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Beware the Monsters Under the Bed – How to Understand Your Fear of Success

Angela was an intelligent, creative dynamo.  If something needed to be done, done right and done quickly, Angela was the person to ask (if you could get hold of her as she was always busy).  But for all her busy-ness she didn’t seem to be making actual progress.  For all her super powered ass-kicking she had hit a glass ceiling that she wasn’t breaking through.  She had big goals but she wasn’t taking the steps forward that she needed to. She felt like she was running on a treadmill that was going faster and faster.

In a rare moment of quiet, Angela was able to examine from the outside what was going on in her professional life.   From this vantage point she could see a pattern emerge.  She was kicking ass but it was all things that she knew how to do.  Even though she was notching up the wins they were all within her comfort zone.

As this pattern became clearer she suddenly realised that she had a fear of success.   Fear of success, really?  Fear of failure yes but fear of success?  Is that like fear of winning the lottery?  Who has this?  Is it actually a real thing?

This driven, over achiever, take no prisoners go getter had a fear of success!   This was a huge shock and Angela was not happy about it.   Where did this fear that she felt deep inside come from?

Shining the light into that dark corner of herself, Angela could see that although she definitely did not want this fear holding her back, it was actually protecting her from some (perceived) dangers.  In some forgotten corner of her mind she had associated achieving success with:

  1. Further to fall. Achieving all the success she was aiming for meant that when she did get to the top of the mountain it felt there was a lot further to fall.  Hadn’t she been lucky to have gone as far as she had?  Surely this ‘luck’ couldn’t last and she didn’t want the humiliation and pain from falling from way up there.
  2. Being on a pedestal – Those people that enjoyed all their success, were they nice people?  Surely they were the elite who had no time for normal people?  By achieving this big vision, in her mind Angela ran the risk of being ‘one of them’ and separated from her friends. If she was one of them would her friends still like her?  She remembered times when she and her friends mocked these people and she didn’t want to be the one being mocked.
  3. Higher Expectations – The expectations Angela already felt being the ‘Butt kicking, dynamo’ were huge.  People looked at her and knew she got the results, she had the answers and she got the job done and that was at the level she was operating at now.  What would happen if she raised it another 2 or 3 levels higher and was expected to achieve that consistently?  She thought the expectations she would then feel would be more than she could cope with.
  4. More responsibility – Hand in hand with the higher expectations was the feeling of even more responsibility.  Angela was feeling overwhelmed every day with all that was on her shoulders, what would it be like with even more responsibility?  She was feeling weighed down by the heavy load now.  The possibility of adding more?  No thanks!

This insight came as a flash of illumination.  This fear she felt actually had a caring intention and wanted to protect her by holding her back.  With this new clarity of the burdens she was associating with success, she was now able look at them in the light of day to see which were realistic and which were just imaginary monsters under the bed.

Some of these fears were hanging around from long ago in her past and she felt comfortable releasing them. She no longer needed them as they did not fit with where she was going.  For others she had to work with a skilled coach to reset her mind to allow herself the space to grow, knowing that she had the skills, support and capabilities to climb the next mountain and stay connected to her friends while enjoying health and balance in her life.

Understanding the real fears that are holding you back and having a deeper awareness of how these fears are helping you (or not) is a key stepping stone in achieving your full potential.


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