Fear of success can be stifling: Part 1

Fear of success can be as paralyzing as fear of failure

As we live our lives, both personally and professionally, we are encountered by choices and consequences; successes and failures; challenges and alternatives.  Our human nature is one of comfort and safety and an inherent fear of failure.

Risk adverse and risk tolerant personality traits are often characterized as conflicting virtues.  Often times, the statement of “no risk equals no reward” is used, perhaps out of context.  This elicits the need to risk to succeed, which is not always the case.

Certainly, the ability to accept risk tends to lead to more opportunity to succeed, however most of us are successful (however we individually define success) with very little risk taken at all.  As humans, we constantly evaluate our options and decide to proceed accordingly.

As I have written previously in the article “Process over outcome equals long term success”,  failure is an important experience.  Failure creates an opportunity to learn which in turn presents an increased opportunity to succeed, unless one repeats the actions that led to that failure. 

However, as most of us want success as much as possible, this can have a similar stifling effect.  Sometimes, the unknown outcomes of a successful experience can lead to a fear to continue down that path.  Success can lead to unintended consequences, which being unknown, can be a scarier proposition than what happens upon failure.

Now, this concept is much more complicated than what can be described in a short article, however let’s think of two things.

  1. Fear of failure can hold one back as the failure can have a negative impact.
  2. Fear of Success can hold one back as the unknown consequences connected to the success can be stifling and hinder continued pursuit of the successful outcome. 

In part 2 of this article by Michigan State University Extension, an example of fearing success will be discussed. 

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