Is the fear of success holding you back?

The concern is success comes at a cost, which in turn, creates an anxiety that may cause subconscious self-sabotaging behavior

Some strategies to cope with anxiety include going for a walk or taking a quiet moment to reset your thought process.
Some strategies to cope with anxiety include going for a walk or taking a quiet moment to reset your thought process.

The title of this piece may not make sense to others—why fear being successful in the first place? Is being successful not a good thing? Who would not want to be successful? This topic may not sound like a real thing, but you will be surprised to know it can be the fear that is holding you back from moving up in your career.

What is the fear of success?

While the fear of success does not usually refer to the clinical type, which is known as achievemephobia, dealing with the changes and consequences that come along with success is what can be fearsome. For example, will I alienate my tech assistant peers by becoming a registered veterinary technician (RVT)? The concern is your success comes at a cost, which in turn, creates an anxiety that may cause subconscious self-sabotaging behavior. It can keep you from moving forward to becoming an RVT.

You have probably heard of the fear of failure, and while it can be confused with the fear of success, they are distinct in how they apply to our lives. The fear of failure has more to do with not believing in our abilities and leads to fear, which stops us from moving closer to achieving our goals. The fear of success, on the other hand, is more about the fear of consequences in anticipation of what could happen, and how other people react to your success. Both can lead to subconscious behaviors to keep you from succeeding.

Five ways to spot it

1) Avoidance—Do you avoid speaking up during meetings or steer clear of situations putting you in the center of attention? When praised for a job well done, do you quickly shrug it off as no big deal?

2) Procrastination—Are you stalling just enough to let the opportunity go by? Often, the anxiety of successfully completing a task subconsciously causes procrastination. We are not being lazy by not doing the task; we are protecting ourselves from what might happen should we complete the task.

3) Quitting—Just when you are about to reach a goal and its accompanying success, you find a reason to quit. Many times, this is “excuse quitting.” An excuse validates your action, which, in your mind, justifies the act of quitting. You are blameless and now it is not your fault or problem to deal with.

4) Self-sabotage—Did you know a primary reason people self-sabotage their success is because they have low self-esteem? Self-sabotaging behavior is when you put obstacles in your own way to keep you from succeeding. For example, instead of signing up for courses you need to move up in your career, you decide to buy a new car even though your existing car is in perfect working condition. Now you cannot afford those courses.

5) Self-destructiveness—Besides the more obvious self-destructive behaviors, such as drugs, alcohol, gambling, or self-injury, there are many subtle forms of self-destructive behavior associated with the fear of success. Constantly being late to work or focusing on low priority tasks instead of the high priority ones. Suddenly having plans when a learning opportunity presents itself, and so on.

Overcoming the fear

If you have ever recognized or identified your fear of success, you have already taken the first step to helping yourself overcome it. Here are ways to help you recognize and begin the process of overcoming the fear of success:

1) Know your thoughts—What are you replaying over and over? Where are the thoughts coming from, are they coming from you or what you have been told or heard before? Are the thoughts in your corner encouraging you to go for it? Are they snickering and telling tales of losing friends, or that people will not like you if you succeed? When the message does not serve you, do not give it space. Change what you tell yourself to one of positivity and a “you can do it” mantra.

2) Journal—Track and connect your thoughts and responses to them. Write down what you want to do. Where do you want to be in one, five, 10, even 25 years from now? Write it, write it, write it! What is the best and worst thing that could happen when you succeed and complete your goals?

3) Past and present—Think about how the fear of success has manifested itself in your life. Where have you wanted to go and what has kept you from getting there?

4) Acknowledge and explore—Where did the fear of success come from? Did something happen that changed the way you thought about success? Once you find where it came from you can acknowledge that you understand the reasons behind your fear. From there you can take control back and explore your options going forward.

5) Self-care—Anxiety can wreak havoc on our emotional well-being, as well as cause many physical issues. Not only is it okay to take time out for yourself, but it should be part of your daily schedule. You cannot pour from an empty cup!

Whether it is a daily walk, meditation, looking through a cookbook, or whatever brings you back to feeling centered and rejuvenated, do it. Do it daily! When your anxiety is high it is difficult to have a perspective needed to move beyond the anxiety-causing situation, but when you are centered and relaxed it is easier to look at your life through and introspective lens. This helps grow your awareness and take back control of your success.

Tips for dealing with success anxiety

Overcoming the fear of success takes time and experience working through what your triggers are as well as what works to lessen them. In the meantime, here are some tips for when success anxiety starts coming on.

  • Reset yourself—Just like we give children who are having a meltdown a “rest period,” you also need time to reset. It is okay to step away from what is causing you anxiety and remove yourself from the situation.
  • Take a walk—Yes, even if it is just to the corner and back, move those legs, change your scenery, a brisk two-minute walk is all it takes to get the oxygen pumping for other reasons than the anxiety causing event.
  • Say the ABCs—Slow down and focus on saying the alphabet. If it is calm you need, this is a great way to slow your thoughts down.
  • Hydrate—Grab a drink of water, your favorite coffee, or tea. Taking your mind off the stressor and placing it on an enjoyable sensation, like the taste of your favorite latte, is a great way to put a positive experience at the forefront and replace what was causing the anxiety.


The fear of success is a very real struggle. Many suffer in silence for fear of ridicule. It is often misunderstood and dismissed. The thing to remember is the fear, more often than not, is about the consequences of success and not the success itself. Once you have recognized the origin and triggers, you can begin to work towards guiding yourself through the process of understanding and working through the fear.

Linda Miller has over 20 years of business experience. She has earned a Bachelor of Science degree in business management, as well as degrees in psychology, interdisciplinary studies, and business administration. As co-owner of Dog Days Consulting, she manages clients’ social media accounts. She is a Certified Compassion Fatigue Professional and a Certified Master Life Coach. Her passion lies in teaching skills and providing staff with the necessary tools to help them sustain a long enjoyable career in the veterinary industry.

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