What’s Holding You Back: Fear of Failure or Fear of Success?

Ask yourself the following question right now: which of these two fears – fear of failure or fear of success – is holding me back the most?

Most people will say it’s the fear of failure that holds them back, and I think that’s a bunch of baloney. I’d be willing to bet that more than anything, it’s your fear of success that’s holding you back.

Let me explain.

If you’re like most everyone else, there is an element of fear that holds you back from doing anything and everything you want. Whether you want to start a business, train for a marathon, or take an improv class and you have yet to do it, it’s because you’re afraid of something.

I think that something you are afraid of is that you’re actually going to be successful.

According to LiveStrong.com, fear of success consists of the following things:

  • Fear that you will accomplish everything you’ve set out to do, but you still won’t be happy, content or satisfied
  • The belief that you are undeserving of all the recognition and praise that will come your way as a result of your accomplishment(s)
  • The belief that when you do achieve success the first time, you will not have the ability to sustain it, so you’re simply setting yourself up for a massive letdown

Any of these things sound familiar? I know each and everyone one of the above points could have my name written next to them!

Not that I’m trying to dimmish the fear of failure (well, I guess am), but it’s rooted in the idea that we’re not good enough. I know I’m taking a giant leap here, but I think that each of us knows ourselves well enough to know that when push comes to shove, we are good enough, smart enough, and capable enough to accomplish what we set out to do.

It might not be easy, but with a little bit of blood, sweat, tears, and ingenuity, we won’t fail.

This alone is enough to rule out the fear of failure, mostly because, when it comes down to it, failure doesn’t exist.

Success on the other hand, now that’s a completely different beast. What if I find success and I’m unfulfilled? Do I truly deserve the success? What if I’m successful but I can’t maintain it? These are tough questions, which usually lead to “analysis paralysis,” meaning we get so bogged down wondering about the what-ifs that we simply end up doing nothing.

So, how do you get over your fear of success? I recommend the following things:

  1. Learn how to smell the roses and enjoy your small successes. If you can learn how to be satisfied with the little things, just imagine how happy you’ll be once you accomplish something “big.”
  2. Realize that people are going to want to pat you on the back for your accomplishments, and they wouldn’t compliment you if you didn’t truly earn it or deserve it.
  3. Even if you don’t continuously achieve 100% success, by trying you’ve accomplished more than 95% of the people out there (ok, I know this is a little too on the “you’re a unique snowflake” side, but it really is true).

Now you have no reason to not go out there and accomplish everything you want, so get moving!


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  2. Great advice as we head into the New Year! Time to make resolutions. Time to take action. Cold feet, uncertainty, stepping out of my comfort zone all keep me from taking action some times. I often regret not striking when the iron was hot. Doh! shoulda said something right then!! haha! I resolve to notice my hesitation and to move forward anyway. It might work. It might not. I’ll never know unless I try. Happy Holidays!