How to Gain and Survive Success

Most scientists and psychologists agree that fear of success exists for both men and women. Everyone can understand the fear of failure; however the fear of success may seem impossible to comprehend. The fact that we never hear people say “I’m afraid of being successful” may trick you into thinking it is not a real fear. As a coach and consultant to business owners and entrepreneurs I see it all the time. Are you (subconsciously) afraid of success? Remember your subconscious is running the show 95% of the time.

Try this experiment

Sit down and think about all the goals you have for yourself and your life. Now imagine that you have achieved every single goal you set and everything you planned has happened. How does it feel?

Are you truly happy, or is there a feeling of what now?

Is it what you truly wanted or do you feel like you made a mistake in your life?

Are you scared that when you have achieved everything what is there to strive for?

Do you feel like an impostor?

As human beings we are wired to want things, to have desires and to achieve. As Abraham Maslow declared in his “hierarchy of needs” humans have a need to “actualize our full personal potential”. That means always seeking to improve, emotionally, intellectually and spiritually.

The fear of success, also known as the Jonah Complex, was a theory of Abraham Maslow’s. The theory explains why humans, who want to be brilliant, also find it terrifying. The fear of success has several different causes –

1. I don’t deserve it

You have to be honest with yourself and uncover if you may have inherited this belief during your life. Thoughts of low self-esteem and lack of self-worth are insidious, however very prevalent.

2. It is outside your comfort zone
It is often more comfortable to stay in a familiar situation, even if it does not feel that good. Achieving success means you are entering unfamiliar territory. Growing and expanding can take you away from your sense of safety and security.

3. Fear of the responsibility that often comes with achieving your own greatness and potentials. Loss of anonymity and being open to scrutiny.

4. Being successful would be out of the ordinary, and therefore make you different to others and perhaps not acceptable to them. You may lose friendships and other relationships. You may have an unconscious agreement to walk in your parents’ shoes and not achieve more than your parents.

5. Fear of seeming self-centred and arrogant and being resented, criticised or attacked.

What can you do about the fear of success? You were taught as children how to deal with failure. It was part of the conditioning of life to learn to cope with failure. You have had success as well; however the conditioning to deal with success was never as thorough or as frequent. In fact, due to “the tall poppy” syndrome, you may have been knocked down a peg or two when you experienced success. Therefore new skills and conditioning to accept and embrace success are needed.

Let’s start with the beautiful words written by Marianne Williamson for Nelson Mandela’s inauguration speech. If you do not resonate with the word God replace it with The Universe.

Marianne Williamson


Now for some techniques to help override the “fear of success” subconscious programs you may have running.

  1. Practice having achieved success in your imagination. Since your unconscious mind cannot tell the difference between real and imagined this is a very powerful practice. To give you an appreciation for how powerful your imagination is, think of a time you watched a movie which stirred emotions in you. You may have experienced emotions of fear from a horror movie or sadness from somebody getting hurt in the movie. You knew it was not real on the one hand, however your imagination perceived it as real.

When you practice having achieved success imagine what you will see and hear and let yourself feel the feelings of having achieved that success. Notice your posture and your facial expression when you are successful. Imagining and feeling success has the added bonus of placing success in your comfort zone since you will have experienced success many times.

  1. Set a new goal. We all have an impulse to improve ourselves, an impulse toward actualizing more of our potentials. Due to the fact that humans need a reason to get out of bed everyday, find a new goal that you will achieve after you have achieved all of your current ones. Without goals you become like a ship without a rudder, drifting with the tides, at the mercy of the currents, never really fulfilling your true potential. You can make it a big audacious goal if you like, such as feeding the world’s hungry children or achieving world peace.
  2. Get comfortable with the fact that other people’s opinion of you is none of your business. As you achieve ever greater success people may not like it and that is OK. As you achieve more and more you are playing a bigger game and you will notice that there are less people playing in this game. Think about the wealthiest people in the world. They play a big game and there are only a few of them. Connect with people who are playing a bigger game and support each other as you grow and achieve.
  3. If you believe you may have an unconscious block about achieving more than your parents consult a therapist who will help you remove these blocks. I have helped many clients overcome this block and achieve success.
  4. Reconnect with your “why” and your purpose for doing what you are doing and this will help you overcome the fear of success. As Simon Sinek states in his book “Start with Why” leaders like Martin Luther King Jr and Steve Jobs thought in the same way – they all started with why.

Success does NOT live in your comfort zone, so be brave and “accept the challenge so that you may feel the exhilaration of victory” – General George S Paton

* Abraham Maslow “The Farther Reaches of Human Nature”

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