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Understanding the “Fear of Success” and How to Overcome It

Updated: Mar 2, 2020

A.P. Cairns ©2018

Photo uploaded by Cathy Mü to Unsplash

It is possible to move out of the tangled forest of self-sabotage to find a clear path towards the dreams that shaped us.

I first heard about the "Fear of Success," way back in the ’70s. I thought it was double-speak nonsense—George Orwell’s 1984 come to life. After all, why would anyone be afraid of success? We all want money, fame, fortune, and all that these things represent. Don’t we?

In those days, I was a naive teenager coming of age during a time of excess that was rife with possibilities. The world’s youth strained to be heard on a variety of subjects such as racism, gay rights, Vietnam, and equality of the sexes. We marched for injustices of all kinds. Messages of peace, love, and rock and roll permeated everything, and over time, change slowly came about.

It was a time of tight pants, big hair, big shoes and big ideas. Throughout it all, I thought I was going to do great things and have a meaningful life.

The reality was very different.

Year after year, my friends achieved their dreams. However, success continued to elude me. Decades of regular self-sabotage saw my energy dwindle from a bonfire of hope to smoldering ashes of disappoint


So how did I find my way out?

Before I could succeed it was necessary to find out why I didn’t want to.

On an energetic basis, the fear of success is actually not one particular fear; it is comprised of a collection of fears that can be broken down to emotional situations like humiliation, retribution, discovery, expectation, disappointment and more.

The act of success has to do with an indomitable spirit—the ability to continue towards ours goals without giving up, regardless of how many times we fail.

Most of us have several emotional fears blocking us from moving towards our dreams. I stumbled over my emotions for years, never realizing what was causing me to fail. I blamed everyone except myself until receiving a plank on the head that allowed the worst fears to spill out into the open.

Here are some of the fears that plagued me.

The Fear of Discovery

I once had a psychopathic boyfriend who stalked me: causing me tremendous emotional and psychological distress, as well as, some physical harm. Ever since, there’s been a niggling fear that he would find me and the stalking would begin again.

It’s a stupid little fear of discovery that no longer has any basis: the man was a very heavy drug user and is likely dead by now. But if he is still alive, if he finds me, what does it matter? I am a stronger person now.

The Fear of Expectation

In the past my success, or lack thereof, was tied to a fear of other people’s expectations.

At a young age, I learned to knit—making little sweaters and skirts for my one and only doll. But after a couple months boredom set in and the novelty wore off. The craft was mothballed.

Decades later, money was tight and I needed some new sweaters for a very cold winter. It was time to unpack that very old craft. I picked up knitting needles and made some really nice sweaters. As is generally the case with those of us who have a generous nature, it wasn’t long before others took advantage and I found myself furiously knitting sweaters for everyone but myself.

My unsolicited service escalated exponentially when crochet was added to my skills. Years were spent producing works of art for others.

The whole thing was infuriating and likely that frustration stopped my enjoyment and pursuit of this craft. The good that came of it all was the ability to say “no” and to not feel responsible for what others want and expect.

The Fear of Disappointment

This is tied to the expectations and disappointments of authority figures. More specifically it is the disappointment they feel in me. It is a common issue that many of us have faced, and continue to face, throughout our lives. To this end I can only say, I made peace with my own self.

To go beyond the fear of disappointment, we all need to realize that we were all born as beautiful children. The world is a better place, a richer place for having us in it.

Our critics’ voices take up space in our heads and they are not paying rent—evict them.

For once and all—evict them.

The longer I live, the more I believe in myself. And so too, once you find the fears that limit you, it is easier to break free of the ties that hold you in place.

Give your Fear of Success a big hug and then treat it like a piñata, knock it over the head, or kick it in the pants and spill out the candied fears hidden inside. Then, address them.

A.P. Cairns is a writer and editor

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