Entrepreneurs often face the fear of success when they experience fast growth. It’s something I help my clients navigate all the time. In this article, I will explain what is fear of success and share 5 very practical strategies on how to overcome fear of success so that you can achieve your wildest life and business goals with ease.
Let me ask you this… does the thought of achieving your wildest business goals bring you to happy tears? Or does it absolutely f*ing terrify you? For most of us, it’s a bit of both.
As an entrepreneur coach, I work with a lot of driven, high achieving, high performing entrepreneurs that have wildly ambitious life and business goals and are working tirelessly to achieve them each and every week.
So I also get to see all the ways in which they push away the very thing they’re chasing, and coach them through the mental blocks that are keeping them from the level of success they desire.
In this article you’re going to fully understand
- What is the fear of success and how it’s different from the fear of failure
- How to recognize fear of success when it shows up in your business
- 4 actionable strategies for overcoming fear of success so that you can get out of your own way
I’ll also be sharing a personal story and a few client stories about fear of success and what really helped my clients to overcome it.
If you’re an entrepreneur growing your business to the next level (whether that’s $5K months or $1M year), this article is going to be extremely beneficial in helping you spot where fear of success is keeping you from achieving all that you’re truly capable of.
What is fear of success?
The fear of success, also known as “atychiphobia” or “success phobia,” is a psychological condition in which an individual is afraid of achieving their goals.
Fear of success can manifest in a variety of ways, such as procrastination, overwhelm, and denial. It stems from the fear of the unknown and makes it difficult to consistently take the actions that will lead to success because of the anxiety that usually accompanies it.
Fear of success vs fear of failure
Fear of success and fear of failure are two common fears that entrepreneurs may experience.
Fear of success refers to the fear that achieving success will lead to negative consequences, like increased expectations, added responsibilities, or the loss of personal freedom.
Entrepreneurs who experience the fear of success hesitate to take the actions that will lead to success, or end up sabotaging their own efforts when they are on the brink of everything they want.
On the other hand, fear of failure refers to the fear of not being able to achieve one’s goals and the potential negative consequences that may come with it, such as disappointment, embarrassment, or financial loss.
The consequence is the same: Entrepreneurs who experience this fear hesitate to take the actions that will lead to success because they see an equal or greater chance that those same actions could lead to failure.
Both fears are very common for entrepreneurs… but why?
Why we fear success
Our brains are wired to keep us safe – thousands of years of programming ensure they do everything possible to keep us alive (and not eaten by tigers). The best way to keep you alive is to keep doing what you’re currently doing… after all, you’re currently alive so it must be working.
Our brains protect us by maintaining the status quo.
When you’re working toward ambitious goals in life and business, you’re most certainly aiming to alter your status quo.
Whether you want to make more money, travel more often, or spend fewer hours banging your head off the wall doing work you hate, you’re trying to achieve something that’s different from your current reality.
And your brain doesn’t like it one bit.
Fear of success is one of the many powerful tools your brain will deploy to convince you to maintain the status quo and avoid any and all change.
It does so because it’s wired to keep you safe.
But here’s the kicker… If you’re reading this, you’re probably more or less safe on a day to day basis. Yet your brain’s programming will convince you that quitting your job or growing your business will most certainly mean imminent death.
Although it’s wired to help you survive, your brain is not wired to help you thrive in the 21st century.
Related post: how to master your mindset & grow your business
So the reason we fear success is quite simple really… It’s because success opens us up to the unknown and your brain believes the unknown to be unsafe.
Now that you know this, you can recognize fear of success for what it is: Not a sign that you’re on the wrong track, but a sign that everything is going exactly as it should.
3 signs fear of success is holding you back
Most of us don’t think we’re afraid of success. After all, it sounds ridiculous. Success is the very thing we spend our waking hours chasing. Why would we be afraid of getting the thing we want?
Yet I’ve seen time and time again how entrepreneurs sabotage the very success they’ve worked so hard to create because fear of success is very real.
Here are three signs fear of success is holding you back in life and business…
You procrastinate the things you know will get you the results you want
One of my private coaching clients, let’s call him Allen, had a goal to to triple the size of his business last year. He knew that the single most important thing he could be doing to grow his business was generating leads and booking discovery calls. He pinpointed a) reaching out to people on LinkedIn b) speaking & networking at conferences and c) following up with past clients, to be the three most effective ways for growing his business (based on his unique abilities and business model).
Yet week after week he came to our calls with one excuse or another for why he didn’t generate leads or book discovery calls. He would do everything from spending hours updating project tasks in Monday.com to shoveling gravel onto his driveway in the middle of his workday, but he wouldn’t sit down and reach out to potential clients
Once we pointed out the pattern and dug into what was really getting in the way of business development, we uncovered the root mindset blocks that were keeping him stuck: he was afraid they would “grow too fast and ruin everything.”
His brain was telling him things like:
- The success you’ve already created is more than enough.
- Don’t ruin a good thing by trying to get something better.
- If you take on too many new clients, everything will fall apart.
- If you grow too fast, your team will burn out and you’ll be left all alone.
