The fear of success and why it’s more deadly to your long-term goals than you think

The Fear of Success -

“There is no terror in the bang, only in the anticipation of it.” – Alfred Hitchcock

I mentioned last week that I was readying myself mentally for being my husband’s plus one at his high school reunion and my struggles with impostor syndrome. My husband had told me not to worry. I should have listened, though not for the reason he intended.

After all that build up I was only asked once about myself.

“Life is a long lesson in humility.” – James M. Barrie

Admittedly that might have had a little to do with the fact that I spent the much of the evening chatting with a couple I’ve known since college, one of whom was also in my husband’s graduating class. But still. After so much preparation and nervous anticipation, it felt a wee bit anticlimactic, disappointing even, not to have been asked to launch into an over the top justification of all my life’s decisions at least twice.

This is not to say I was disappointed in the event. The venue was lovely. The handful of people I did manage to meet were great, though our conversation typically consisted of: “so where are you living now?” , “how many kids do you have?” , and “did you see which way your husband went?” It seems they were just more interested in catching up with their long-absent classmates than learning all about some stranger he brought in from the street. It was enough to make you think that was the entire point of a reunion. Go figure.

“Life would be tragic if it weren’t funny.” – Stephen Hawking

So I didn’t dazzle, nor did I amaze, but I had a good time, which I think counts for something. The question is, does it count enough?

When researching impostor syndrome, I came across another social fear, one even more destructive: achievemephobia, the Jonah Complex, or the fear of success.

At the time, I skimmed over it. I brushed it off. I didn’t fear success. I’ve told myself and I’ve written on this blog, that I view success as something different than giant houses or fast cars.  It is freedom, security, and time with the family. It’s not fame or fortune (though I’d somehow find it in myself to accept either). It’s not something to be feared.

But then, like the glutton for punishment research, I am, I clicked on links. I read further.

Questions that plague the achievemephobic:

  • What if success is only temporary? How will I handle success begin taken away? After working so hard to get this far, would I really be willing to do it all again?
  • What if my success makes me a target? What if it endangers those I love? Do I really to risk that kind of attention?
  • What if success changes me? What if it changes my relationships with others?
  • What if the world finds out I don’t have what it takes? (Impostor Syndrome rearing its head)
  • What if my success means I no longer have time to spend with the people I care about or doing the other things I love?
  • What if I like routine? Why should I risk disrupting it?

People with this fear aren’t typically lazy but they make excuses like “I don’t have the time right now,” or “I’ll get it done after I take care of xyz.” They procrastinate while to everyone else it looks like they are busy achieving. They redirect. They go out of their way to ensure the goal line remains right where it is, in sight, but just out of reach. This way they never have to truly deal with their fear of the what ifs or learn the answers to these questions. Their fear of larger success is a killer and makes their failure a certainty.

I don’t blame them. Seeing these questions in black and white, the lack of certain answers scare me too.

I had a good time at the reunion, but after so much preparation, I now feel as if I could have done more. I am wondering if there might be a little more fear of success in me than I’d like to admit, but the past is past. All I can do now is be aware and try harder the next time.

Fear can actually a good thing in our lives. A healthy fear of pain keeps us from sticking our hand on a hot burner. Fear of heights keeps us from dancing on a cliff’s edge. A fear of sharks can make for entertaining stories and awesome blog fodder. We all have them.

  • You fear the burner because you’ve been burnt.
  • You fear the edge because you’ve fallen
  • You fear sharks because … well, that’s just good sense.
  • You fear success because … because the unknown is stubbornly uncertain and terrifying in its possibility.

“The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown.” – H. P. Lovecraft

The difference between a fear of success and other phobias its focus on what could happen in the future rather than what has happened in the past, but that doesn’t mean it is a fear any less able to be managed or overcome.

Just as we wouldn’t recognize the good in our lives if we didn’t experience the bad, understanding our fears and finding the way to rise above them is what separates the brave from the idiotic. Fear can be a teaching mechanism too. So I am not afraid to admit I have fears, but I am learning to ask better questions, like how I can stop poisoning my goals, and how I can stop standing in the way of my own success.

May you find success overcoming your fears and never fear being overcome by success. – Me

*quotes courtesy of



27 thoughts on “The fear of success and why it’s more deadly to your long-term goals than you think

  1. Your quote is perfect. So true. What I was thinking as I read this is that fear of success has a lot to do with anxiety, while fear of being an impostor has to do with depression. One is looking forward with worry while the other is looking back with despair.

