Fear Series: How to Overcome Your Fear of Success

Date Published: Aug 12, 2022

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Everyone wants success in some form or another. We want success in love, work, home, family, etc., and that’s because success means you’re feeling good and on the right path, living your purpose and feeling passionate about your life. It can feel like you’re on top of the world and things are going your way. It’s a universal want—UNLESS you are living through someone else’s version of success.

And that’s exactly what we’re going to get into today.

What about YOUR version of success? Have you ever taken the time to pull yourself away from what other people want and hope and need for you? Do you have clear goals and a personal definition about what success looks like for yourself?

This post is all about fear of success. We’ll break down what emotional fears are, what causes fear of success, and actionable strategies you can use to manage your fears and begin living the life your soul intended.™ 

A Fearless Living Introduction: Overcoming Fear

While you may have a very real fear of spiders, heights, or the dark, at Fearless Living, when we talk about fear, we’re talking about emotional fears. Emotional fears cause us to make decisions that lead us further away from living the life our soul intended.™ Emotional fears keep us trapped; they keep us from realizing our goals, dreams, and desires.

The 10 most common emotional fears are:

  • Fear of Failure
  • Fear of Success 
  • Fear of Intimacy
  • Fear of the Unknown
  • Fear of Loneliness 
  • Fear of Not Being Good Enough
  • Fear of Loss
  • Fear of Change
  • Fear of Being Judged
  • Fear of Rejection

We’re working through all of the most common emotional fears on the Fearless Living blog, one by one. If you are unfamiliar with the Fearless Living philosophy on fear and want a better understanding of the difference between common phobias and emotional fears, read: 10 Common Types of Fear.

Why Am I Scared of Being Successful?

What is the fear of success called in scientific terms? Have you ever heard of a phobia called “anthrophobia?”

Okay, so what is anthrophobia? When people speak of success phobia, they may use that phrase instead. At Fearless Living, and throughout this article, we’ll keep things simple and use fear of success instead.

Fear of success is a complicated one because, on the surface, it doesn’t sound quite real. You might be thinking, “Rhonda, I want success! How could I fear success?” Or, “Rhonda, doesn’t everyone want success for themselves? How could anyone be afraid of that?”

But the issue with a fear of success is that it can keep you in a perpetual state of fantasy where self-awareness is just out of reach. Fear of success creates an overestimation of your skills and a narcissistic opinion of yourself.

For example, if you fear succeeding and you want to write a book, you might fantasize that you will have to prepare to become a New York Times bestseller. Because, of course, if you write a book, everyone will want it, praise it, and you may even win awards for your abilities, right? 

But is that going to happen? It might, but it also shows you’re focusing on the wrong thing. Real success isn’t always about results. It’s about your own journey and internal satisfaction. In this fantasy scenario, you are so far in the future thinking about your success as an author that you end up thinking way too much about what could go wrong. You’ll associate success with the possible rejection you might face after attaining success or feel anxious about the idea of following up your first great success, etc.

You end up in a fantasy land where you don’t put in the work. You get carried away with that fantasy of success, and then a cascade of feelings happen. You could feel guilty about what that success may mean for your life and how it would impact others. From there, it’s super easy to slip into worry and stop actively pursuing the thing you really want to do. 

That’s because fear of success exposes all of the holes inside our dreams. All the ways success could lead to ultimate failure, being alone, or worse, being rejected. That doesn’t mean you can’t have those dreams, but your fear is going to point out all that could go wrong. And it’s so scary that you end up giving up on your dream entirely. 

The real hard truth is that hard work is absolutely necessary for your success. You must put in the work: the growing, the refining, the learning. And yes, you must even let go of what other people think or your need for their approval. No matter how far you are in your success fantasies, you need to bring yourself back to your current reality. Focus on what’s in front of you, one step at a time. 

Now, this isn’t the only thing that you could experience when it comes to a fear of success. Sometimes our version of success isn’t actually what we want, but we get so caught up believing that success means it has to be this version of success that we can’t pull ourselves away from it to see what is truly in our hearts.

This happened to me in a major way many years ago.

When I was an actress, I came to the startling conclusion over many months that I didn’t want to be a full-time actress. I did not want to act in movies or be on TV. (Ironically, when I changed my path and became a Life Coach, it led to starring in 600 episodes of television! 😅)

Before I realized this, I was already sabotaging my success (hello fear of success) because I feared that if I became a successful actress, my friends would turn on me, no man would want me, and I would be alone forever. 

