How to leverage your fear of success and make it work for you

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How to leverage your fear of success and make it work for you

I work a lot with people that fear success. Very talented, intelligent people that in theory seem to have everything it takes to reach higher levels of success. While they work really hard, making progress seems to take them forever. They can see the success of the ones on the next level but somehow they are unable to reach that level.

Maybe you can relate:

  • You feel like you have what it takes to become more successful but you have no real clue on what to do next.
  • You hardly make the progress you could be making despite working your tail off.
  • You are highly driven and motivated, yet you can’t help yourself from procrastinating and you beat yourself up about it.
  • You tend to get caught up in details and lose sight of the bigger picture.
  • You impulsively follow through on every idea that comes to mind only to end up at a dead-end after having wasted lots of time and energy.
  • You feel like you have to do almost everything by yourself and keeping all those plates spinning in the air is starting to wear you down.
  • You dream about finding a partner that shares your vision and your drive. Someone that can take some of the weight of your back and keeps you focussed and moving forward. And most importantly, it has to be someone that you can trust. If you can find someone like that, everything will become much easier. But where can you find someone like that?

All these things point in the direction of a client being afraid of success. But usually they are the last ones to realise it.

I always try to be gentle when I break it to them: “Could it be that you’re actually afraid of success?”

Some clients still take it pretty hard.

One client said to me: “Uhhm… Maybe. A little.”

Then he shouted (to himself it seemed): “SO WHAT? You know what’s on the other side of fear? NOTHING!”

I thought that sounded vaguely familiar. “Where did that come from?” I asked.

“That’s what Jamie Foxx said on Tim Ferriss’ podcast”

I’ve noticed this on more than one occasion: people using quotes like this to trivialise their fear, even to ridicule it. Sometimes these quotes are taken out of context. Sometimes they’re not. Fear annoys people.

What strikes me is that a lot of these quotes all seem to say more or less the same thing: your fears are imaginary. They are unfounded. Just move forward and everything will work out. Don’t worry about problems down the line, deal with them when they show up. Focus on what you can control now.

For the most part that makes a lot of sense.

Except… in my experience for a lot of people this advice will only take them so far.

It may help to get you started in the right direction. But isn’t it often so that these fears just keep lingering in the back of your mind?

That little voice that just keeps going: “But what if this happens? And what if that happens?”

What if, what if, what if. Annoying, isn’t it?

Annoying as it may be, trivialising your fear as just a figment of your imagination and beating yourself up about it (with the generous help of others) is probably not the best approach.

After all, it doesn’t make the fear go away. It doesn’t make you take action. It makes you feel bad about yourself. It makes you feel guilty. It makes you feel like a chicken shit.That’s not helping you move forward, is it?

There is however another way of dealing with your fear of success.

A way to leverage your fear so it works for you instead of against you.

That way is to address your fears as genuine concerns and get prepared.

Here’s why this works:

  • It will help you overcome your fears by turning them into solvable problems. If you just try to push your fears aside they are going to push back. But if your fears become solvable problems and you figure out ways to deal with those problems, you’ll notice that your fears lose their hold on you. You’ll start to feel more confident to move forward. That’s when you’ll start to make some real progress.
  • You will actually be prepared for success when you finally make it to the next level. Instead of being overwhelmed by everything that comes your way, you already have an outline of possible solutions ready for when you run into problems.
  • By preparing for success, it’s no longer just a possibility that you hope (and therefore doubt) will happen one day. Now success becomes a certainty that you are expecting to happen.

But before we get into how you can prepare for success, first we need to know what it is exactly that people fear about success.



Close your eyes for a second. Imagine breaking through to the next level. The next level comes with next level responsibilities. Next level problems to tackle. You will have to change the way you do things. In the back of your mind you already know this.

Maybe you fear that you will suddenly have to put in so much more work that you won’t be able to handle it. Or that you will have to bend over backwards to keep your customers happy. Maybe you fear that you will have to become a sell-out in order to remain successful. Or maybe you fear that you will be publicly humiliated by the fiercest of critics. Fear of success is an elaborate form of the fear of failure.

The underlying fear here is that success will reduce you to an object that is at the mercy of the success monster you have put in motion. And that you will be defenceless against it.

In other words: you fear you will lose control.

Is this fear completely unfounded? Of course not. Maybe you’re blowing it out of proportion in your head, but this stuff actually happens.



There is another fear involved in becoming successful. Or rather, a variation of the fear of losing control.

