Monday Motivation: Combatting Fear (Part 3) – Fear of Success

fear of success
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What if you allowed yourself to be great?

When considering our fears, we rarely deem ourselves afraid to be successful. After all, isn’t success the aim? We set goals, create visions, and map out plans to realize our dreams, yet sometimes the thought of actually achieving them scares us.

Arguably, the fear of success is much more deadly than the fear of failure. It is a silent killer that lies hidden behind reels of excuses and justifications. This form of self-sabotage is unexpected, yet more common than we’d probably like to imagine.

The fear of success is mostly to do with the fear of its impact. What will happen if you achieve what you set out to do? Will happiness really be yours? Will you finally feel complete once you’ve accomplished your goal? What would be next? Would it have been worth it? The fear of success uncovers some of the true doubts we have about ourselves, exposing what we really think we deserve and what we believe we can manage. This fear shows how much you trust yourself with your dream and highlights the character traits that you deem to be flawed.

Abraham Maslow referred to the fear of success as “The Jonah Complex”. There’s a  biblical story, Jonah tried to run away from God’s calling to preach in Nineveh, but ended up being swallowed by a whale and transported there anyway. Maslow therefore describes the Jonah Complex as “fear of one’s own greatness”, “evasion of one’s destiny” and “running away from one’s best talents”. When we look at the story of Jonah in its entirety, his attempt at fleeing from the very thing he was called to do seems laughable. But in how many ways do we do this with our lives every day?

What if you allowed yourself to be great?

Regardless of how much we theorize, we are unaware of what our full potential will unleash until we give it our all. Every time we decide to sabotage our success, we are declaring to the world that it is better off without our best.

Each of our definitions of success can vary, therefore our fear of it manifests quite differently from one another. Likewise, some people can be successful in some aspects, but have specific areas in which they find it challenging to allow themselves to thrive. For instance, you may be comfortable succeeding academically, but avoid having successful relationships. More subtly, you may flourish in the role at your workplace, but refuse to start the business that has been in your heart.

Success is always unchartered territory. The very nature of it demands you to explore something new and expose yourself to the elements of the unknown. We happily welcome the thought of new blessings, new praise, new skills and new access, yet frown upon the thought of new critics, new ideas, new demands and new pressure. These negative impacts of success allow comfort and familiarity appear more attractive than putting yourself out there and being unaware of what will happen next.

How do you know if you are holding onto the fear of success?

  1. You may find it difficult to complete Specific Measurable Attainble Realistic Target bound goals
  2. You may feel as far away from your vision as you were 3-5 years ago
  3. You are easily distracted by other projects or tasks
  4. You consider yourself a perfectionist, but never produce anything good enough (in your opinion)
  5. It feels like you are always on the brink of success, but can never quite achieve your goal
  6. You avoid accomplishing goals that will change your status quo

The fear of success is often a mixture of other fears (i.e. the fear of change, the fear of losing relationships, the fear of visible and extreme failure, the fear of responsibility). The fear of losing relationships can particularly cripple our progress. Quite often, we are willing to sacrifice our success so that our most valued relationships can be preserved. In these cases, we have to consider what the true issue is. When those who claim to be on your team are unwilling to support you in your success, you must consider whether these relationships are worth stifling your potential for.

Many people have a fixed vision of who you are and what you are able to achieve. They may try to box you into the confinements of how they met you, and discourage you from moving beyond this. The truth is, if they are really on your team they will adapt with you, grow with you, and support you as you go to the next level. If they cannot support you through all seasons, it may be less about you and more about what your success means for them. Be mindful of these relationships, but also extend grace knowing fully that it should not be allowed to hinder you moving forward.

What if you allowed yourself to be great?

Once you begin to analyze your fears, it becomes clearer as to how you can combat them. The contribution that you bring to this world is more important than your fear of achieving it.

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