The reality is, his team wanted him to secure more business. They wanted to have a bigger impact (and quite frankly, bigger bonuses at the end of the year too!)
But Allen’s brain was convincing him that the success he wanted wasn’t safe.
Once Allen was able to realize that his thoughts weren’t necessarily true – you won’t sacrifice something “good enough” by pursuing something better; you can set up systems and processes to help you scale instead of sacrificing your growth; your team is freeing up your time so that you can go out and focus on business development – he was free to take the actions he knew would grow his business instead of playing small.
Is this currently happening in some way in your business?
Are you procrastinating on the things you know will get you the result you want, not because you “don’t have time” to get to it, but because you’re secretly terrified of actually getting what you want?
It’s time to recognize how fear of success is keeping you stuck so that you can begin to move forward.
You feel overwhelmed when you get what you want
When I first left my day job to go all in on my business, my goal had been to get to 10 private entrepreneur coaching clients. This would set me up to make over 6 figures a year, without having to work more than 15 hours a week. I was laser focused on this goal for the first 12 months.
Eventually I got everything I had been working toward and instead of feeling thrilled about achieving my goal, I was completely overwhelmed.
I worried that I would let all of my clients down. I worried that I wouldn’t be able to “handle” the workload (of 15 hours a week…). I came up with all these scenarios in which it wouldn’t work out.
And then, I realized I was just scared.
Because I had gone from trying to get my business off the ground, to having a fully fledged successful business.
And that was a big identity shift for my brain to grasp.
It tried to protect me by convincing me that the success was unsafe, that I’d burn out, that I was working too much, that I couldn’t handle the pressure, that I’d never have a free moment to spend with my kids again, that the money would all disappear…
But when I was able to recognize that the only thing that had happened was that I had achieved my goal and my brain was afraid of the success on the other side of that, I was able to look at things from a neutral perspective and set up the processes, systems, and team that I needed to support my new level of growth.
I have more than 10 private coaching clients now and am happier than I’ve ever been. I make more money now than I ever have before in my life. And I work fewer hours than I thought was possible.
THIS is safe.
But had I listened to my brain, I never would have gotten to experience this level of freedom, fulfillment, and financial abundance.
Your brain isn’t always right. (In fact, most of the time, it’s downright crazy).
So, if you’re feeling overwhelmed after getting the very thing you’d been working toward for so long, don’t worry. It’s very normal for your brain to panic when you achieve a big goal. But this too shall pass: when your brain adjusts to this being the ‘new normal’, you’ll feel good in your newfound success.
You’re convincing yourself that you’re fine where you’re at
There’s something to be said for being grateful for everything you’ve already accomplished and feeling 100% fulfilled by where you are now. But there’s a fine line between soaking up your blessings, and convincing yourself you’re fine without the things you really want.
- Like telling yourself 2 weeks of vacation is enough when what you really want is to travel the whole world.
- Or convincing yourself that providing for your family financially by working 80 hour weeks is what you have to do when what you really want is to go on vacation.
- Or settling for a car with door handles zip tied together or a tiny apartment where the dryer shares the same space as the fridge instead of dreaming of bigger and better things.
Convincing yourself that everything is fine instead of pursuing the things that truly align with your deepest values and desires is another sign that fear of success is holding you back.
If thinking about more causes you to panic and start rattling off reasons why everything right now is just fine, it’s time to explore what you’re really afraid more will cost you.
Related post: Redefining success as an entrepreneur
- Maybe you think stepping back in your business will cause everything to fall apart.
- Maybe you think building a bigger house will cause you to argue about money and end up divorced.
- Maybe you believe growing your business to $1M will cause you to burn out and have zero time left to spend with your family.
Whatever goal you’re afraid of fully going for, recognize when fear of success is causing you to settle for something “fine” instead of pursuing something “fanfreakingtabulous” for no logical reason (but a whole lot of emotional ones).
5 tools to overcome fear of success in entrepreneurs
So, now that you can recognize fear of success popping up when you’re procrastinating the things you know you should do, feeling overwhelmed when you achieve your goals, or convincing yourself you’re perfectly fine without the things you really want, let me share 5 very actionable strategies for overcoming fear of success in your life and business.
Confronting your fears head on
The thing that makes our fears so powerful is the fact that we keep avoiding them.
How often have you taken the time to actually look at your fears and sit with the uncomfortable feelings they bring up? Exactly.
When we run from our fears, they take control over our lives.
The best way to overcome your fear of success is to look directly at the thing you’re really afraid of.
Take a piece of paper and write “I deeply desire to achieve X goal, but I am afraid that…” and then list out every little fear, worry, concern, or thought your brain throws out about that goal.
For example: I deeply desire to grow my business to $1M but I am afraid that… I will have to work more hours than I want to sustain it; It will be too much pressure; I will always be busy; I will burn out; I’ll constantly be dealing with problems; I’ll hate managing my team; I’ll wish I had never done it; etc.
When you give yourself permission to actually look at your fears, you’ll recognize that 80%-100% of them actually make no sense. And the ones that are left, you can put in place an intentional plan to mitigate them.
