8 Reasons a Fear of Success, Not Failure, Is Holding You Back

It is often assumed that someone who is risk averse and who resists their desire to achieve something does so because they are afraid of failing. In actual fact, there is a second fear that holds people back from striving toward their goals: the fear of success.

It may seem counterintuitive to be afraid of something that so many people spend their entire lives chasing, but success can bring challenges of its own and these can discourage some who may otherwise have the ability to attain it.

They effectively sabotage any chances they may have of fulfilling their potential so as to avoid having to deal with the consequences of their accomplishments.

But what, I hear you cry, could possibly deter people from getting ahead in life? Why would they ever be content with underachieving? Here are 8 possible reasons you might fear success in life:

1. You’re Afraid of the Unknown

Right now your life is predictable. You are in an established rhythm that you can follow without any great thought. Your job doesn’t stretch you, your finances are relatively secure, your free time is taken up by the same old routine each week, and your relationships are stable.

To succeed, you would have to rip up this script and replace it with all sorts of unknown quantities: new people, new places, new lifestyle, new activities. Upon realizing your goal, things might change yet again as your new, successful self faces fresh choices and obstacles.

The unknown is scary, so rather than give it a chance to permeate through your life, you simply put the blinkers on and pretend everything’s fine.

2. You’re Afraid of the Demands Success Might Make of You

One of the biggest unknowns is the potential new demands that success might force upon you. Your successful self might suddenly find that they have little to no leisure time left because you have to spend more of your day working, training, learning, or reacting to situations you now find yourself in.

Or your achievements might mean you have to deal with invasions of privacy (more on that in a minute), requests for help or money, and pressure to maintain the highs you have reached.

You think these things will weigh you down, so rather than let that happen, you limit your progress.

3. You’re Afraid of the Responsibility Success Might Bring

You’ve done well… very well, and now you’re accountable for so much more than you ever were before. Maybe you’ve got employees to think about, even shareholders to please, or other commitments that you can’t get out of. Did you win a scholarship to a prestigious university, get selected for a sports team you tried out for, or make your family proud in some other way?

That’s a lot to have to think about each time you make a decision. What if it’s the wrong one? What if you let people down? What if everything comes crashing down around you?

Rather than face up to the burden of this responsibility, you decide to stay put where you are.

4. You’re Afraid of the Attention Success Could Attract

Whether it’s chatter among your peers, local media coverage, or international stardom, being successful may sometimes shine a spotlight upon you. Strangers might try to talk to you, your face might find its way into magazines, and your personal choices might be poured over and scrutinized by anyone with a Twitter account.

And it’s not all going to be positive. Success has a habit of making you a target for attacks; envy can be a cruel emotion that drives people to say and do unpleasant things, and most of the time you won’t be around to defend yourself.

You don’t want to be the center of attention. Not one bit. So instead of pursuing the things that you are passionate about, you hold back and avoid the limelight.

5. You’re Afraid of Losing Your Identity

You know who you are right now. Well… mostly. You are well acquainted with your thoughts, feelings, and desires. You are comfortable in your own skin and others are comfortable with it too.

Success means change and you’re afraid that this includes your identity. You worry that you might start behaving differently – you might let success get to your head, you might take things (and people) for granted, you might lose touch with your roots. You may even alienate your loved ones (as we’ll discuss below).

The thought of becoming a different person scares the living daylights out of you, so you just maintain the status quo and pass up opportunities that come your way.

6. You’re Afraid Success Won’t Bring You Happiness

We all want to be happy in our lives. Perhaps you are right now, or relatively so. In your mind, success should bring even greater joy into your life… but what if it doesn’t? What if, after striving so hard to achieve great things, you are no happier than you are now? Or worse, you are less happy.

Is it worth taking the risk if you aren’t rewarded with greater enjoyment in your life? Are the hours and weeks and years of dedication going to pay off in the end?

Rather than ask the question, you stay silent and put your dreams on the perpetual back burner to avoid the chance of being disappointed.

7. You’re Afraid of Losing Those You Care About

That identity of yours we spoke about earlier; it’s not just relevant to you. Your friends, family, colleagues, and casual acquaintances all respond to you based upon that identity. If that changes – perhaps not in your eyes, but in theirs – will they act differently around you? What will happen to your relationships if you attain a level of success?

Might you suddenly become unrelatable or unapproachable in their eyes? Will conversations feel forced? Will the feeling of comfort you currently enjoy with them be replaced by one of awkwardness?

Not worth the risk, right?

8. You’re Afraid You Might Get Carried Away with Success

Perhaps none of the things above scare you. Perhaps the thing you fear most is that upon achieving success, it’s won’t be enough for you; that you’ll become obsessed with ever greater achievements and ever more challenging goals. You’re afraid that success will take over your life and become the be all and end all of your existence.

Sure, it happens. The emotional high of succeeding at something gets followed by the low of wondering what comes next. Will you be happy with what you have done so far, or will you have to constantly look for the next challenge, the next big thing?

Heck, if that’s what success is going to do to you, you don’t want it. You’ll just sit on your hands and keep that potential of yours hidden.


Here’s the thing about these eight components to your fear of success: they’re only one side of the story. Yes, they are part of the vast range of possibilities, but not all of them will come true. In fact, the opposite could also be true in many cases.

You may find yourself with more leisure time, you may enjoy the responsibility, you may embrace the attention, you may find your true self, you may experience so much more happiness, and you may strengthen your relationships or forge new ones.

When you fear success, you only focus on the cons and not the pros. Every “what if” question ends in a negative. You’re blinded to the wonderful things that may come about if you pursue a dream or goal.

It doesn’t matter if yours is a goal involving your career, health, finances, a sporting activity, a lifestyle you wish to lead, or something else entirely, if all you ever do is consider the negative consequences of succeeding, you will remain forever afraid to take a leap of faith.

So instead of being afraid of what success may lead to, be excited by it. Consider the good and great things that could be waiting for you if you but dive in head first to turning your dreams into reality.

– About the Writer –

Steve Waller is the founder of personal development blog A Conscious Rethink. There you can find advice designed to help you overcome the challenges standing in the way of a better, more content life. You can connect with him on Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest.


  1. Great article! Yes, I feel we are often more afraid of success and the fears you outline than the fear of failing. Thank you!!

  2. I’ve heard this before…you are obviously getting something out of “the fear”. Maybe it is a certain level of comfort in things staying the same. People’s ability to self-sabotage has no limit.

  3. I agree. As ridiculous as it may sound, I have an underlying fear of being too successful and/or having too much money because I’m not convinced that I would handle it well.

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