I had to do a lot of work on myself to embrace that version of my fear of success. When I did, I started working more, not less. And my other fears that stemmed from my fear of success did not come true. To be honest, I was shocked. You mean I could be successful and not alone? This is what my fear of success convinced me would happen. 

That’s how tricky the fear of success is. It tries to convince you that being successful is selfish, you’ll never be able to top your first hit, or you will be alone forever.

Yet, the more I became a “working actress” with Screen Actors Guild (SAG) insurance to boot, the less I loved acting. I realized I liked acting class—it was the first time I could feel my feelings in a safe place, be honest about those same feelings, and express them—but I didn’t like acting on stage or screen. It was a huge ah-ha moment that only happened when I was willing to embrace my fear of success. And because I had worked through that fear, I was willing to work through my next fear: leaving acting behind—a dream I had since I was a little girl dancing on the driveway to the radio. 

I had to admit to myself that becoming an actress was not my heart’s desire. I had to give up my dream of being an actress. I had to give up years of hard work pursuing that goal. And this was no small feat, but by digging deep and confronting my fears, I realized my true journey was down a different path.

I decided, consciously, to pursue something different. But while I was letting go of that dream, fear was trying to tell me how foolish I was, stupid even. “Rhonda, you’re losing time and traction.” “If you leave now, you will never succeed at anything.” And it even said things like, “You’re just scared.” But the funny thing is I knew I wasn’t afraid of success as an actress anymore. What I was really afraid of was being successful as Rhonda. 

Your fear might convince you that changing directions is giving up or that it will mean you wasted all of that time. I had been working on being an actress for years at that point and I had to start over at the age of 32 years old. 

For some people, that twisted version of your fear of success will stop you from admitting that what you’re doing isn’t fulfilling you at all. You might be so afraid of changing directions that you never allow yourself to find the path you were always meant to take. Because for many people, fear of success isn’t about what you’re trying to accomplish; it’s about being afraid you can’t be successful being authentically you. So it tries to convince you to stick it out doing what you hate because you could at least  be successful at that. Don’t want to waste that time, it says. 

Or maybe you’ll relate to this: did your parents always want you to be a doctor? Or a lawyer? Or an engineer? Or a business owner? Have you ever felt pressured to pursue someone else’s dream, whatever that might be? 

You may not even have realized at first that this dream or goal was not actually what you wanted. But when you’re faced with the reality of actually succeeding in the role that someone else chose for you, that twisted fear of success kicks in. But after all that hard work and the yearning not to disappoint someone, it’s so hard to break free and follow your own path. So you feel stuck, so stuck you may even be unconsciously sabotaging your future success because whether you know it or not, it’s not what you want. 

So, how do you push beyond a fear of success? Let’s go over some strategies you can begin implementing today. 

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How to Move Beyond a Fear of Success

In my How to Overcome Fear Series, which is available inside Fearless You, I dig deeper into the definition, causes, symptoms, and underlying issues that add to a fear of success. As a reminder, this article only scratches the surface of tackling and finally curing your fears. Start here, but then I encourage you to dig deeper, continue learning, and continue making progress toward living the life your soul intended.™ 

1. Determine Your Own Definition of Success

The first step in moving beyond your fear of success is determining what success actually means to you. Be honest. What is your definition of success? 

What does success really mean? Not somebody else’s definition. Your definition.

And not a definition that’s determined by society or a long list of external factors. Your definition of success must come from within or you will never ever be able to attain it or gain the benefit when you do. Let’s say you do publish that novel and it’s a bestseller and you have more money and fame than you know what to do with. What then? It won’t mean anything if you don’t feel that success on the inside. Your fear will take over. You will still worry about what other people think and whether or not your family loves you. 

So, if we move beyond thinking success is only money, fame, and fortune, what does it look like? 

What makes you feel truly happy? What makes you feel truly satisfied? Which moments in your life have you felt most at ease and content? What qualities of being are most important to you?

Just as an example, my definition of success is full self-expression. Am I expressing myself fully? It’s one of the reasons I thrive when I write, speak in front of crowds, and train coaches. But it doesn’t only apply to what I do. It also applies to how I am in relationships. If I have a need, with this definition, I must express it. If I need help, I must ask. If I want to go to a different restaurant than what you suggest, I have to say it. 

It doesn’t mean I always get what I want, but I must, must, MUST express what’s moving through me—appropriately, of course. Are there times I choose to stay quiet? Sure. But first I ask myself: Am I afraid to express myself, or do I not feel the need to? I want to have integrity with my definition of success. I’m still a work in progress. But that’s the cool thing; I always will be. 

There are always moments in my life or times when I’m with someone in particular where fear may get the best of me, when I’m wondering who is in charge right now: Fear, or my soul? I check in with my definition of success.

