Are You Afraid of Success?

by Terri Lloyd

There is a lot of talk about the fear of failure, but what if you aren’t afraid to fail? What if the opposite is true…the possibility of being afraid of succeeding?


artwork making a statement about gun violence

“Bunny Gun” by artist Terri Lloyd


Before we venture into this any further let it be said, life happens. We all experience unforeseen, extenuating circumstances. Sometimes a particular opportunity isn’t a good fit or business choice. Sometimes you aren’t quite ready. This isn’t about those things.

Over the years I’ve witnessed people essentially shoot themselves in the feet when it comes to opportunity. As an activist and arts advocate, I’ve seen people get comfortable in the struggle and then, like they are hot-tubbing in quicksand, become stuck.

I’ve been exposed to behaviors that range from the overt overblown prima donna temper tantrum to more subtle passive aggressive tactics. I have listened to people wax on about what if, and if only, one day and some day, pie in the sky, only to never get off the wishing pillow and take the first step. I’ve seen people do the craziest things in order to not become successful.

So, why wouldn’t someone want to embrace success or opportunity? I think it has to do with a combination of factors, a cocktail of variables with the two main ingredients of comfort and fear. Success, generally, isn’t a singular moment, like winning the lottery. Don’t get me wrong, winning the lottery isn’t such a bad thing.

However, for the rest of us, success tends to be a journey of many little wins accumulating over time into a greater picture of achievement. It involves commitment and discipline, responsibility and accountability, strategy and planning. It involves risk, and moving out of the familiar into uncharted territory. And it involves taking action and being prepared for variables. It also involves understanding resistance from loved ones, and being willing to accept change.

The following are questions I ask when the fear of success arises. They aren’t scientific, they’re just a few probing questions based on my personal observations:  

  • Do you embrace a chronic struggle to “make it” only to wiggle out of opportunities handed to you?
  • Do you have a low risk quotient? (Do you play it safe?)
  • Are you chronically late?
  • Do you refuse to, or take your time returning important phone calls?
  • Does it seem like every time you open your mouth you kill a potential sale, commission, or opportunity?
  • Do you struggle with making and keeping commitments (follow through)?
  • Do you avoid the calendar or refuse to plan?
  • Do you expect everything to go exactly as you plan? Are you afraid of or dislike variables?
  • Are you resistant to those who encourage you to take a chance?
  • Do you blame your shortcomings on bad luck, or circumstance?
  • Do you isolate yourself from other successful people, or worse, surround yourself with enablers? Other people who are also stuck and fear success?
  • Do you avoid constructive criticism, or critique?
  • Do you make excuses about why you can’t or won’t take necessary steps toward your success?
  • Are you easily distracted from your art and business practice?
  • Do you go looking for problems or focus on finding mistakes? Do you micromanage?
  • Does change make you anxious?
  • Are you afraid to ask for help?
  • Have you gotten comfortable where you are, right now?
  • Are you over-concerned what others will say or think about what you are doing?
  • Do you resent or put down others who have “made it” or are making their way toward success?

Answering yes, honestly, to a majority of these questions might be an indication of fearing success.

Next steps

So, what do you do? Well that depends on your objectives. If you want to stay where you are, do nothing. If you want to move ahead, then you commit to planning and taking action. You start where you are today and you work consistently on getting out of your own way.

Trust me, as you continue to do the work, you build momentum. As that momentum builds, it gets easier and easier to confront and resolve the fears that hold you back and move closer to your goals. Remember, success is a process and a practice. And you know what they say about practice, right?


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  1. Great article and the questions can be very revealing as to where one might be holding back their advancement to the next level.

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