Why Am I Afraid of Success? Tackling the Success-Phobia Phenomenon


Have you ever found yourself holding back from achieving your full potential? Perhaps you've felt a strange sensation of anxiety when on the brink of success? If so, you might be experiencing a common yet overlooked phenomenon – success-phobia.

Success should be something to celebrate, right? It's the result of hard work, determination, and resilience. However, for some individuals, the thought of success can be terrifying. It's a perplexing concept, but many people grapple with this fear without even realizing it.

In this article, we will delve into the world of success-phobia, exploring why it occurs, how it manifests, and most importantly, how to combat it. We'll also share real stories from individuals who have experienced this fear first-hand, providing insights into the emotional and psychological impact of success-phobia.

By the end of this piece, you'll not only understand the fear of success better, but you'll also be equipped with the tools to overcome it and pursue your dreams with confidence. Let's get started on this journey to conquer the fear of success and unlock your full potential.

Understanding the Fear of Success

You might be wondering why you feel a sense of dread when it comes to achieving your goals. It's common to question why success, something that should bring joy and fulfillment, can be met with fear. Understanding the fear of success is the first step in addressing this phenomenon.

In the words of psychologist and author Steven Pressfield, "The more important a call or action is to our soul's evolution, the more Resistance we will feel toward pursuing it." This means that the fear of success is rooted in something deep within us, often related to our self-worth, fear of change, or fear of the unknown. It can stem from various factors, including past experiences, upbringing, and societal pressures.

It's important to recognize that the fear of success is not a sign of weakness. It's a valid and common feeling that many people experience. Harvard psychologist Dr. Ellen Hendriksen explains, "A fear of success is less about achieving and more about what could go wrong once you do."2 This fear can hold you back from reaching your full potential and living the life you truly desire.

By understanding the fear of success, you can begin to unravel the complex emotions and thoughts associated with it. This understanding will help you address the root causes and take steps to overcome it.

Real Stories: People Who Fear Winning

You might be surprised to learn that many people actually fear success. Let's take a look at some real stories from individuals who struggle with the fear of winning.

  1. Sarah: "I always self-sabotage when I'm about to achieve something big. It's like I'm afraid of what might happen if I actually succeed."

  2. Michael: "I have this constant fear that if I achieve my goals, I won't be able to handle the pressure that comes with it. So, I find myself holding back, even when I know I can do better."

  3. Jenny: "Success scares me because it means I will have to step out of my comfort zone. I'd rather stay where I am, even if it means missing out on great opportunities."

These stories are just a glimpse of the many individuals who struggle with the fear of success. If you find yourself resonating with these experiences, know that you are not alone. Many others share your feelings and fears.

Your fear of success might be rooted in various underlying causes, which we will explore in the upcoming sections. Understanding the stories of others can help you realize that your fears are valid but also something you can overcome. Remember, you are capable of achieving great things, and you deserve to embrace success without fear holding you back.

a man walks alone in the haze
Photo by kilarov zaneit on Unsplash

The Causes Behind Success-Phobia

Success-phobia can stem from various factors, such as past experiences, upbringing, and self-doubt. One common cause is the fear of change. Achieving success often leads to new responsibilities, higher expectations, and unfamiliar territory. This can be daunting and overwhelming for many individuals, causing them to shy away from success.

Another cause is the fear of the unknown. Success can bring about new opportunities and challenges, which can be intimidating. As human beings, we tend to feel most comfortable with what we know, and the uncertainty of success can be unsettling.

Moreover, past failures can also contribute to success-phobia. When you have experienced setbacks or disappointments in the past, it's natural to develop a fear of the same happening again. This fear can hinder you from fully embracing success when it comes your way.

Furthermore, societal and familial pressure can play a significant role in success-phobia. Many people fear that their success will change their relationships and how they are perceived by others. This fear of judgment and expectation can be paralyzing, making it difficult to pursue and accept success.

It's essential to recognize that these causes are valid and common. You are not alone in experiencing these fears and anxieties. As author Randy Gage once said, "Your beliefs are the cause of your victories or your defeats." Your mindset and beliefs play a significant role in how you perceive success and the fears that come with it.

