Success is predicated upon an ability to understand and appreciate fear. And before experiencing success, we need to figure out how to overcome these three specific fears for long-term personal and career success.
The fear of failure.
If every single human being could voluntarily decide to stand in one of two lines, one for failure and one for success, I’m willing to bet everything I have that there would be very few people (if any at all) in the line for failure. From the youngest of ages, we are taught to go out into the world and succeed. We are taught that success is better than failure. We are taught that winners succeed and losers fail.
After years of programming, it becomes abundantly clear that failure brings disappointment, shame, embarrassment or humiliation while success brings honor, praise, pride and dignity. Naturally, we start to have an aversion to failure. But having an aversion to failure isn’t the same as having a paralyzing fear of it. People with an overwhelming fear of failure do things like
- turn down personal and professional opportunities unless they can get a near guarantee of success or eliminate all risk. They say “no” too often to opportunities – even really good ones – because the fear of failing outweighs any benefit of success.
- resist change because once they learn or master something they cling to it out of fear they might fail with trying new or different things.
- become preoccupied or obsessed with the opinions of other people. They end up letting concern for those opinions create stagnation in their own lives and diminish their success.
The fear of rejection.
I don’t know anyone who’s actually okay with rejection. Most of us want some level of acceptance from others, and this is normal. But there is a big difference between being uncomfortable with rejection and being so afraid of it that you let it stop you cold from achieving personal or professional success.
Ultimately, fear of rejection is a reflection of the anxiety you have with not being accepted. It is an indication that you may have an excessive need to belong or an excessive fear of being judged or ridiculed. People with an overwhelming fear of rejection do things like
- become “people pleasers.” They say yes way too often to projects and activities that they don’t even enjoy or want to do out of fear of not being liked or accepted.
- tend to wait on others to make offers instead of take the initiative to make things happen or ask for what they want. They neglect to ask for the pay raise or the job promotion out of fear of being judged by others if they don’t get it.
The fear of success.
Say it ain’t so. How can anyone be afraid of success? Fear of success is real. Some people have a crippling fear of success and are more afraid to succeed than they are to fail. Success means change, and it can bring an unwelcomed spotlight of attention and many new detractors. The more successful you become, the more you get noticed. While getting noticed often brings on more admirers, it also brings on more haters.
Another reason people fear success is that it creates new standards and expectations, and people get stressed about how to manage those standards and expectations. When you succeed, you raise the bar. Others start to expect more from you and hold you accountable for higher levels of performance than you were delivered prior to the successful project, initiative or activity. The fear of success is about fearing pressure and resisting accountability. It is a fear of new attention and expectations.
Even though success can bring honour, praise and pride, it also brings anxiety and new accountabilities. This can become debilitating. People with an overwhelming fear of success do things like
- consciously or subconsciously sabotage their efforts to make failure seem inevitable. They find reasons to procrastinate with even menial or low-demand tasks.
- set low standards and expectations for themselves just in case they can’t or don’t deliver. They really hate being under the microscope and get anxiety by the idea of others expecting them to deliver time and time again.