experience of sitting down and realizing it on your own…it’s amazing how much time people can spend (myself included) putting things off because they don’t sit and ask themselves what is happening. I hope I/we can help inspire others to sit with their emotions a little more. People will endure months of discomfort to avoid one hour of intense self-examination, too…we are funny creatures. At any rate, good for you for being self-aware. And thanks for sharing!ReplyCancel

      • Daisy - We’re definitely irrational creatures; I think it’s also because we build it up in our minds ’til the obstacle is way bigger than it actually is. It definitely takes practice to get over it, but you & I have learned that when we keep overcoming the fear, we start going places. Sometimes it blows up in our faces but sometimes it works out better than we thought it would. Keep writing, Jenika!ReplyCancel

  • Tracy Anderson - For a years I have known that I suffer greatly from a fear of success, it goes right back in my life. But no matter how much work I do ON MYSELF to get me over this, I have not come across anything that will truly help. I am trying to start my photography business, and even though i feel that I have something different and beautiful to give I just freeze up when I need to take another step forward and expose myself. Even writing this is giving me a racing heart!! I don’t even give out my business cards, scared that people will actually get on my site and look at my work. (tears), When I have pushed myself to accomplish other things like an interior design degree, I have received marks in the high 90% for my assignments. But while completing those, I had bad anxiety, always questioning myself, and even when submitted, I would talk myself down about my work. I know I can do this, but the difference is that I had someone pushing me, I had a deadline not made by me, and I was held accountable to someone else, my teachers. Same at work. I am 50, and I have always loved photography, it is my deepest desire to have it as my business and my way of life, I have no kids at home, and a partner that is truly wonderful, in short I have no excuse to not be moving forward. Except for ME. I am my biggest resistance. I find it extreamly difficult to ask for help. Cant do it! But now I am. HELP!! 🙂 I can’t wait to read your next post Jenika, I know there will be something in there that will give me something to hold on to and help me on this most important part of my life. thank you.ReplyCancel

  • Marcelo Davera - Great post! I thought it wasn’t for me… Untill I read it. Thank you, Jenika.ReplyCancel

  • Ashley - A few of these listed fears resonated with me. Imposter Syndrome most of all. I just graduated from the Art Institute with my AS in Digital Photography. Most of my images and series were for assignments & school projects. Everyone I know has praised my work and I’ve even gotten a couple of paying clients because of it. But now that I’m done with school, I’m afraid to reach for success because I’m afraid I won’t live up to expectations. On top of that, the lack of phone calls & emails asking about my services is depressing. I’ve been handing out business cards like crazy. I’ve posted a couple of promotions on social media, but no takers. I start wondering “Did I go to school for nothing?” If so many people have been praising my work for the past two years, how come they aren’t interested in hiring me? And then I’m worried that when I finally do get a client, I’ll fall flat on my face.ReplyCancel

  • Courtney - Jenika,

    How did you know I needed to read this? How did you know that I have been making marketing plans, budgeting expenses for ads, and daydreaming of what could be…until the next day, where I am ‘feeling sick’ and cannot motivate myself to even get out of bed and brush my teeth? Can I tell you that when I look at my plans I tell myself that this is useless/pointless/a waste of time and money and quietly cry over my supper.

    Am I afraid of success? Or am I simply just tired of trying to build myself a business? Maybe it’s a question I have to answer myself.

    Love,
    Courtney

    P.S: When I was a toddler, I had a baby doll I had named ‘Jenica’ and everyone made fun of me! I’ve never met someone with that name until I started reading your blog!ReplyCancel

  • Natasha - I’m number three through and through. So much so that in 2008 when something happened that I thought confirmed my inability to succeed at anything, I shut my life down almost completely. Stopped all my hobbies. Didn’t believe anyone who said my photography was good. Created amazing marketing plans but didn’t actually use a single one of them. I’ve only just started living again but I’m still facing some of the same fear. I’m looking forward to the next post. Thanks for this.ReplyCancel

  • Joe - EVERY word here is what I’m dealing with. It’s at the point I never want to do what I feel I was put on earth to do. Sad but true. I’m freaked out at the thought of failing but being successful has sidelined me so, I CANNOT seem to break free.ReplyCancel

  • Daisy - Thank you for this, Jen! I’ve been following your blog since last April when I bought the Irresistible Words course, & it’s about time I stop lurking & mention how much I enjoy your posts. I struggled with this fear myself last December when I was launching my website. I was supposed to launch in September & dragged my feet all the way to 2016. When a friend sternly sat me down to help me figure out why, boy, was I surprised at the answer! (The puppy is a cutie too, by the way!)ReplyCancel

