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The Fear of Success and Why It’s Limiting Your Productivity

When you really think about it, fear is the crux of many big moments in our lives.

We’re afraid of leaving the nest and childhood home our parents built for us. Of graduating college. Of our first adult job. Of being fired. Of settling down. Or worse, settling down in the wrong relationship. Of buying our first home. Of starting a family. Of traveling in this massive, spacious world of ours. Of chasing our dreams in case we fall short of them.

In short, we’re afraid of the big decisions in life because most of us fear the risk of failure.

Yet, to an extent, we also fear the chance of success. Rather than grasping for these new experiences with open arms, some of us tend to live a more passive, safer life.

While we chuck passivity up as living realistically and within our means, in the long run this way of life limits our productivity and happiness.

We—all millennials—need to learn how to combat the fear of success so it doesn’t limit our productivity.

How can the fear of success limit productivity?

As much as we desire to succeed in life, there may be obstacles standing in our way. For some twenty-somethings, one of those obstacles is fear.

Consider how deeply you may want to graduate college or grad school, establish connections in your niche, earn a promotion, or get married.

These are life milestones that can be exciting and scary at the same time. While we want to move forward and be productive, something is holding us back; fear, in one way or another.

The fear of success can limit our productivity for several reasons:

1. We are afraid of the past. 

Perhaps in a former circumstance you were very excited about a big accomplishment, but then something terrible happened as consequence.

The old pain that lingers from an experience such as this can make us afraid of being successful, as if something bad will happen again.

Perhaps you were formerly engaged but the relationship crumbled before the wedding. In this instance, getting engaged and married may scare you.

On a professional level, consider the potential of your colleagues disliking you after you earn a big promotion.

They may resent you for transitioning from their friend to their supervisor. If this has happened once before, you could be fearful of it happening again.

2. We are fearful of our upper limit.

According to Gay Hendricks in his book The Big Leap your “upper limit” is when you go beyond your comfort zone for feeling good and manufacture a negative emotion to feel comfortable again.

The fear of experiencing the upper limit ultimately determines our productivity threshold. In other words, once we reach a certain level of motivation and inspiration we stop, therefore limiting our production potential.

3. We are afraid of our egos changing. 

Watching celebrities, politicians, artists, and even authors go from an unknown talent to a worldwide phenomena can leave a lasting impression.

While the majority of us will never become well-known in the public eye, there is reason to believe a great deal of success could potentially change our egos.

There’s a risk that you may change from a humble human being into a needy talent starving to be the center of attention. While unlikely, it’s embedded in the fear of success.

For some of us, the fear of success is a very real concern that blocks our inspiration and motivation.

Millennials fearing their own success may find themselves less productive than they have the potential to be, with much less drive and ambition than is normal.

Luckily, there are ways in which twenty-somethings can combat the fear of success and increase productivity:

1. Recognize this is normal. 

It’s normal to fear a big milestone or change in your life.

Even when it’s something we want in a big way, such as showcasing our artwork in a local gallery or performing music in a public venue, sometimes the fear we have stops our productivity.

Accepting that it is normal is the first step in combating this worry.

2. Reassure yourself that success is amazing. 

Rather than concern yourself with fear of succeeding, be open to the good feelings to follow. Put the past behind you.

Worry less about how you may be altered after this big goal or achievement. Focus instead on how utterly, ridiculously amazing success will feel and how proud you’ll be once you reach it.

3. Be disciplined and push yourself.

Don’t hold back on your production potential.

Push your ambitions as far as you can, stretching your motivation widely. You may be surprised by how much you can gain by being your best self.

4. Never be ashamed of your success. 

We all have BIG moments, like graduations, marriages, promotions, and the lot.

If you achieved something great but your friend or sibling didn’t, don’t be ashamed. Share your success.

Their time will come. Right now it’s all about you and your amazing, successful self. Bask in the feeling.

5. Use this experience as a growth opportunity.

You may be afraid of success based on a negative past experience, but this is something entirely new and different. Use this goal, achievement, etc. to grow as an individual.

Bust through your upper limit and reframe your thoughts. We are all constantly growing through our experiences, achievements, success, failures, and the like. It’s part of the process.

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The fear of success is just as real and harmful as the fear of failure. Remind yourself that we all have moments of great success and unfortunate defeat.

While the outcome can make us nervous and worrisome, it’s critical not to be halted in our efforts toward being productive.

Surround yourself with like-minded people. Being around positive energy and goals of success will come from around and within you. Combat your fears, millennials, and be your best self!

About the Author

Rachael Warren (Tulipano)

Rachael is a University of Southern Maine graduate with a Bachelor of Arts in Communication and a minor in Sociology. She remotely works full-time as a Senior Content Marketing Specialist for Champlain College in Burlington, Vermont. In her leisure time, Rachael enjoys traveling with her husband, finding the next Netflix series to binge, and taking too many photos of her dogs Jax and Kai. Rachael is obsessed with chapstick, favors the Oxford comma, and is a proud Mainer. You'll likely find her exploring New England + beyond.