Fear of Success: Fighting the Anti-Success Leprachaun

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by Ryan

Who the heck would fear success, it’s like avoiding the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow because you’re afraid a leprechaun will come out and bite you. It may sound like a weird fear to possess, but fear of success is something that stops a lot of people from going after their dreams and reaching their financial potential.

This is one that actually hits close to me, so I ask: have you ever worked your butt off on a project, finished about 90% of it, then decided to quit because you’re not sure you actually want the success? Are you uncomfortable with the lifestyle shift or possibly feel that you don’t deserve to be successful? Let’s examine the idea and find the best way to combat that biting leprechaun while we’re at it.

Why do we fear success?

I honestly believe that we fear success because it means change. As creatures of habit change is scary and could result in a whole new way of life. It could also mean more responsibility or stress because of our success. In my previous post I talked about having rich versus poor friends; If there is a correlation, which several people thought there might be, this means not only your wallet will change, but even your social circle. It may be harder to relate to friends and family because of a shift in perspective due to your success.

What happens when we become a success?

When you become successful in whatever arena you’re shooting for something happens. You become a leader and you gain the responsibility that comes with being the best, being the strongest, and being the one those who aren’t successful (yet) look towards for guidance. Some people really don’t want to be leaders, but they want to be a success. Can you have one without the other? When we become successful we embrace the ideas and beliefs we’ve created in our minds and convert them to reality, but this reality has side effects.

How to overcome this fear

Before you start any endeavor you have to foresee the events that come with that choice. If you’re not okay with performing in front of 60,000 people every Sunday, don’t become a pro athlete. If you’re not okay with high risk situations and having others shoot at you, don’t become a fighter pilot.

You also have to feel like you deserve to be successful. If you don’t feel you deserve it you will often sabotage yourself by living a self fulfilling prophecy iterated by thinking:

“I can’t because I’m not good enough and I don’t deserve it.”

I often wonder who am I to have people listen to me, or who am I to have wealth come into my life, I’m convinced that many ask the same questions because it almost becomes a burden to be successful because there is so much associated with it. Realize the work you’ve put in compared to others, the sacrifices you’ve made, and accept that you’re just as deserving as anyone else to be a success.

My Fear of Success

This blog was started for fun, because I enjoy writing, and I enjoy being a sarcastic guy that can relate personal finance to seemingly anything. Writing is fun, talking about money is fun, and talking with you fine folks is fun. So when does it stop becoming fun?

For me it stops being fun when there becomes more responsibility and it becomes something that I have to do, not just because I want to do it. I often find that I sabotage myself even in relation to this blog. For me success in one realm of my life often means you have to commit to it through thick and thin (via persistence, which one of the best qualities you can have). This stick-to-it-ive-ness is something that means you’ve made your choice and you’re going to follow through it rain or shine. For me, this commitment is pretty darn scary, because what if it’s the wrong choice?

I don’t like being in the spotlight, I don’t like commitment, and I don’t want to tie myself down to a particular idea, person, or even geographic area. However, success may require it, and I may simply have to face my fears. I may have to take one for the team and be a success 😉

Do you have a fear of success?

How have you overcome your fear of success?

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{ 40 comments… read them below or add one }

Tom | Build That List March 15, 2010 at 2:40 pm

That is a really interesting point. We always look at the fear of failure and forget that a lot of people struggle with a fear of success!

I have faced this personally with the bit where you mentioned that we fear that we may no longer relate to our friends. But I decided that if I want to be successful then either my friends will join with me and make the change themselves, we will continue the friendship even with our differences, or we will part ways.
.-= Tom | Build That List´s last blog ..Finding the Perfect Temperature For Your Mailing List =-.

Search Engine Viking March 15, 2010 at 3:17 pm

Thanks for “taking it for the team” and bringing us this blog. I love it, and probably visit at least two or three times per day.

That said, don’t kill yourself man! The last thing any of us would want (do you like how I’ve appointed myself the ambassador of your faithful readers, haha!) is for you to burn out. Your blog is fun: It’s fun to read and seems like fun to write. But if it’s turning the corner from “fun” to “work” on your end… let me be the first to say it’s okay to scale back a little.

