Why Do We Fear Success?

Among even the most accomplished professionals, a nagging sense of anxiety can often undercut plans for the future. And while many have heard of the fear of failure that tends to plague even the greatest minds in business, politics, and the arts, the truth is that a fear of success can be just as pernicious in its effects as a fear of defeat.

We all want to succeed in whatever our goals are in life. For many, success in general is their goal. It doesn’t matter what it takes for them to get there. But so often when we are confronted with incredible opportunities that take us a step closer to our dreams, we hesitate. We fear the unknown. 

For many people, a fear of success is rooted in a fear of change. Success can have many consequences: Our family, friends, or partners may treat us differently; people may be jealous and resentful of our accomplishments; individuals may try to flatter or use us to further their own aims. Whatever the cause of our fear of change may be, however, it is important to realize that it is natural to feel some degree of anxiety around the notion of succeeding in life. When our fear of success impedes our ability to see through our goals, we’ll be doing ourselves and our dreams a disservice.

Failure, as terrible as it seems, is just a part of life. Denying opportunities out of fear is, in a way, denying reality. C.S. Lewis once said, “Failures, repeated failures, are finger posts on the road to achievement. One fails forward toward success.” When we expect everything to go perfectly and progress smoothly, we are setting ourselves up for failure anyways. So, why aren’t we willing to get out of our comfort zones a bit and battle our odds on another front? The answer: because we’d have to take a big risk.

So many people give up on their dreams because they have to risk something to gain something. If we sit on the fence when making a major life decision, we never actually have to experience the consequences of a particular decision. It’s easier to proceed with what is normal and comfortable, even if it’s not fulfilling, than to venture into the unknown. For some people, in fact, that kind of hesitancy can become a way of life in itself. Unfortunately, by avoiding taking risks, we also give up the chance to achieve our goals.

At its core, a fear of success is often tied to a fear of failure. By avoiding the chance to take on bigger and better challenges, in other words, we avoid challenging our preconceptions of what we can do. Hypotheticals are always easy to consider, but to really take our careers to the next level, we must act rather than simply think. It is true that we may fail in an attempt to succeed, but it is better to give ourselves a real chance of succeeding than to always wonder about what could have been.

For these reasons, a fear of success is often a natural result of taking a risk-averse approach to life. And while playing things safe can put our lives on an even keel for a while, it can also keep us from achieving our true potential. It may feel frightening to take big risks, of course, but the truth is that we must press forward to achieve our biggest goals. As a wise person once said, “He who hesitates is lost.” So, stop hesitating, stop saying no, and stop going through the motions of your status quo. The next time an opportunity comes your way, run with it and feel the satisfaction that accompanies going after what you want. 

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