    Reading the achievemephobic questions I can say that none of them worry me. I could be a success– or maybe I am one and I don’t know it?! 🤔 Of course I’m a free spirit at heart so doing my own thing, regardless of potential negative consequences, comes naturally to me.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. The one that gets me is the second to last question, but I am reminded of another quote, if you are willing to sacrifice for what you want, what you want becomes what you sacrifice.

      I just want to have my cake and eat it too. Is that really so much to ask 🙂

      There is a lot to be said about being a free spirit.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I love learning new things here! Also, glad the reunion wasn’t tragic, but sorry it wasn’t tragically hip.
    And this post’s best line was… dun-duh-duuunnnn… “You fear sharks because … well, that’s just good sense.” 😛

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I’m enjoying the complex and syndrome names, though pretty soon this sort of research is going to be like visiting WebMD for me. What? You have the sniffles? Too bad – you are dying next week.

      And I stand by that statement. 🙂


  3. I love all the insights you share in your posts, Allie. I’m glad you survived the reunion and it sounds like you even had fun. I think a lot of how we determine success comes down to what we measure and how we measure it. I think that if we’re doing what we love and feeling happy, that’s success. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You and I share very similar definitions of the word. 🙂 I did have fun. The venue was this beautiful open barn with a fire pit outside which was owned by one of the class’ former teachers who had turned it into an event rental as part of his retirement dreams. The planning committee really did a nice job keeping the event “in the family.”

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I suppose, Allie, that to achieve in one direction is to give up something in another direction. Life is a trade off and no-one can be successful at everything. Does it boil down to your priorities in life? A very thought provoking post.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Terrific post Allie.. I think also as children we are kept within boundaries and are given a lot of Don’t do this Don’t do that verbal messages that can stay with us. We have a period of sticking our necks out in work and personal relationships, perhaps travel and adventure but there comes a time when many start listening to other messages such as ‘You are too old to do that!” Tough to overcome conditioning but so worth it.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. My dear, you’re already successful. You’ve got a popular blog, you’ve written books (something so many people only talk about doing), you seem to have a loving family (another thing many people only dream about) but if you mean fame, I do believe that’s something to be cautious about wishing for. It’s a validation for sure but it has risks. I think that’s why so many writers are hermits. Okay, take care. Just my opinion and hardly worth sand.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh my goodness, that’s incredibly sweet to say and you are right about the fame part. While some is nice for the ego, I wouldn’t want to be so famous that I couldn’t handle interacting with the outside world any more.


  7. And then there are those of us who have both fear of failure AND fear of success. Talk about a conundrum . . . LOL 🙂 All kidding aside, you have provided an excellent examination of the subject. It’s more common than you’ll ever know.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. I had a decent time at my 20th reunion. At my hubby’s, I was bored stiff. I knew no one (he’s two years older), and he spent time socializing. I sat alone. I hate mingling and small talk. The funny part about my reunion was no one remembered me. All the stuck up ones came up and introduced themselves. In school, I was one of the ones they picked on. Odd how people change. No one in my close circle of friends from school went. We were the outcasts. My 40th reunion is this year (it might have taken place already). I’m not going this time. Once was enough for me.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Thoughtful post as usual, Allie. You have identified on the page many grownup fears. As people pass through different stages in life, different fears play out in different ways. My husband and I oversee the care of his father, and I observe the burden that fear weighs on his life, increasingly so, until those “don’t do this, don’t do that” voices overpower all other possibilities. And don’t get me started on the “what if’s”—another rabbit hole of potential yet unlikely anxieties. The power of a positive attitude can truly make all the difference. Most writers (or humans) don’t reach JK Rowling fame, but satisfaction in life and knowing you achieved goals can be enough to life each day to the fullest. Thanks for your insights in this thought-provoking post!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I am sure that even JK Rowling never dreamed of achieving JK Rowling status. I’ve started measuring my day to day success in terms of time spent doing something I enjoy. Obviously no day is perfect. Life gets in the way, so one day I might only consider myself to be say 10% successful for that day. But the next day I might hit 60% or 70%. As long as there are more full days than less, I know I am on the right track.


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