You’ve been working your @ss off (I’m not sure if you have a swear filter, so I filtered myself) on this blog, and read a while back that you’ve committed to writing at least one post per day – often times more. That’s a lot of work, and I don’t think anyone would blame you if you took a day off to enjoy that killer beach you live on. There’s a reason why we have weekends and vacations 😉
.-= Search Engine Viking´s last blog ..Why Blog Commenting Rocks =-.

Money Funk March 15, 2010 at 6:02 pm

Okay, Ryan. I think we must be on the same wave length with our thoughts. I have feared success on many levels and thus, quit my projects when I was almost there. Why? Because I wonder if its the ‘right’ choice and ‘can I see myself doing this years down the road’. Commitment to a project… scary. But I think it might be necessary to see it through.

Well done post! Another excellent one submitted in the blog-o-sphere. 😀
.-= Money Funk´s last blog ..Book Review & Giveaway: Secrets of a Stingy Scoundrel =-.

Financial Samurai March 15, 2010 at 6:14 pm

Hi Ryan, good post. I don’t have much fear of success, quite the opposite actually. I fear failure. Because I fear failure, I rationally try and make it succeed.

Maybe being successful is scary, but I’m not afraid yet.
.-= Financial Samurai´s last blog ..How To Apologize For An Error? Martyr Yourself! =-.

Jeremy Johnson March 15, 2010 at 6:38 pm

I’ve feared success and felt unworthy of success most of my life (up until a couple years ago). I’m not sure why this was, maybe I just never got the self esteem I needed until recently. Maybe I was afraid of having to commit to something other than a day job. Thankfully that mentality is gone now. I fully embrace whatever success will come my way, along with all the responsibility, scrutiny, mistakes, etc… that will come with it.

Kiesha @ Highly Favored March 16, 2010 at 12:39 am

I don’t have that problem – I certainly fear failure more than success. But I do understand how someone could be afraid of the responsibilities that come with success, of the life changes that may take place. These are often the people that have success seemingly thrown in their lap. I’m sure it’s a paralyzing place to be, but I’d take success any day over failure.
.-= Kiesha @ Highly Favored´s last blog ..Be a Blessing: Find your Ministry =-.

Investing Newbie March 16, 2010 at 2:40 am

For all those that said they fear failure, I think that is just a distorted form of fearing success. I initially had the same reaction to this post, but I feel like many people, myself included, stay in positions that make them feel comfortable, that make them feel successful, so that they never fail. I say if you aren’t being challenged daily, then you’ve gotten too comfortable and its time for a change.

Given that the “fear” is mental, I usually fight through it. Sweaty armpits and all. I just know that at the end of the struggle, I’ll feel and be better for it.
.-= Investing Newbie´s last blog ..I’m a Bi-Monthly! You? =-.

Tess The Bold Life March 16, 2010 at 4:56 am

For me one of the most difficult things about the success I’ve experienced in my life is the jealousy of some family members. I used to share about my personal life and travel etc. Then I found them reacting angry etc. When I thought they were enjoying my stories they were envious. I didn’t have a clue.

I quit writing and sharing in the family newsletter and never looked back.
.-= Tess The Bold Life´s last blog ..Life Is Good, Don’t Miss It =-.

Money Reasons March 16, 2010 at 6:31 am

I think success is measured in waves or levels…

So I get to a certain point where what I’m doing pretty good, but then I realize what it takes to get to the next higher level(s). So I freeze at the level I’m at, enjoying knowing that I could go further but not doing so.

With some things, it seems like 90% of the work is easy, but it’s that extra 10% to evolve to the “expert” level that takes twice as long to master as the first 90%. I use to get 80 to 90% task done, but freeze when I realize what I have to do (and the sacrifices I have to make) to conquer that top 10% (then 5%, 1%…)

Or at least I use to be that way, now I need to set an example for my kids. So now I run a little faster, sweat a little more, and look with a deeper focus than previous stages of my life.

