Fear of Success - is it Holding You Back?


It might sound like a contradiction, because we all want to succeed don’t we? But what does success look like to you? What will it entail?

Until you get there, chances are you don’t know and that’s the problem. What you do know is that there will be change; and that’s what we fear more than anything else. It’s going into the unknown that really triggers anxiety and sometimes the old comfortable, familiar life as we know it can have a stronger pull.

Do you look at the life of someone with whom you identify as successful and wish you had that same success? But then when you put work into your own project do you sometimes think, how much more hard work and time is it going to take to become successful? Am I even up to it, or would it just be easier to continue in the same familiar way? In other words, you can talk yourself out of the necessary actions to get where you want to be, before you’ve even started.

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs

In Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, self actualisation or the full realisation of one’s potential, sits at the top of the pyramid. When all of our other needs, basic survival such as food, water, safety needs, love and belonging and self-esteem are met, then we turn to the development of ourselves to become the most we can be. But at this stage the fear of success can come into play and stop us from achieving.

Maslow called this the Jonah Complex after the biblical prophet who tried to flee his destiny. Fearing your own success is a very real phobia and encompasses the avoidance of the responsibility, the fear of loneliness, fear of being seen as arrogant and fear of being too different, that comes with greatness.

If not you, then who?

In his book The Farther Reaches of Human Nature, Abraham Maslow describes the reaction when he asked his students, who amongst them was going to be the next great leader, writer or composer. There would be embarrassment, shuffling of feet, blushing and nervous laughter amongst the group.

But then he would ask, ‘If not you, then who else?’

It’s certainly true; if you don’t write the next great novel or screenplay, become the next great leader or entrepreneur, then who will? Someone else will certainly fill these roles, but only you can do it in your own unique way.

How to Overcome Fear of Success

If we are to reach our full potential being true to ourselves is the first step. Be clear that you are the only person who can achieve the greatness you were born to fulfil. We are all unique and how we each realise our own destiny will be different too.


Keep in mind that everyone feels fear, even the most successful people. Controlling the fear is the key to stop it holding you back from your success. Consider taking up meditation as a way of keeping yourself in the present moment.


Your subconscious controls much of what you do, so visualising your success will prepare you for the great things to come; just be sure that what you are visualising is what you really want.

Make a plan with achievable goals to aim for. Stretch yourself often and get out of your own comfort zone. Taking small steps will ease you into the role you are meant to fulfil.

Do you struggle with ‘fear of success’ syndrome? Please do leave a comment with your thoughts.

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