6 Crippling Fears That Push Success Away

Part of Kathy Caprino's new series "Finding Brave"

Some time ago, I sent out a survey to my community of 50,000+ subscribers – many of whom are deeply longing to launch themselves and their ventures to the highest level, and make a big impact in the world. 

I asked my community of men and women to share candidly about the support they wish they had, and what holds them back most from taking the critical, brave steps required to start building a happier and more rewarding life and livelihood.  

The feedback shared was fascinating, all about what folks want deeply, and where they feel most stuck in their lives, businesses and careers. And much of what they shared revealed deeper information about their crippling worries and fears.

After reading these survey comments and my community’s wishes and dreams, it became clearer than ever that what holds so many people back from taking even one small step forward is their deeply ingrained fears about what higher-level success will bring, and what they will have to face about themselves to get it.

The 6 most crippling fears I see that hold people back from embracing change, and making their biggest visions a reality are:

“I don’t deserve it.”

The top challenge I see among people who want so much more in life but aren’t getting it is, deep down, they don’t believe they really deserve it. So often, in childhood and early life, people have been slapped down, when an authority figure (a mother or father, or teacher) tells them they’re not smart, talented, courageous, strong or persistent enough to make great things happen in their lives. 

They’ve heard from someone they trust and believe that they’re lazy, childish, stupid, or lacking some key trait the authority figure was sure they needed. And they’ve bought into this nonsense, and can’t shake it. They think that success is only for the “worthy.” They don’t understand that great success is available and possible for anyone who is ready to do the committed inner and outer work necessary to be of help in the world.

Tip: Every single person on this planet is worthy of success. It wasn’t handed out in small doses to a few select individuals when we were born. You can have the success you want, but not until you understand that it’s your actions, mindset and your commitment that need revision, not the world outside yourself.

“I’m not good/smart enough.”

Another crushing fear is that “I don’t have the goods (compared to others) to have fantastic success.” Folks with this fear look around at the competition and think, “Oh brother…they have so much more to offer than I do.” Or “They are much farther ahead in terms of talent, smarts, education, credentials, and ability than I am.” The reality is that the top competition might be 10 (or 100) steps ahead of you, but unless you’re OK with the idea that you have some learning to do, and start doing something about it, you’ll never get out of the starting gate.

Tip: Don’t run from the fact that you need to grow and learn. It’s nothing to be ashamed of. We all need to grow and learn. Embrace it, and do something important today to expand your knowledge, skills and emotional toolbox.

“My life will spin out of control.”

I’ve seen evidence of this fear countless times among women in particular – especially those with young children or who are planning a family. They fear that great success will take over their lives, wreak havoc on their personal time, and make it impossible to live the life they want. 

In my coaching work, I address these fears by helping my clients understand what’s required to prioritize their non-negotiables and live from that knowledge. After all, you can’t “unring” a bell, meaning once you figure out what you need to have and do in your life to build a great one on your terms, you’ll start to build the appropriate boundaries and “chops” you need (communication skill, decision making, internal fortitude) to make those priorities a reality.

Tip: Your life won’t spin out of control if you don’t let it. Make a list of your top priorities in life – both short-term and long-term – and start enforcing your boundaries (saying “NO” to those people and projects that impinge on them) so that your success will not suck all the time, joy and purpose out of your life, but enhance it.

“People will find out what I don’t know.”

This impostor fear (that you’re not who you are pretending to be and someone will find out) is highly active in so many people. I see women incredibly fearful about coming out in the world because they’re scared people will poke serious holes in what they think, believe, and do. They’re afraid to develop their thought leadership, to write that blog, develop that workshop or book (and to say what they really want to say), because they fear others will tear it down and label them hacks, wannabees and “fakers.”

Tip: It’s a fact – the more you stretch, the more people will try to tear you down. As you spread your wings wider and farther, you’ll inevitably bump into more challenge and disagreement. That’s part of the territory. The question is, “How much do you really want this? “ 

If you want greater success and greater impact, you need to stop yourself from feeling emotionally devastated when people attack you and your work. And you need to stop feeling elated when people say you’re great. Either edge of that sword – being wedded to praise or destroyed by criticism – will hold you back from your biggest dreams.

“Scary things will happen to me when the world knows about me.”

Friends, clients and colleagues have shared with me that, deep down, they’re afraid of a hostile world, and of what will come when they are more successful. They’re afraid that strangers will know too much about their lives, hurt them, or invade their privacy in a harmful way. They also see how hateful the internet can be, and how anonymous commentators take others down with cruelty and vitriol a thousand times a day for what they’re putting out in the world.

Tip: If you want “safe,” you’ll have to learn to be happy living and operating in a very small, controlled sphere. If you want great success and impact, however, you’ll need to get comfortable with the unknown, and in trusting that the Universe is basically a friendly, loving one, if you are committed to doing your part to make it that way.

“I’ll blow it badly and won’t recover.”

Finally, this fear – that you’ll make some very serious mistakes that you can’t recover from – is the most limiting. We’ve all heard that you have to embrace failure and risk and make them your friend if you want success at the highest level. But I’ve seen that people who are “perfectionist overfunctioners” – doing more than is healthy, more than is appropriate, and more than is necessary and needing an “A+” in all of it — actually can’t overcome this fear without help. They have very fragile egos and they’re striving desperately to be approved of. They live in fear that they’ll blow it, because when they slip up and make mistakes, they allow their mistakes to shatter and defeat them. (This fear of failure is often developed in childhood, exacerbated by overly-demanding and overbearing parents who don’t know how to parent effectively.)

Tip: If you simply can’t live with failure of any kind, please get “hip to your trip.” You’re not confident and controlled – you’re afraid. (I know because I used to be just that.) The best way to get over that fear is to start making mistakes, and learn to love and accept yourself in the face of them . Stretch out of your comfort zone and agree to allow yourself to mess up, and high-five yourself when you do.

And for a bit of inspiration, check out this fabulous talk by Brené Brown on “Why Your Critics Aren’t The Ones Who Count.” Amen to that!

It’s an inner job first to become successful on your own terms, and experience life as joyful, rewarding, and meaningful.  Time to get cracking and do the work of getting in the cage with your fears, and keep moving through them every day to reach your highest visions for your life and work.

To build more success in life and work, check out my Career Breakthrough Programs and support at FindingBrave.org.  And take my quiz to learn how to leverage your authentic Action Style more powerfully.

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