  • Lisa - OK, so are you teaming up with CreativeLive? If not, maybe you should. I just read this post since it had gotten past me in an email account that I don’t get to check very much. Well, the first thing I did after reading it was to make sure I signed up for your emails using my best, more frequently read email account. I SO relate to this. It made me want to start working on SOMETHING. Like, NOW. Unfortunately, I’m at my day job right now, so I can’t really do any of my personal work NOW. In the meantime, I happened to turn on CreativeLive to listen in and see what was going on. There happened to be a workshop called Make More Money and Discover Your Worth. The speaker started talking and one of the first things she talked about was avoidance. Specifically, avoidance of feelings of failure, avoidance of feelings of rejection, avoidance of new opportunities, etc. Again. Me. All the way. While I know this workshop has nothing to do with you (so I apologize if this in any way makes you feel hijacked), I just wanted to thank you for this post, which seems to have put me on a path toward something. Something that I’ve be avoiding. I’m now newly inspired. Thank you!ReplyCancel

  • Chris - YOU helped put a name and description to what I’ve experienced my entire life – Imposter Syndrome! Although I exhibit the other symptoms, to varying degrees, you helped me FINALLY recognize my main problem. A well-defined problem is a problem half solved! Countermeasures are in order after examining the root cause(s) of this existing paradigm. Thank you, thank you, THANK YOU!ReplyCancel

  • Regina - I love your blog, (and have for years now). I am no longer perusing photography as a business, as my life has veered away from that, but the value of your blog is still there! Thank you so much for this all! You rock, Jenika.ReplyCancel

  • Lisa - I can’t believe how #3 is hitting me! I have been battling this unknown-to-me problem in some very important areas of my life! I am new to the photography business. And definitely realize that this is a major fear of mine and that it holds me back more than anything else. But, having read your post, I now realize this also holds me back in other things, such as becoming missionaries….My husband and I and our four daughters have been involved in mission work since 2003 and yet we still feel ask inwardly, “are we sure this is right for us? we don’t “feel” like missionaries.” When we discuss it, the feelings are so parallel to what you have described here about Impostor Syndrome! Thank you so much for shining a light for me in this area. I will be praying and making some serious changes to the way I negotiate my thought process from this moment on!! And will be training my girls to overcome this problem.ReplyCancel

  • Heather - Wow! The idea of success is always looming huh? My fears come not from the success but the fear of getting there- I am naturally an introvert when it comes to meeting new people so its really hard for me to get out there and advertise myself when its not from “behind the computer”. Hoping I can work on that and tackle that fear. Easier said then done.ReplyCancel

  • lauren - Wow. I so love this post!! thank you so much. It really answered many questions for me as to why I was feeling the way i was. Spot on. nailed it.thanksReplyCancel

  • Correta - I’ve always known I have a fear of success and this information has changed my life. Thank you.ReplyCancel

  • James Mahoney - Hi, I went through some trauma in 2003, and have dealt with anxiety since. I believe it’s a form of PTSD, which overtime became Agoraphobia.

    From 2003-2005 I hardly went out of the house. Then I got a job for 6 months, but after a severe panic/anxiety attack, went back in. Didn’t start going out again until late 2009, then went back in in the middle of 2011. Back out again in 2016, for about 10 months, now back in again.

    Last year I was PreProducing a Web Series, it was going really well, but at the end of the year I went through an anxiety attack while I was out, and stopped going out again.

    This, plus some other factors, lead to me postponing the Web Series. A decision I only finally made official a month or two back, though it was already on hold.

    For the last 4 months now I’ve been being creative in other ways from home, and hit a point where I’ve created a Crowd Funder to launch a different creative project. One that allows me to work from home. But now I’m running into the same fears that I had with my Web Series at some point, Fear of Success I think. But beyond that, fear of Anxiety/Pressure that might come from launching the project.

    I’m struggling right now. Not going out, and feeling stifled by the emotional blocks that are stopping me from taking my creative endeavors to the next level.ReplyCancel

  • Cathy - Nail was hit right on the head for me reading this. Never looked at things (insert looked at me!) like this before. Need to dig deeper and get this demon sorted!
    Look forward to understanding more and taking necessary action.
    Moving forward…. forward always.
    Thank youReplyCancel

  • Dee - Your post was very informative and helped me realize that I am not alone in how I feel. Self sabotage is something that I have done so many times in the past. I know I was one step away from succeeding in a business that I just shut down. The fear of success was too much for me that I chose to walk away. I can identify with each point you discussed. Its like I want to succeed but I dont want the recognition. I use to be a very outgoing person always around plenty people and now I am the complete opposite but yet I want to achieve a successful business. The fear of failure completely shuts me down and defeats me every day mid and more into quiet depression. Thanks four your post it helps and I look forward to your emails.ReplyCancel

  • Stephen Amos - Thank you. This made my fear of sucees a lot clearer . I know now what action I should to overcome this fear.ReplyCancel

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