I’m talking about the fear of becoming intoxicated by success and actually “becoming someone else”. Not because of what others demand from you but because it triggers something dormant within you. Not unlike what happens when someone falls head over heels in love and you see them transform right in front of you. Some people fear this while others think it will never happen to them.

Why does this happen?

Success opens doors. It can lead to fame, wealth, new opportunities. All this leads to a heightened state of physiological and emotional arousal. While this can fuel the drive and passion to continue on that path, you can also get intoxicated by it. That’s when you lose perspective on other parts of life that are equally important. Like your relationship, your children, your health, contribution to others, etc. It’s a well-known fact that these area’s in life are the first to get neglected when someone becomes successful. If they weren’t being neglected already in the pursuit of success.

This also happens to people that start out with the best of intentions. Usually they are the last ones to notice it. They keep telling themselves “I’ve got everything under control”.

Like I did.

Several years ago I became relatively successful as a photographer. While I got quite a bit of recognition for my work, what was most intoxicating to me was that I could see for myself that I was getting better really fast. It wasn’t too long before I was making the kind of photographs that I could only dream about when I started out.

Soon all I could think about was making more of these photographs. I nearly drove myself insane. Trust me, if your mood literally depends on the quality of the light outside, you’re not in a good place.

It didn’t take all that long before I didn’t even enjoy the process of photographing anymore. I just had to get that next photograph. I was bitching and complaining all the time, I was unable to enjoy anything and I was just a downright drag to be around. I had become a self-obsessed jerk and I was the last one to realise it.



So fear of success basically boils down to the fear of losing control. And how do you prevent something from spiralling out of control? By being prepared.

Here’s one way to do it.

  • Let go of your EGO. For some people, this is a really tough one. Acknowledge that you are a human being. You have conflicting desires, fears, limitations,… There is nothing wrong with that. The first part to overcoming your fear is to acknowledge that it’s there in the first place.
  • Address your fears as genuine concerns, instead of downplaying them as just another imaginary limiting belief. Right now, your fear of success may be nothing more than a vague feeling or some faint image of what might happen that flashes by in your imagination. The fear is there but you are pushing it aside. Instead of trying to ignore your fear, face it.

Use pen and paper and start making a list of all the problems that you fear you will have to face once you reach your goals. How will you deal with the pressure of customers? What will you do when you get overwhelmed? How will you keep things going when you get sick? What are the worst case scenario’s? Again, get it out of your head and write everything down!

  • For every problem on the list, start brainstorming whatever solution you can come up with. Your worst case scenarios will turn into real world problems that can be solved. What will typically happen here is that you get stuck on just one solution that you come up with and that solution will have so many negatives associated to it that you won’t even consider it as a solution. That’s your resourcefulness going out the window. Come up with at least three possible solutions, however improbable they may seem. Can’t think of any? That’s you still being unresourceful. It’s the age of information, do your research! Use Google. Reddit. Quora. Ask a friend. Ask a total stranger. Ask your competition.
  • Get crystal clear on your values and define what success means to you. What are the things that you do not want to compromise on to become successful? Make a list. It’s perfectly possible to be successful and make time for your family, your relationship, pay attention to your health, etc.

But when you are on a roll you may not feel like you want to pay attention to other important areas in your life. You may not want to take time out to play with your kids or spend an evening with your partner. That doesn’t make you a bad person, that makes you human. That’s the intoxication part of success that’s pulling at you.

Don’t give in to it. Come up with a list of warning signs that will let you know when you are compromising on your values. Be as specific as possible. For example: I’m compromising my health if I’m eating junk-food more than once a week, when I’m not getting 7 hours of sleep, etc. Make sure you review your list at regular times and be really honest with yourself. This is going to be the hardest part and it’s wise to give your list to your partner or your best friend so they can help to hold you accountable.

  • Ask yourself what outside help you can enlist. What specific service providers are out there to help you deal with certain problems? Do some research. Make a few calls to get some information. You don’t have to enlist these services now, that depends on your current needs. The idea is to become more aware of possible resources out there. This will help you reduce the fear of being rendered powerless once you become successful. Also, share your concerns with people close to you. That way you won’t feel like you have to face everything on your own. Better yet…
  • Work with a coach. A coach will help you to overcome your fear of success AND will stand by your side when you do become successful so he or she can help you navigate the turbulent waters of success. If every top performer in the world works with a coach, why would you deny yourself that edge?


And every time a new fear pops up, you just add it to the list and go through the same process.

Are you ready to take your leadership to the next level?

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2018-03-09T11:33:40+00:00 Parenting, Professional, Relationships|
Serge Maes

Serge Maes