Challenges of High Achievers – Challenge #6: Fear of Success & Fear of Failure

We all have our fears when it comes to growth. For some, this fear shows up as a sense of inadequacy. For some, this fear shows up as a struggle to tap into their full potential. For some, this shows up as a fear of financial insecurity. For some, it simply surfaces as an ongoing pressure to keep up with the pace of their professions. For some, the fear shows up as a future of uncertainty. For some, it’s a world of challenges and problems. While for others, this fear shows up as a perpetual feeling of not being there.

But when it comes to high achievers, this fear can be broadly classified into 2 distinct groups, viz., the fear of success and the fear of failure.

Fear of Success

Which of the following statements do you resonate with?

… It’s very lonely at the top.
… I will have to keep maintaining the success that I create.
… I will be uncovered as a fraud.
… People will become jealous of me and my success.
… I will become egocentric.
… People will abandon me.
… Success will change me and I will lose the love of my family and old friends.

The bottom line is that as a high achiever, people are astounded by what you create. The more success you have and the more money you make, the greater the pressure to keep up with that level of success. And that creates this fear of success.

Fear of Failure

… If I fail, I will not be lovable.
… My family and friends will lose respect for me if I fail.
… If I fail, I will be rejected.
… If I fail, I will be exposed and vulnerable.
… I will prove to the world that I am not special after all.
… I will have nothing left if I fail.
… I won’t have the energy or self-confidence to pick up and start something new again if I fail.

Now, do you relate to any of these as well? The more we gain – respect, success, popularity, following – the more we have to lose. Losing hard-earned things can be paralyzing. At least that’s what we think inside our minds. The fear of losing everything can cause most high achievers to become paralyzed by fear. We are constantly running the script of “one wrong decision, and we are ruined” in our heads.

The Consequences

A client of mine, a driven senior professional, has a fear that his monomaniac focus could result in missing out on more easily accessible and rewarding opportunities. And, if he fails, the consequences would be too dreadful for him to pick up all pieces together and restart. Another client repackaged his fear of failure as his non-negotiables.

As high achievers, we rarely cut ourselves the slack and we often struggle to allow ourselves some break. The higher we rise, the faster our fears of success and failures multiply. And, often we miss out on the “truth.” It becomes harder for us to open up with the people around us. It becomes harder for the people around us to speak their truth. As high achievers, we rarely have people around us who can challenge us and our fears.

Secondly, as high achievers, we believe that we are our results. This creates a constant need to prove ourselves, which only further amplifies our fears of success and failure. A part of us fears too much spotlight, while a part of us fears losing it all and having everyone point fingers at us telling us we’re not good enough.

For a very long time, I associated myself, as a coach, with my results. Every client I coached, I secretly prayed to God to create results for my clients. I feared that I will be exposed or, at worse, be rejected and ridiculed. And so I always pushed for over-delivery. My 60-minute sessions overflowed into 90 or even 120-minute wavering conversations. My clients would often walk away with a feeling of what just happened instead of an “aa-ha” moment. I would be overwhelmed and burnt out. And none of this would bolster my self-esteem.

What can we do instead?

Fear is a natural consequence of our humanness. We cannot not have fear. As high achievers, we need to realize that our net-worth isn’t tied to our self-worth and esteem. It’s vital for high achievers to work on a sense of self-worth that’s derived from within, rather than seeking external validation on projects, milestones, and achievements.

Most high achievers are busy. Our ego loves busy work. And so we rarely find ourselves trying to verbalize our subconscious fears of success and failures.

Take a moment to ask yourself,
What do I fear the most about being successful?
What do I fear the most about failing?

And, then ask yourself,
What’s the worst that can happen if this fear comes true?

Once you answer these questions, you will realize how much you are really holding back from what is possible.

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