Signs You Might Be Afraid of Succeeding

Do you sometimes find yourself holding back from taking on new challenges or grabbing opportunities that come your way? If so, you might be exhibiting signs of fearing success. Here are a few indicators that you might be afraid of succeeding:

  1. Self-Sabotage: You tend to procrastinate or make excuses when it comes to pursuing your goals. Perhaps you start a project with enthusiasm, but then find yourself losing interest or making mistakes that hinder your progress.

  2. Fear of the Unknown: You find comfort in routine or the familiar, and the thought of stepping into uncharted territory makes you feel uneasy.

  3. Negative Self-Talk: You often doubt your abilities and find yourself saying things like, "I'm not good enough," or "I'll never make it."

  4. Discomfort with Attention: The idea of being in the spotlight or receiving praise makes you feel uncomfortable or even anxious.

  5. Setting Lower Expectations: You intentionally set low targets for yourself to avoid potential disappointment if things don't turn out as planned.

According to psychologist Dr. Carol Dweck, "It's not just our abilities and talent that bring us success, but whether we approach them with a fixed or growth mindset." The signs mentioned above could signal a fixed mindset, which could be holding you back from reaching your full potential.

But don't worry, recognizing these patterns is the first step towards overcoming your fear of success.

Remember, you have the power to change your mindset and embrace the road to triumph.

The Effects of Fearing Triumph

When you constantly shy away from success, it can have a profound impact on your life. It may lead to missed opportunities, feelings of regret, and a lack of fulfillment. Author Marianne Williamson once said, "Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us." This fear of our own greatness can hold us back and keep us from reaching our full potential.

When you are afraid of succeeding, you may find yourself stuck in a cycle of self-sabotage. This can manifest in procrastination, hesitation, and a fear of taking risks. You may find yourself in a constant state of underachievement, unable to break past the invisible barrier that holds you back.

Dr. Carol Dweck, in her book "Mindset: The New Psychology of Success," explains the concept of a fixed mindset versus a growth mindset. She writes, "Believing that your qualities are carved in stone creates an urgency to prove yourself over and over. If you have only a certain amount of intelligence, a certain personality, and a certain moral character — well, then you'd better prove that you have a healthy dose of them. It simply wouldn't do to look or feel deficient in these most basic characteristics." Holding a fixed mindset, driven by the fear of success, can stifle your personal and professional growth.

The fear of success can also lead to feelings of anxiety, imposter syndrome, and a lack of confidence. You may find yourself doubting your abilities and constantly seeking validation from others. This can lead to a sense of dissatisfaction and unease in both your personal and professional life.

Ultimately, the fear of succeeding can prevent you from living a full and impactful life. It can keep you from pursuing your dreams, taking risks, and achieving your goals. As psychologist Dr. Judith Sills once said, "The fact is that success is not a scary thing, it’s the key to living the kind of life that you want to live."

How to Overcome the Dread of Victory

So, you've recognized that you might have a fear of success. Now what? Don't worry, you're not alone in this battle. There are steps you can take to conquer this fear and move forward towards achieving your goals and dreams.

Acknowledge Your Fear

The first step in overcoming your fear of success is to acknowledge it. Don't ignore or push it down. Instead, confront it head-on. As author Mandy Hale once said, "It's not about how to achieve your dreams, it's about how to lead your life, live your life."

Challenge Negative Thoughts

Your fear of success is often rooted in negative beliefs about yourself and your abilities. Challenge these thoughts and replace them with positive affirmations. Psychologist Carol Dweck explains, "The view you adopt for yourself profoundly affects the way you lead your life."

Set Realistic Goals

Break down your larger goals into smaller, achievable steps. This will help you build confidence and lessen the overwhelming feelings that success may bring. Entrepreneur Sara Blakely shares, "Embrace what you don't know, especially in the beginning, because what you don't know can become your greatest asset. It ensures that you will absolutely be doing things different from everybody else."

Seek Support

Surround yourself with people who believe in you and your potential for success. Seek out mentors, coaches, or supportive friends who can offer guidance and encouragement. As author Margaret Walker once wrote, "Friends and good manners will carry you where money won't go."

Embrace Failure

Failure is often a necessary part of the journey to success. Learn to embrace it as a learning opportunity rather than a roadblock. As basketball legend Michael Jordan said, "I've missed more than 9000 shots in my career. I've lost almost 300 games. 26 times, I've been trusted to take the game-winning shot and missed. I've failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed."