Nice thought provoking post!!!
.-= Money Reasons´s last blog ..What I Have Learned To Date From Blogging! =-.

Paul March 16, 2010 at 9:40 am

Ryan,

I think I’ve read a post about fearing failure earlier today; it must be the latest theme. I believe fear of failure comes from whatever’s in the head. That is the biggest obstacle to our success; overcome that and achievement of our goals will follow.

Great post thanks for sharing this.

Regards

Paul
.-= Paul´s last blog ..Performance Related . . . =-.

LenciB March 16, 2010 at 11:11 am

Wow! I agree that your mind controls where you are and where you’re going (to a certain extent!). I’ve started out of the house in a rush forgetting to pray and said to myself: I’m going to have a bad day because I didn’t stop and pray. And sure enough, I brought the bad day on myself. Looking back at the day I noticed that the issues I faced weren’t really that bad. Had I not had that mindset from the beginning I could have handled those things with ease.

I used to fear success with my acting career because I wasn’t ready for change. Honestly.

myfinancialobjectives March 16, 2010 at 2:04 pm

Interesting post, I’ve never heard of being afraid of success before. I can say that I am slightly afraid of some success that I have had at work. The additional responsibilities that are headed my way are a bit intimidating, but I love a good challenge. I guess it’s more like butterflies….
.-= myfinancialobjectives´s last blog ..The Ultimate Motivator: Compounding Interest =-.

Arlene March 16, 2010 at 2:54 pm

In past years we taught ballroom dance to some who were kind and compassionate, and took a “no excuses” approach to living their dream. Keep moving! Take baby steps sometimes, big bold steps other times-in the direction of your dreams and desires. We all feel fear and believe me, I’ve been there! Especially when we’re about to do something new or important or meaningful: such as dance performance, whether at a competition or a new job. Fear is a FEELING not an action. Sometimes it’s there to protect you from real danger(like going up and petting a lion and getting eaten), but at other times it’s your unconscious mind’s way of protecting you from imagined, or or not so imagine danger. rejection, failure, disappointment.

In my article Moving in the right direction lessons of teaching dance students, We told our students not to look back but to keep moving forward no matter how hard it seem when they were moving to a dance routine in front of hundreds of people. They din’t get the prize but what they did get was price less. Overcoming Fear..
.-= Arlene´s last blog ..Building A Beautiful Life =-.

Little House March 16, 2010 at 3:47 pm

Are you sure you’re not equating fear of success with the excitement of starting something new, only to be disappointed that the dopamine rush in the beginning just isn’t the same as it is down the road? For instance, you mentioned that starting your blog was really only something you wanted to do for “fun” because you like writing. However, in my own experience, the idea of other people reading my own posts and building up traffic has driven me to continue. I love the idea of “popularity” in some weird way. The dopamine rush is making me continue, I’m also somewhat competitive and this is a key motivation driver as well.

So I’d have to disagree with you on the fear of failure. I think it may boil down to the rush you may get from competition on building up an audience. Am I wrong? Or am I just rewording your fear differently?

P.S. A few years ago, National Geographic wrote a whole article on the dopamine connected with love. It literally makes you crazy for the first year or so (compared to the brains of people who are clinically insane) and eventually wears off so that you can function normally. I wonder if competition is similar to this.
.-= Little House´s last blog ..Tuesday Tips =-.

Jarrod@ Optimistic Journey March 16, 2010 at 4:46 pm

Great post! The reason I love this post is because you’re basically saying what most people think. You are touching on a touchy topic because most people are afraid admit the side-effects that come along with their area of work or expertise. It really makes me think and challenges me to face my fears.
.-= Jarrod@ Optimistic Journey´s last blog ..The Benefit of Living an Optimistic Lifestyle =-.

Moon Hussain March 17, 2010 at 3:50 am

Ryan,

Very nicely said. You damn well nailed it, “Some people really don’t want to be leaders, but they want to be a success.” That fits me. I lean more towards an introvert. I’m fine with people I know but I’m not the type to socialize at bars, parties etc.

