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Helen Young

Helen Young

January 20, 2015


The Fear of Failure

Fear of success is really just a fear of failure because now you’ve got something to lose. Take the good reputation you’ve struggled to build at work. Once management starts to expect that you’ll deliver top-notch leadership, ideas, or results, this extra pressure can make success feel a lot less rosy than you expected. Read on for strategies to help you embrace your achievements and move your career forward with confidence.

1. Identify what you’re really afraid of. Dr. Liz Hale, a clinical psychologist and corporate/media consultant in Salt Lake City, points out that it is often the possible side effects of success, rather than the idea of success itself, that hold us back. If, for instance, you haven’t applied for that big promotion, spend some time writing down the reasons why. Maybe you’re really worried that if you get the job, higher-ups will figure out you’re not as smart as they thought, or that your friends or significant other will resent your progress.

2. Have a plan in place. Fears lose some of their power when you tackle them head-on. Concerned that you’re not experienced enough for a more senior role? Attending training courses or getting feedback from a mentor might do the trick. Recognize, too, that some of the outcomes you fear may not be avoidable. If, for instance, your BFF really is jealous of your advancement, there’s a chance you’ll lose the friendship—but the upside is that you’ll soon know your real friends from your frenemies.

3. Cut out procrastination and self-sabotage. Once you’ve identified your fears and steps to deal with them, work to eliminate any other bad habits that are blocking your road to success. The day before a big meeting, do you spend hours updating your Facebook page rather than polishing your presentation? Instead of getting a good night’s sleep before work, are you up half the night watching TV or cleaning your closet? Recognize the crutches you use to waste time or dodge responsibility, and set firm rules for yourself to avoid them.

4. Consciously choose your path forward. Finally, Dr. Hale advises frequently aligning your short-term goals with your longer-term values. For example, at some point it might hit you that your real dream is to become a self-employed consultant rather than to make CEO. Says Dr. Hale, “That’s NOT fear of success—it’s about being rational and adaptive. If you don’t want to scale the corporate ladder, good for you, as long as you know what you’re doing and why you’re doing it.”