How to Deal with the Sneaky Fear of Success

by Katherine on November 24, 2015

in dreams, goals, Guest Bloggers

I’m so pleased to have Katherine guest posting on my blog today. She’s a good friend and an excellent writer. Enjoy …

Often people talk about the fear of failure holding them back from what they want to do in their lives. Many people say that they are afraid of rejection and the pain and embarrassment caused by not achieving their goals.

For a long time I lived a safe life avoiding both failure and success — both were scary to me so it was easier to exist someplace in between. Looking back now, living in that middle ground — afraid to fail, but afraid not to fail — wasn’t really living at all.

I was just there. I wasn’t having experiences that taught me anything about myself or about life.

I have a saboteur inside my head. Maybe you do too? A saboteur wants to sabotage, control and limit you. It turns your great ideas into big jokes; it keeps you small and insecure. It likes to sabotage anything that might be “unsafe.”

fear of success

Dialogues with mine would often go something like this:

Me: Holy cow! What an amazing opportunity that just came up for me! I only dreamed this would happen for so long!

Saboteur: Holy shit. This is scary stuff. But what if they all hate you? What if you fail? This is too much. It’s not safe.

Me: But this is what I always wanted, isn’t it?

Saboteur: Maybe it will be cancelled or better yet, maybe you can cancel? Yeah, say you’re sick. Then we can just stay at home and read the Kindle in the bathtub.

Surviving, But Stagnant

Saboteurs want us to remain stagnant. All those crazy ideas of success we have? That’s some scary shit to them! Many people, despite being incredibly talented and gifted, cannot free themselves of crippling self-doubt and inadequacy even when they have the capability and the drive to do great things.

Fear is a very instinctual. It’s a survival emotion — we feel our physical existence is threatened. Although fear of failure debilitates many people, I think the fear of success is largely overlooked. Fear of success might sound weird, but consider this:

  • The possibility of success comes with increased expectations from others (and from ourselves).
  • New expectations can make us second guess our self-worth or capabilities. (Am I a fraud? Do I really deserve this success or is it a fluke?)
  • These increased expectations make fear of failure even greater, because in our minds, we think we have farther to fall.


When you fail, you can say you tried and get support and sympathy from others, but when you succeed you set up a whole new set of standards for yourself that others expect from you. You’ve come out of a safe place and actually achieved the thing you wanted, but when you turn around to hide again, you find that you can’t go back.

You have reached a new level and this has become your place now. This is the new normal of what people expect. You might think, Oh crap what have I done?

Working Against Myself

A lot of times I have wanted something, but a part of me wanted to sabotage my efforts so I didn’t have to leave my safe existence. Success can be exciting, but it can also be quite scary.

It took a long time for me to realize that there was actually a whole sabotaging dialogue going on inside my head! It was like stopping to hear the beat of my own heart or the faint ticking of the hands of a watch. I was complaining about what I wanted and needed, but if I happened to be successful in achieving these goals, I would freak out and secretly hope it wouldn’t work out.

I was standing in my own way. I wanted to expand into my true potential, but I blocked any advancement.

  • Why was I working so hard against myself?
  • What did I want?
  • Why was it so hard for me to feel deserving and competent of any achieved goals when the possibility stood before me?

Through working with my amazing coach, I’ve learned to hear what my saboteur has to say.

Listening Without Acting

I say, “Ok, so you’re scared, unsure, fearful, doubtful? I see.”

I don’t ignore these feelings because that would be like ignoring a part of me, but I don’t act on them. Instead I feel afraid and step toward scary success anyway, sometimes holding my breath and squeezing my eyes closed tight. Things haven’t gotten less scary. I have just gotten better at moving forward despite the crippling fear.

We self-sabotage when it comes to potential success because we’re scared to fail, either in the moment or (in the case of our fear of success) in the future. But is avoiding failure really living? For a long time I told myself I was doing alright because I hadn’t fallen hard on my face, but I also hadn’t really succeeded either.

It’s OK

In many ways, failing teaches us to succeed. How often in life do you take the jump, take the risk even if it scares the shit out of you?

  • Let’s become OK with being scared — with not knowing.
  • Let’s become OK with being “failures.”
  • Let’s become OK with celebrating our successes.

I welcome failure because at least it shows that I am trying and that I am that much closer to success. It shows that I am getting out there and kicking fear in the ass.

I welcome success because it’s the birthright of us all. We are here to develop into our best selves, not to listen to our saboteurs. Each of our successes can shine a light to others: as inspiration, as a call to action, as a reminder that we’re all here to be seen.

It can be helpful to stop and listen once and a while — is there a fearful saboteur voice inside holding you back from living your life the way you really want to? Don’t ignore it. Don’t shame it. Embrace it like you would a small fearful child.


“It’s going to be OK. We are all OK.”

Katherine Arati Maas writes about addiction, recovery, and meditation at She lives in Zürich, Switzerland.
Photo Credits: John Hain, niko siRotaru Florin

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Rebecca Geisler November 25, 2015 at 2:39 am

Amazing post! I can totally relate. I so needed this as I prepare for a career change and continue on my path of sobriety…actually, for so many more reasons! I’m tired of living in fear (of success).



Rebecca A. Watson November 25, 2015 at 4:38 pm

Yay Rebecca 🙂 I’m so happy the post resonated with you. Kate is such a great writer. Congrats on your sobriety. Life is better and success feels easier without booze. Best wishes on your career change. That’s so brave! well done!


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