That gives me something to chew on for a while. It’s something I’m trying to cope with, hence the purpose behing EIP.
.-= Moon Hussain´s last blog ..Clash Of The Titans: Pros & Cons of Various Types Of Passive Income Streams =-.

LeanLifeCoach March 17, 2010 at 4:01 am

Success is no problem, it’s the work getting there that I fear! :-)

You raise some interesting questions. I really wonder though how much of it is fear of the actual success or actually a lack of belief that one deserves or is capable?

harvestwages March 17, 2010 at 6:29 am

hey Ryan,
Which side are you? are you also scared of success?
For me, i’m not afraid to succeed. But i fear to succeed alone. I’ve always seen my success as a family and friends issue. I want to succeed with all my friends and relatives, so that i won’t be seen as a proud or greedy man.
.-= harvestwages´s last blog ..How Social Media Sites Make Money Online =-.

RJ Weiss March 17, 2010 at 6:31 am

Ryan I can relate. I love to start projects, but rarely finish them. Not sure if you have read the book, Linchpin by Seth Godin, but it really helped me sort through this problem.

Watch this video on what Godin calls the “Lizard Brain.” http://vimeo.com/5895898
.-= RJ Weiss´s last blog ..12 Common Sense Principles for Successful Investing =-.

Kate March 17, 2010 at 7:44 am

Thank you for this article Ryan. While I am moderately successful at my career, I want to take it up to the next level and I think I have a fear of actually acheiving that level. My boss always tells me that I am the one holding myself back and I think it is the same as you – this fear of total commitment. It is time to take the bull by the horns. Thanks again for letting me know there are others out there!

Kristine March 17, 2010 at 10:02 am

Love the article Ryan! I think it would be helpful to focus on why you are doing this blog in the first place. You are great at writing, you relate to your audience well, and you have a great following. You are doing things right! I think it only stops being fun when you focus on the things you don’t want. Look at your bigger picture to help you past your fear of success. Success can just be the by-product of your goals for this blog. Hope this helps. :)
.-= Kristine´s last blog ..The 529 Plan – Get Educated on How To Save For College =-.

Boris March 17, 2010 at 4:32 pm

Ryan,
Great article! If you keep enjoying writing, you will succeed!
I don’t fear success.
However, similar to you, I sometime sabotage myself by procrastination. Developing a discipline is hard, but it helps a lot!
All the best!
Boris
.-= Boris´s last blog ..Google Wave – An update =-.

Valentina March 17, 2010 at 7:34 pm

Hey Ryan – great post.

First, huge congratulations on your phenomenal success … I have no doubt that you will break the 50 and then some!

I think you hit the nail on the head about fear of success … with success comes leadership and that means responsibility. It’s a double edged sword – many want the success but not the responsibility.

Then I also think that there are people for whom the 90% is easy, it’s a cake walk and they don’t have to work or try so hard, but when they get into the 90% bracket, they’re up against some really sharp tacks and to continue to advance is hard work – harder than getting to 90%. Too often these people do not have the discipline or stamina to keep going (remember for them getting to 90% was a breeze) and so they give up, rationalizing with some convenient excuse.

Will hop on over here more often – like your style Ryan.
.-= Valentina´s last blog ..Sunday Morn Musings: Designer Tomatoes & Such =-.

Simple in France March 18, 2010 at 7:26 am

It doesn’t sound like you fear the success as much as you fear some implied commitment related to success (ok, but of course, I’m no mind reader).

If you enjoy your blog and have fun writing it, styling it, getting more traffic etc–there’s no harm there. You’re having fun and learning something new. If it stops being enjoyable you can stop. I promise.

You can find guest writers, or just stop and take your knowledge on to new projects. You can even take a break if you feel like you’re burning out. You don’t have a boss and nothing can happen to you!

Maybe I’m just projecting my own experience onto your situation, but in my case, it’s not so much a fear of success. It’s a fear of the way I tackle a project–getting really involved in something to where I may find I’m giving up other areas of my life that I enjoy. The important thing in this situation is to remember that you don’t have to give up anything you don’t want to.

