Career Anxiety Series #3: Fear Success?

Do You Fear Success?

Condition #3: Fear of Success

There is an epidemic sweeping the career world right now–career anxiety. It is evidenced by low job satisfaction and engagement rates and a need for all to dig deep and find resilience in a rapidly changing global economy.   This blog series will be a conversation guided by reader questions and is designed to cure career anxiety and bring you to career clarity.

Question from a reader: I feel like fear is holding me back and I wonder…Is it possible to be afraid of success?

The Cure: Redefine the word “success”

It has surprised me how many of my clients struggle with the fear of success.

For some, this fear stems from being successful in the past and associating success with loss. These losses include lack of privacy, health problems and serious damage to important personal relationships. In this situation, creating a more holistic definition of success for the future is critical.

Then there are people who are afraid to even admit they have been successful in the past. This reluctance may be associated with other things, such as a fear of appearing as an overly preachy parent or sibling who was successful and now feels the need to force their advice on to others. It can also be possible that they may associate success with unappealing qualities such as greed or flamboyance. In some cases, people have held an unconscious fear of success because they believe they will have to distance themselves from their friends, peers or family to reach new heights.

In truth, everyone should create a definition of success that is in alignment with their own values. For one person, success can mean launching a business and becoming a millionaire while another person can define success through being a great friend. For some both are important aspects of success.

Ultimately, it is more difficult to fear success if your own definition of fulfillment is in sync with your talents, purpose and passions. To get you started with creating your own personal goals, here is a definition of success from Ralph Waldo Emerson for some inspiration:

To laugh often and love much,

To win the respect of intelligent persons and the affection of children,

To earn the approbation of honest critics and to endure the betrayal of false friends,

To appreciate beauty; to find the best in others; to give of oneself

To leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child, a garden patch or a redeemed social condition;

To have played and laughed with enthusiasm and sung with exultation;

To know that one life has breathed easier because you have lived-

This is to have succeeded.

Thank you for your great question and I hope this gives you permission to begin the process of digging deep and getting to your purpose. Let me know what you thought and if have a specific question I can answer in this series.  My approach to career development is from the inside out; dreams find their freedom and people find their dream jobs.

Laurel Donnellan

CEO and Founder, Bright Livelihoods

Sign up for our next free virtual workshop, Careers Inside Out: Make 2015 the Year when Work Works

Laurel has 30 years of experience as a leader, educator and coach and has degrees from Cornell and Columbia and consistently provides effective career education, organizational consulting and executive coaching programs To learn more about the Bright Livelihoods community, go to To schedule a private half-hour coaching session, e-mail us at

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