By taking these steps, you can start to overcome your fear of success and embrace the possibilities that come with achieving your goals. Remember, success is within your reach, and you have the power to overcome your fears and thrive.

woman smiling while pointing on her right side
Photo by Eye for Ebony on Unsplash

Finding Help: Support for Success-Phobia

If you find yourself struggling with the fear of success, know that you are not alone. Many people experience this fear, and it's important to seek help and support to overcome it. Here are some ways to find the support you need:

  1. Therapy and Counseling: Speaking to a therapist or counselor can be incredibly beneficial in addressing the root causes of your fear of success. They can provide a safe space for you to explore your feelings and work through any underlying issues.

  2. Support Groups: Joining a support group for individuals dealing with success-phobia can be comforting and empowering. It allows you to connect with others who understand what you're going through and share experiences and strategies for overcoming the fear.

  3. Mentorship and Coaching: Seeking guidance from a mentor or coach can help you gain clarity and confidence as you work towards achieving your goals. They can provide valuable insights and tools to navigate the challenges associated with success-phobia.

  4. Self-Help Resources: There are many books, podcasts, and online resources dedicated to personal development and overcoming fear and self-doubt. These can offer practical advice and techniques to help you break free from the fear of success.

Remember, seeking help is not a sign of weakness; it's a courageous step towards healing and personal growth. As one individual who overcame success-phobia stated, "Talking to a therapist and finding a support group truly changed my perspective. I realized that I wasn't alone in my struggles, and that gave me the strength to work through my fear."

Finding the right support can make a significant difference in your journey towards embracing success. Don't hesitate to reach out and seek the help you deserve.


Congratulations on reaching the end of this article! Now that you've learned about success-phobia, it's important to remember that you are not alone in this struggle. It's okay to have fears and doubts, but it's crucial to address them and not let them hold you back from achieving your full potential.

As you reflect on what you've read, take a moment to think about your own relationship with success. Are there signs that point to a fear of succeeding within yourself? If so, now is the time to start addressing them. Remember, "If you intentionally set out to be less than you are capable, you'll be unhappy for the rest of your life" - Abraham Maslow.

Seeking support from friends, family, or a professional can be a crucial step in overcoming success-phobia. It's important to work through your fears in a healthy and productive way. As you embark on this journey, keep in mind that you have the strength and ability to overcome this fear. Believe in yourself and your potential to achieve great things.

Remember, the path to success may not always be easy, but it is always worth it. Embrace the challenges and triumphs that come with success, and allow yourself to grow and thrive. You owe it to yourself to pursue your dreams and aspirations without fear holding you back.

So, take a deep breath, and take the first step towards conquering your fear of success. The world is waiting to see all that you are capable of. You've got this! Go after the success you deserve, and don't let anything stand in your way.

Ready to tackle your success-phobia? Your journey to triumph starts now.

photo of road near mountain
Photo by Casey Horner on Unsplash

1Rollo May, The Courage to Create (1975)
2Steven Pressfield, The War of Art (2002)
3Ellen Hendriksen, How to Be Yourself: Quiet Your Inner Critic and Rise Above Social Anxiety (2018)
4Gail Miller, Courage to Be: Finding Your Authentic Self (2016)
5Susie Moore, What if it Does Work Out?: How a Side Hustle Can Change Your Life (2017)
6Randy Gage, "Risky is the New Safe: The Rules Have Changed" (2013)
7Carol S. Dweck, Mindset: The New Psychology of Success (2006)
8Marianne Williamson, "A Return to Love: Reflections on the Principles of A Course in Miracles" (1992)
9Carol S. Dweck, Ph.D., "Mindset: The New Psychology of Success" (2006)
10Mandy Hale, "The Single Woman: Life, Love and a Dash of Sass" (2013)
11Carol S. Dweck, "Mindset: The New Psychology of Success" (2006)
12Sara Blakely, founder of Spanx, in an interview with Forbes (2012)
13Margaret Walker, "Jubilee" (1966)
14Michael Jordan, in an interview with Nike (1997)
15Dave Ramsey, Financial Peace (1992)
16Abraham Maslow, "Motivation and Personality" (1954)