If that’s your case, balance and a little rest might be the key. (GO TO THE BEACH MAN!)

Alright, now I’ll put away my crystal ball and presuming to know what’s on your mind 😉

kt March 18, 2010 at 5:59 am

I am not afraid of success. i have wanted it ever since i got to know how to spell it.

Jason @ Redeeming Riches March 19, 2010 at 1:55 am

Ryan, – well written post! I tend to move back and forth between fear of success and fear of failure – I’m learning to work through both of those and move foward toward the goals!
.-= Jason @ Redeeming Riches´s last blog ..Why Does God Allow Suffering? =-.

Mrs. Accountability March 19, 2010 at 9:56 am

I think I have a fear of success because I don’t think I deserve it. I also find that I try to do too much at once and end up not being too successful in any one thing. I wish I was better at time management, too. I end up feeling a lot of guilt for days that seem to whiz by and I don’t even know what I accomplished. Great post.
.-= Mrs. Accountability´s last blog ..APS Offers $30 Rebate On Your Old Fridge =-.

Christina March 20, 2010 at 11:48 pm

Interesting article about success in a different angle. I knew a person like this who own a small business and do not want to expand because he do not want to be successful. He earns just enough to bring his kids to school , he said that if he will be successful, he can no longer spend time doing the things he love. I don’t know if that is fear of success or just fear of responsibilities but he is the only person I know who doesn’t want to grow.

The Simple Machine March 24, 2010 at 7:43 pm

I am not sure if the feeling I get is actually a fear of success. Usually the thing that makes me give up is when I do not see the return on my time and money invested in a project that I am working on.

It is the fear that I am working on the wrong project. And I realized that every time I run with a project because I see potential money in it – I eventually give up.

However, since I started blogging I realized that it is not only for money that I am doing this. It is brining about a lot of good habbits. I find myself thinking about various topics and it is helping me form my ideas and retain them.

I do not know if blogging will be a successful passive income source in the future, but I know I enjoy writing it. It gets me away from the analytical job which is basically number crunching.
.-= The Simple Machine´s last blog ..Quick ways to start Saving Money this week. =-.

James March 25, 2010 at 12:07 pm

not everyone is cut out for success and some people who find success squander it away.

my personal thought is its all mental, positive reinforcement goes a long way.

Daniel Johnston March 26, 2010 at 8:54 am

This one I can’t relate to at all. I’ve always craved success, and couldn’t imagine being afraid of it. Perhaps that may be partly because my entire life, I’ve been pretty successful.

However, I can certainly understand how some people would be scared of being successful. Some people just have not been successful in their life, and for the fear of going into the unknown, they don’t want success.

The only real way to break this is to be successful, as one will realize success is a good thing and something to stride for and get. None of the other times are as hard as the first. The problem is, many are scared, or they don’t feel they’re deserving. If people don’t want what comes along to being successful, then they shouldn’t try to be, because failing because you’re afraid of succeeding is just a waste of time.

You have to just do it, and experience how great it is to be successful if you’re afraid of it, because ones mind will conjure up illusions and play tricks on one, and I really don’t think it’s possible to convince you to do something if it feels uncomfortable aside from just doing it. Starting off with small successes would be a smart move. For example, getting your house clean, or saving an extra $100 this month.

Again, I’ve never had the experience.

Daniel Johnston March 26, 2010 at 8:55 am

This one I can’t relate to at all. I’ve always craved success, and couldn’t imagine being afraid of it. Perhaps that may be partly because my entire life, I’ve been pretty successful.

However, I can certainly understand how some people would be scared of being successful. Some people just have not been successful in their life, and for the fear of going into the unknown, they don’t want success.

The only real way to break this is to be successful, as one will realize success is a good thing and something to stride for and get. None of the other times are as hard as the first. The problem is, many are scared, or they don’t feel they’re deserving. If people don’t want what comes along to being successful, then they shouldn’t try to be, because failing because you’re afraid of succeeding is just a waste of time.

