The fear of success drives wasted potential. Playing a smaller game does nobody a service. Clowning around and playing to fail allows avoidance of potential and entrenches waste.

Abraham Maslow* described fear of success as the ‘Jonah complex’ – a way of being that prevents a person from realizing their potential.

How often do you hear someone say that they are afraid to succeed? How often do you say that to yourself? Fear of success is not a conversation we often have because being afraid to succeed is usually unconscious.

Meet Frederick… Considered successful, he was in a comfortable and yet challenging corporate role that played to many of his strengths and rewarded him well financially.  And yet Frederick wanted more – he wanted to build his own business and create a different lifestyle. He had the skills, knew what to do, and was confident in his ability, and yet was constantly procrastinating, coming up with a wide range of ‘good reasons’ to justify why he had compromised his goals and not honored commitments he had made to himself.

Frederick’s fear of success underpinned his self-sabotaging behaviour.

There are many reasons we can be afraid of success:

  • It’s hard work at the top: Once we achieve that level of success, there is a fear that it must be maintained and this responsibility could be all consuming.
  • Rock stars are criticized: It’s easy to fear that Australian cultural cringe of bringing down people who are successful. (Thanks to my mentor Peter Cook for the rock star lesson.)
  • My current life may not fit me: The fear of outgrowing our current life, including friends, family, and other support structures.
  • Unsure who I will become: It can be frightening to update our sense of self-identity to accommodate the success, and to develop new ways of being and working.
  • A long way to fall: The higher up the success ladder we climb, the further it is to fall.

Wasted potential is built into our systems and I want this to stop!

I would love to know why you think people (maybe even yourself) are afraid of success.

Have an Extraordinary day


* ‘The Farther Reaches of Human Nature’, Abraham H. Maslow, 1994


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