How to overcome fear of success and stop sabotaging yourself
Have you ever heard about fear of success?
We all know fear of failure. It makes sense. Whenever we consider trying something new, we fear that maybe we won’t succeed and that will bring undesired consequences, like embarrassment and humiliation.
But why would someone be afraid of being successful?
I learned that fear of success was real many years ago, when I identified a strange pattern in people who were not pursuing their dreams.
I’m pretty sure you know people like this: they will tell you that they have this dream, but they can’t do it now because this or that. They always have an excuse for not taking action towards their dreams.
I’ve talked with people like this dozens of times. Friends, family, classmates, coworkers.
At first, I was naive. I thought that those people were really serious about their dreams. Only they had obstacles they didn’t know how to overcome. But if someone could tell them what to do to overcome those obstacles, they would happily take action and go for their dreams.
Now, for most of those people who shared their dreams with me, I didn’t know how I could help them. But every now and then I would have a solution, and I would tell them, expecting that my advice would be received with excitement and gratitude.
But that never happened.
Every single time I told someone how to overcome their obstacles, at first they would come up with more obstacles. Then, if I persisted coming up with solutions, at one point they would just be quiet and change the subject.
Needless to say, they would never take action, nor would they talk with me about their dreams again.
This happened time after time, over and over again, only to get me frustrated and confused.
I mean, if you want to accomplish something and then someone comes and tell you how you can do it, why the fuck won’t you do it?
The only explanation I could find is this: they were afraid of success.
But why are people afraid of success?
I never understood the reason behind the fear of success until I’ve read the book Linchpin: Are You Indispensable?, by Seth Godin.
In this book, Seth explains that success means change, and it’s change that we fear.
If we decide to try something new and we succeed at it, our life will change — sometimes in a way we can’t predict.
Just think about Paul Potts, the first winner of Britain’s Got Talent, who became widely famous as a tenor — and even had the story of his life portrayed in a movie starred by James Corden.
Prior to winning the show, he worked at a mobile phone retailer. He was “Paul, the mobile phone salesman”. After winning the Britain’s Got Talent, he became “Paul, the worldwide famous singer”.
That’s one hell of a change, isn’t it?
Paul never knew how it feels to be a professional singer — let alone a worldwide famous singer! When he thought about the possibility of auditioning for Britain’s Got Talent, his unconscious mind (the “lizard brain” ) couldn’t predict what would happen if he succeeded. So, it generated feelings of fear and despair.
That’s why fear of success is, in reality, fear of change
And that, my friend, makes total sense.
The first time I’ve read this explanation, I was like this:
I finally understood why it was almost impossible for me to close Marketing Strategy deals with my prospects, after telling them exactly how they could attract better customers and increase their profits.
Every time I talked to a prospect and explained to them how Marketing Strategy works, they were impressed and excited. Most of them asked me to send an offer to create a Marketing Strategy for them. Then I did send the offer…
…and never heard from them again — at least not for Marketing stuff.
It wasn’t because of the price. If price was the problem they would ask for a discount or something.
It wasn’t because they didn’t trust me neither. If that was the case, they would read books, search the internet or maybe hire another Marketer to do the job. Instead, they did nothing, and just kept doing the same old shit.
Because after talking with me, they knew exactly what to do to achieve their goals — but were afraid of taking action.
Their lizard brains were used to the current situations of their business. But they didn’t know how it feels to have lots of great customers and above-average profits.
When they thought about the possibility of success, their conscious minds were excited, but their lizard brains were terrified, because success was unknown. And nothing scares the lizard brain more than the unknown.
But how to overcome fear of success?
If fear of success is in reality fear of the unknown, one could suggest that all we have to do is to lose the fear of the unknown.
However, that’s just not possible.
Fear of the unknown is a powerful survival instinct deep rooted in our lower level brains, and it’s completely out of our control. It doesn’t matter how hard you try, you can’t stop feeling scared when facing the unknown.
Therefore, there are only two ways to overcome the fear of success:
- By making success “less unknown”;
- By learning how to take action despite being afraid.
Making success less unknown means being specific in your definition of success.
Most of the times, we don’t have a clear idea of what are our goals. One may start to pursue a career as a copywriter, for example, and think something like: “I want to be a successful copywriter”.
But what does it mean to be a successful copywriter? That’s a completely abstract concept! You can’t even measure how close you are to achieve such a goal.
Instead, you should define your goals based in measurable milestones, like: “I want to make $100,000 a year” or “I want to be paid $200 an hour” or “I want to close 10 deals a month”.
If you’re a writer, maybe you want to be a best seller author. But again, what does it mean to be a best seller author? It’s an abstract concept. Instead, think in terms of how many copies you want to sell.
The reason why this approach works is because every small progress you make gets you closer to your goal. You may not be making $100,000 a year now, but every extra dollar you earn makes you one dollar more successful.
Being one dollar more successful is not a big change. So, your lizard will be comfortable with this, because you won’t be dealing with the possibility of an unpredictable change. Yet, if you keep increasing your income like this, you’ll end up reaching your ultimate goal.
However, there will be some times in which big opportunities will be presented to us. And just like Paul Potts with the Britain’s Got Talent show, some of these opportunities could have the potential to change your life forever — and all of a sudden.
In those moments, the fear of success will hit you hard, and you will be terrified.
What to do then?
Just have in mind that, it doesn’t matter how scared you are, there is no external force actually stopping you from taking action. You can always do whatever you decide to do.
Or, as put in the movie Sing (2016): “You will not feel afraid anymore if you just start singing” (or whatever you wanna do).