I have a lot of creativity, and I want to fully express myself in my career, and my definition also gives me ample space to speak up to those I love most. By teaching or speaking or writing or connecting with another human being, I am being successful. I am following my soul and fulfilling its intention through my actions. 

Discovering your own definition of success won’t happen all at once—far from it. It’s a long journey of self-discovery, but bit by bit, you will uncover what success means to you and your true direction in life. 

2. Recognize Your Excuses

When we have a fear of success, excuses flow out of our mouths faster than we can catch them. Instead of focusing our efforts on reaching our goals, we spend our time making excuses. We must make a conscious effort to notice them, own them, and then shift them. 

I can’t do that because…

That won’t work for me because…

I won’t be able to because…

When I was much younger, I always dreamed of becoming a singer. But this dream got pushed aside because I continually got wrapped up in excuses.

My fears made me believe I couldn’t become a singer for… oh so many reasons! But it wasn’t that I didn’t think I could do it. Instead, I made up silly excuses about what the journey would look like. I made myself believe that if I was to become a singer, I would have to work in bars, which would mean late hours and being out late at night. If I was a singer, I would be around people who were drinking and smoking, and what if I started drinking and smoking? If I became a singer, I might go down a path of an unhealthy lifestyle. ALL EXCUSES! (And guess what? After making that choice, I became a cocktail waitress for YEARS—surrounded by drinking, smoking, and late nights. 🙃) 

But one of the many problems with excuses is they take away the courage you have to live your destiny.

We run in the opposite direction of any path to success because our excuses cloud our vision of the future. Excuses are fear talking, and until you invest time in yourself and take a deep look inside yourself, you will never recognize those fears (including a fear of success!) that are holding your back. 

3. Focus on Movement, Not Results

Success isn’t black and white. It doesn’t need to be a win or lose scenario. At Fearless Living, we focus on forward movement instead of results.

We get stuck when we only focus on the results. It’s the forward movement and the forward momentum we build that actually matters. 

Let’s go back to that writer who wants to publish a book and become a bestselling author—that writer who imagines it will all work out perfectly. They get so stuck focusing on those high-achieving results that it prevents them from doing any actual writing. They become frozen and unsure.

Fantasizing about the future ignites our fear. We don’t trust the person we are right now—we don’t trust the possibility of our own success or that we’ll be able to keep the success once we get it. Then comes the excuses and the self-doubt: “But I’ve never even written a book or been interviewed or signed an autograph before. They will know I’m a fraud. I won’t be able to keep it up.” And then come the self-sabotaging behaviors: “It has to be perfect or it won’t mean anything, so why start?”  And when all of those elements come together, it makes us avoid success entirely.

When your outlook shifts from only focusing on the results, you’re able to see what truly matters: PROGRESS! It’s showing up for yourself every day. It’s continuing to listen to yourself and continuing to seek to understand exactly what it is you want from life. What makes YOU aligned with your soul’s calling? 

And this is only the very beginning! There is so much more to learn about your own fears. Whether you fear failure, rejection, change, intimacy, or success, the Fearless Living community will be with you every step of the way!

Cracking Your Fear of Success With Fearless Living

Cracking the code to your fear of success is just one of the journeys you can take with the community at Fearless Living. A Fearless You membership gets you access to the entire How to Overcome Fear series, which also includes Fear of Not Being Good Enough, Fear of Intimacy, Fear of Change, among so many more. 

The How to Overcome Fear Series is always available to all members of Fearless You. In addition to this series, you’ll gain access to dozens of other courses, lessons, and live sessions, all designed to help you live the life your soul intended.™ 

Learn more about Fearless You and continue following the Fearless Living blog for free weekly content on everything from how to start over to finding and following your soul purpose

The Foundation of It all

In her groundbreaking seminal work, Rhonda Britten shows you how to master the emotional fears that keep you stuck in old cycles. Fearless Living is the foundation for all of Rhonda’s work, and it gives you an overview of her philosophies on how fear can take your life captive.

Enter your name and email address below to receive Rhonda's Fear of the Unknown course.

By Rhonda Britten

Rhonda, voted America’s Favorite Life Coach is here to help you get unstuck. “Everyone needs Fearless Living”- Oprah Winfrey With her acclaimed method called Fearless Living, Rhonda Britten has helped thousands of people let go of indecision, gain clarity of purpose, and take life-changing risks. Her work exposes the roots of fear and gives you the tools to move beyond that insidious universal feeling of “not being good enough.” The result is unstoppable confidence and a world of unlimited possibilities.

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