Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Fear of Success

After chatting with a friend of mine, I discovered another phobia to contemplate. (I’m always on the lookout for a new one – FOMO isn’t as much fun as it used to be.) She mentioned the “Fear of Success” as an excuse to not work on her next project. The idea seemed backward at first, but as my mind began to wrap around the concept, it started to make sense: success opens the door to the exposure of flaws and threatens to let in new challenges that one may not be prepared to handle.

With my curiosity peaked, I decided to research symptoms on the only place I know to find superior medical information AKA Google. Selfishly, I wanted to find out if I had it. What I found surprised me.

The Fear of Success can manifest itself in many ways. The four most common are:

1 – Self-sabotage
(e.g. - Drinking too much the night before a presentation or reading a book well into the night when you have an early start the next day)

2 – Procrastination
(e.g. - Finding a million other things to do when it’s time to start working)

3 – Talking, but not doing
(e.g. - Spending too much time on platform-building activities and selling your project while you should be writing/editing)

4 – Negative Outlook
(e.g. - “That agent isn’t getting back to me – it must be a rejection” or “No one’s going to like my book”)

As a change-seeker and “hit-send-on-the-email-before-thinking-too-hard-and-psyching-myself-out” kind of person, I rarely indulge in numbers 1-3. However, pessimism can be my companion at times, but is that enough to say I have full-blown FOS?

Entertaining a negative outlook is normal, I think. Be sure to comment if you don’t agree.

Another factor that plays into the Fear of Success equation is guilt. Feeling like you haven’t earned the accolade or feeling like you haven’t been doing something long enough contributes to the phobia. I do know this one well – maybe there is a little FOS kicking around inside me after all. With writing, the learning curve never ends. There are always areas to improve. Always. The idea of never truly being the best rattles me.

In sum, maybe we all suffer from varying degrees of FOS. It is all right to be scared of the unknown, but when you feel the prickle of hesitation, jump in anyway. Begin typing. Throw yourself into editing. Do what it is that you talk about doing and don’t let your fear stop you from succeeding.

What do you think? Do you suffer from the Fear of Success?


  1. Absolutely!!! I most definitely took my time editing my novel...then today...as I added the LAST (I hope...) edit, I started to feel sick to my stomach. I got butterflies and I am literally light headed. (I finished about a minute before reading your post...Ironic!)

    I am terrified of success. Success would be a HUGE change in my lifestyle. I would no longer be poor, no longer be just a SAHM, and no longer feel like I haven't done my part to contribute.

    BUT I'm ready for it. Thus I will spend the next 3 days (although I've really already been working on it for the last 4 months) conjuring up the perfect query letter and I will send this puppy out!

    ...or maybe just one more set of edits??? what do you think??? :D


  2. I think after this humbling writing experience I'd be ready... ;)

  3. No more fear of success for me. Get out there and publish it, now! Read. Write. Publish.

  4. What a great post! Thanks for researching and writing about such an important topic that so many writers struggle with. As always, you've inspired me to go forward and write instead of cramming moon pies into my gob and watching Telemundo all day whilst feeling sorry for myself. Thanks, Hilabeans!

  5. Unfortunately, I think I have an unrealistic expectation of success. I mean, you've seen my tiara, right?

    Good advice about pushing through the hesitation. Nice post!