You have to just do it, and experience how great it is to be successful if you’re afraid of it, because ones mind will conjure up illusions and play tricks on one, and I really don’t think it’s possible to convince you to do something if it feels uncomfortable aside from just doing it. Starting off with small successes would be a smart move. For example, getting your house clean, or saving an extra $100 this month.

Again, I’ve never had the experience of being afraid of success.

Victorino March 29, 2010 at 4:00 am

Personally. I believe that the reason why people may become afraid of success is the strange thing that will occur to them. Just imagine if you will have a 10 million dollar now? What will you do to that money? You may also fear having an increased number of people who will befriend you – who are actually driven by money.
.-= Victorino´s last blog ..How to save money on your date? =-.

weddingdress March 29, 2010 at 4:08 pm

The only real way to break this is to be successful, as one will realize success is a good thing and something to stride for and get. None of the other times are as hard as the first. The problem is, many are scared, or they don’t feel they’re deserving. If people don’t want what comes along to being successful, then they shouldn’t try to be, because failing because you’re afraid of succeeding is just a waste of time.

Rajneesh saini April 13, 2010 at 11:22 pm

Is true the success bring fear.When we are on way heading on success we have something in our hands , we have something to be done in future.But the more close we come to success we start getting feared as we are not ready to feel that moment
Success always bring disorder with itself.
but if one know how to overcome it never look back.
.-= Rajneesh saini´s last blog ..Create a content page in oscommerce =-.

Guy G. April 15, 2010 at 6:57 pm

I think many people fear success because they are mostly lazy and procrastinators. They believe success will be way more work than failure. Success, however, if they really understood it is as Earl Nightingale says “The progressive realization of a worthy ideal.” Meaning, so long as we’re continuously working towards a predetermined goal, we’re a success.
That’s why they say success is a journey.

Amanda May 5, 2010 at 5:50 pm

Thank you for this blog! I have had a lifelong fear of success. I have let others win awards for my work, I have turned down promotions…..all because I was afraid of the embarrassment I feel under the uncomfortably bright spotlight and add to that responsibilities, pressure, and deadlines, well…I crack! I was offered a promotion not long ago (my boss’s job the day he was canned). Against my natural instinct I went for it. Then came the blackberry, the obligation to answer business calls at odd off-work hours, the expectation that I needed to make bids and write legal-binding contracts. I told my boss that my background is in Human Services, not business or finance, but was told “You’ll be fine”…..The result is that yes, I make more money now. As each day goes by I feel further away from my intended purpose of this career. I wanted to help people on a direct level by providing services more on the emotional level, not the fiscal level. Each day I am required to play the role as the cut-throat when I am merely a soft-heart. Glad to find so many others to relate to on this blog. Again, thank you so much!

Kharim May 16, 2010 at 3:12 pm

Might be they doubt that they can be successful so they become fearful
.-= Kharim´s last blog ..Blogging Your Way To Success =-.

MakingAMillionDollars August 3, 2010 at 8:44 pm

This is a very interesting concept that I now have thought into a bit deeper after reading your article. Now I feel like being a success is a personal thing. I mean I am the only person that would know if I really feel like a success. In regard to my job or career being a success and moving further up the management ladder would mean longer hours and more stress, so yes I avoid it and stay where I am. Now me building my online business and growing my extra income streams makes me really feel like a success. That is the beauty of having both worlds, I can work at one, but get excited about the other. Thanks for the Article. Steve
.-= MakingAMillionDollars´s last blog ..Double Leveraging Your Money – Shifting Multiple Income Streams to Investments =-.

Kaz February 21, 2011 at 5:31 pm

Your blog rings so true with me. My husband and I have struggled for years and have always been the poorest amongst our friends and family. However, in the last couple of years we’ve both finally acheived success in our respective careers and we now find that we are the wealthiest amongst our friends and family.
We had not anticipated that our longed for success would make us feel so uncomfortable or change the dynamics of relationships with our friends and families. It’s really weird but we definitely feel guilty for being successful and embarassed of our good fortune.
I have been shocked by how everyone expects us to pick up the tab when we go out for meals or drinks and yet no-one ever paid for us when we were skint!

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