It is safe to say most of us have some fear of failure. It makes sense. No one wants to be defeated, let down, or embarrassed.
Being successful comes with it’s own set of emotional issues. There are obvious issues, like the pressure to continue on your upwardly mobile path and maintain it once you arrive, but there are also more subtle issues. Feeling guilty or threatened by becoming more successful than your parents, your friends, or your spouse is rarely discussed but is a common occurrence. These fears can inspire feelings of isolation and fear of abandonment.
My husband Victor is first generation American and the oldest son of Eastern European parents. He is a successful illustrator and combat artist. His first year out of Parsons School of Design, he made more money than his father had during most of his career. Vic felt terribly guilty about being more successful than his Dad, which led him to minimize his accomplishments. None of us wants to lose the love of a parent for any reason. This fear can negatively impact your actual success.
Another common area in which fear of success arises is in romantic relationships, especially among women. When I was single in New York City years ago, I found my success and financial independence created tension in some relationships, until I met Victor. Sometimes the issue was with me, feeling compelled to downplay my accomplishments so the man I was dating would not feel threatened. Other times, I felt resentment for dimming my light to appease the ego of another.
My dating experience inspired a fear of success. If my star continued to rise, would I end up with a fabulous life and no one to share it with? It is not surprising that I drew Vic to me once I decided that I had created an extraordinary life and would rather be single than in a less than extraordinary relationship. This decision came as a relief. I would no longer twist myself up into a pretzel to fit someone else’s idea of whom I should be and was willing to let the chips fall where they may.
It became clear that if I were to partner with anyone in a permanent way, they would have to bring some serious magic to the already awesome party. Getting to this point took many years of therapy, trial and error, and a willingness to be alone. I broke through my fear of success by believing that I could be successful and loved and that, as long as I did not marry the wrong one because I feared being alone, the right one would come along. (He did.)