When Fear of Success and Fear of Failure Meet

When Fear of Success and Fear of Failure Meet

As I recently wrote about the Impostor Syndrome, I was delighted to see this text by Beth Tarbell that beautifully complements it. This is Beth’s first contribution to Primos Populi. Welcome, Beth!

It’s common for people to have a fear of success or a fear of failure, and both can be paralyzing – personally and professionally. But, what about having an equal fear of success and of failure? You might be thinking, “What does that mean,” or “What does that look like?” 

What this Paradoxical Belief “Looks Like”

I’ve seen this dynamic at work at various points in people’s lives. It looks something like this: A person has a great idea. At first, they’re pumped up, excited. But then, waves of fear and doubt wash over them, drowning out hope. They stick to non-challenging endeavours to stay “safe.”

Why? Because of old mental images, programs and beliefs, which can include any or all of the following:

  • If they’re too successful, others won’t like them. But if they fail, they’ll let people down.
  • They don’t deserve to be successful, but they can’t fail because that would look bad. And, if they have success, the other “shoe” must drop, and that would be “bad.” Better to be safe than go out on a limb and fall out of the tree.
  • This is part of what is commonly known as the “imposter” syndrome – if people found out how “average” they really are, people wouldn’t respect or like them.

How it Plays Out

Fears of success and failure prevent them from taking risks or stretching out of their comfort zone. Better to have a mediocre career than to venture out and fail spectacularly. So, they stick with a dead-end job that is not challenging or fulfilling. Although technically, they aren’t “failing,” they become trapped in mediocrity and give up on their hopes, aspirations, and dreams.

This fear of the two opposites – success and failure – overwhelms them, prevents them from taking action, and they remain “stuck in a rut.”

What to do about it

It sounds pretty desperate and hopeless, and it can certainly feel that way, but there is always hope. There is a way out of the morass.


A few simple tools can help pave the way toward a new beginning.

  • Journaling: Writing a journal (it doesn’t have to be shared with anyone, although that can be helpful, too) can provide insights. Write down ideas and any feelings that immediately come up about implementing those ideas. Try to write in it 3-4 times a week and then review the content at the end of the week. Patterns of thoughts will emerge. This can be helpful in combatting negative thinking.
  • Talking to a Trusted Colleague: This person can provide objective insights and moral support. Joining supportive groups on LinkedIn to gain professional advice, insights, and inspiration can also help.
  • Following Inspirational People on LinkedIn and Social Media: It is especially helpful during bleak times when despair seems to rule the day. These people are like a ray of sunshine and a breath of fresh air. See my list below for some inspirational people that I follow.
  • Expressing Gratitude: The old saying, “have an attitude of gratitude” goes a long way in gaining perspective, keeping thoughts positive, and alleviating anxiety and depression.
  • Meditating and Exercising: These activities can alleviate stress and tension from the body and mind, which can help in gaining a more realistic perspective of the situation.
  • Utilizing Positive Self Talk: Acknowledging even small accomplishments can help to build up confidence. “I feel really good that I sent that resume out with some examples of my work!”
  • Seeking a Coach or Counselor: This is especially important if the fear has strangled out all hope. Outside support may be needed. Search “Career Coach,” “Career Counselor,” or “Counselor” on Google or LinkedIn.
  • Joining a Support Group: Many support groups are free. It feels good to be with others who are working on overcoming the same fears. Meetup.com is a great resource.
  • Starting Small: If a project seems too big or overwhelming, break it down into small tasks. Don’t try to do everything at once. For example, if you’re struggling with something, you could start journaling about it, or you could start by incorporating a few minutes of positive self-talk each day and build from there.
  • Helping Others: Nothing feels as good as helping others! It doesn’t even have to be a big gesture. Simply sending someone a positive note or paying a sincere compliment to someone can boost your morale and theirs.

Helpful Articles

Simple ways to Take Care of Yourself

When Fear of Success and Fear of Failure Meet
Credit: Sacha Chua on Flickr

Inspirational People on LinkedIn:

  • Dr. Travis Bradberry: He is a world-renowned expert in emotional intelligence who speaks regularly in corporate and public settings. His posts are encouraging and informative. 
  • Olivier Fortier: He is very motivational and helpful – always wanting to serve and uplift others.
  • Brigette Hyacinth: She helps others to find work and hope. Her motto is “Bring back the HUMAN in Human Resources!”
  • John Isbell: He is an awesome speaker and leader, who always motivates and inspires others. I’ve had the honour and privilege of hearing him speak – he is amazing.
  • Liz Ryan: She is an HR Professional who advocates for the rights of employees. She offers inspiration and helpful advice about employer-employee relations, employee rights, interviews, salary negotiations and many other employment-related topics.
When Fear of Success and Fear of Failure Meet
Article Name
When Fear of Success and Fear of Failure Meet
Fears of success and failure prevent people from taking risks or stretching out of their comfort zone. Beth Tarbell suggests a way out of this morass.
Primos Populi
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