Is it possible to be scared of success?

Imagine this conversation –

‘What are you thinking about? You look worried.’

‘I have nothing to wear.’

‘I’m pretty sure that’s not true – can you be more specific?’

‘For the Oscars. I have nothing to wear to the Oscars.’

‘What? You’re going to the Oscars? How did this happen? What are you talking about?’

‘When I collect my award.’

‘Sorry, you’ve lost me – you’re going to the Oscars to collect your award?! What for?’

‘Best screenplay.’

‘Wait … what?’

‘You heard me. Best screenplay.’

‘Honestly, I have no idea what you’re talking about. You’ve won the Oscar for best screenplay – what screenplay?’

‘Oh, I haven’t written it yet. But when I do, it’ll win. But I won’t be able to go and collect the award – I’ve got nothing to wear. No point writing the screenplay then.’

I’m unlikely to ever have that conversation with a coaching client. However, I have had a ‘dialled down’ version of that conversation with several clients. They have a big goal. We work together to create an action plan to achieve that goal.

And then sometimes things get complicated. Their minds take them straight to the end of the process at the point at which they have achieved their goals and it all becomes somehow overwhelming.

Sometimes it can seem so overwhelming that they back right away from the goal and the action plan. They quit before they even start – you could call it ‘pre-quitting’.

Why would anyone do that? In my experience, it seems to be based on a fear of success. Does anyone really fear success?

unsplash-logoSandro Schuh

Indicators of fear of success include:

  • Talking about your projects but not actually knuckling down and doing the work;
  • Taking on too much so that your focus is divided;
  • The same goals appearing on your annual goals list year after year;
  • Making great progress on your action plan but then dipping out at a key moment and missing an opportunity;
  • Feeling guilty about successes and worrying that sharing your achievements will embarrass others who aren’t doing so well or make you look conceited;
  • Not wanting to put yourself ‘out there’ in case you actually get noticed and that brings a higher level of scrutiny to your work.

What can we do if fear of success is present?

When I noticed indicators of fear of success in my clients, I ask them to tell me more about what’s behind those feelings. As we talk, it becomes apparent whether there is indeed that fear and on what it is founded. Sometimes we go on to talk about imposter syndrome, fear of failure or perhaps fear of change. Having brought these concerns into the open, we can examine them and adjust plans accordingly.

One of the strengths of the coaching relationship is this accountability to each other to explore, examine and evaluate feelings and assumptions in order to continue to make progress. My clients give me permission to draw attention to instances where I see imposter syndrome or perfectionism creeping in to hamper their work. Together, we ensure that they make the presentation, prepare for the interview, stick with the programme, maybe even write the screenplay!

Today’s pebble for you to consider: do you recognise the fear of success in your work or life?


Turning over pebbles is the blog of Thinking Space Coaching. 

If you’d like to tackle a fear of success in your career or your life,
why not email me to see how we can work together?


This entry was posted in Uncategorized and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Is it possible to be scared of success?

  1. Pingback: Dealing with demotivation (part 5) | Turning over pebbles

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.