If you never look at what you’re really afraid of, your mental energy and headspace will be taken up by a mass of foggy fear and you’ll feel stuck without you knowing why. When you write your fears all down on paper, they’ll feel tangible and easier to deal with, you’ll recognize most of them to be bogus, and you’ll be able to work through any realistic risks from a neutral and logical place.
This is a powerful exercise to do every single day for 10-15 mins (basically until you get tired of being afraid of the same silly things and can finally release them).
There’s a powerful shift that happens when you expose yourself to your fears intentionally and repeatedly: your brain begins to realize that you are safe and it stops being afraid.
Regularly looking at the thing you’re afraid of reduces your body’s physiological fear response.
Your brain can’t differentiate between reality and what it sees (in its mind, in pictures, in videos, etc.) so the more you expose yourself to images of what you’re nervous about, the less nervous you’ll feel over time. This is the foundation of exposure therapy which decreases fear and avoidance.
Therefore, if you’re afraid of success, the most helpful thing you can do is to regularly visualize that success on a regular basis. Before you start your work day, spend 5 minutes picturing what it will actually be like when you achieve that goal.
Related post: Entrepreneur’s Guide To Creating A Business Vision Board
- Picture yourself at your celebration party. What are you wearing? Who are you talking to? What sounds do you hear? What do you see? How does it feel?
- Picture yourself running the million dollar business. What does your day look like? How does it feel? What do you do before work? What do you do after work?
- Picture yourself signing your first client. What did you do before you got on the call? How did you appear on the call? Picture them smiling and saying yes. Picture yourself sending the contract and getting the deposit in your bank account.
The more specific you get with the details and the more often you repeat this exercise, the safer your brain feels.
Visualizing yourself achieving your goals is a great way to allow your brain to feel comfortable with the success so that you’re no longer afraid of what’s on the other side of it.
Choosing the better tradeoff
The thing we often forget is that things aren’t either good or bad… everything has a tradeoff.
For example, scaling your business to a million dollars can bring you financial security, but it also means you’re responsible for managing a bigger team. Staying at $3K months means you have to work fewer hours, but you also can’t afford to outsource the tasks you hate.
Everything has a tradeoff.
When fear of success is popping up, it’s really important to recognize that whether you go on to achieve your goal, or stay exactly where you are now, there’s going to be a tradeoff with that decision.
When you give yourself permission to see that everything has a tradeoff, you get to intentionally decide which tradeoff you would prefer to handle.
Most often, achieving your goal means picking the better tradeoff.
Creating more success means upgrading your problems. It’s not that problems go away completely, but they’re different problems, and often “better” problems (like having to turn down clients, instead of struggling to find any).
The problems will still be there, but some problems are better to have than others.
Trusting yourself to handle anything
Finally, trusting yourself to handle anything and everything your business throws at you is the key to achieving your goals without sabotaging your success.
- Trusting yourself to hire and train new team members if everybody quits
- Trusting yourself to create more money if your investment goes south
- Trusting yourself to handle the disappointment if the launch of your new idea/offer flops
You don’t have to be afraid of success if you deeply trust yourself to handle everything on the other side of it.
Start by recognizing all of the sh*t you’ve been able to handle in the past, and extrapolate that to mean that there isn’t anything you won’t be able to handle in the future.
With that, you can charge full speed ahead toward your wildest goals, heading straight into the unknown in full trust that you have got this.
Related post: Goal Setting Tips for Ambitious Entrepreneurs
Work with a coach
Finally, the best way to work through your fear of success is to have deep conversations with a coach. A coach is there to help you process the mental noise inside your own head so that you can walk away feeling crystal clear in your decisions and confident in your next steps… which is the very thing that allows you to grow your business to the next level.
I work with a lot of ambitious entrepreneurs and one of the biggest benefits they claim to get out of coaching is not just the wild growth in their business, but is actually the mental clarity that comes with having consistent conversations to process everything that’s going on in business and life.
If you’re running a business, whether you’re just trying to get consistent clients, or you’re scaling to the million dollar mark and beyond, an entrepreneur coach can help you achieve those goals faster and easier by helping you get out of your own way.
If you’ve been curious about what it’s like to work with a coach, book a discovery call to experience exactly what it’s like to work together: we’ll discuss where you’re at, where you want to go, and what challenges are slowing you down. You’ll get a feel for my coaching style and be able to decide whether 1:1 coaching is the right next step in your life and business.
Fear of success is annoying. Period.
You spend so many hours working toward goals that you believe will make your life better and then your brain gets in the way and convinces you not to do everything possible to achieve those goals.
When we normalize fear of success and have honest conversations about it in our entrepreneurial circles we realize that we’re not the only ones with silly brains doing annoying things to protect us.
And now that you know why your brain is making up excuses (to keep you safe) and exactly how you can work through the fear of success, you’re set up to achieve your wildest life and business goals without self sabotaging.
I’d love to hear how fear of success has shown up in your business in the past so drop a comment below and let me know which of these 5 tips was most helpful for you in overcoming it.
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