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Fear of success?

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A few weeks ago, this prompt was posed to me by my Aunt Marilyn:

“I’d like to hear what you have to say about ‘fear of success’ and how to get over it!”

Fear of success? It seems strange to say that. Most people have or understand a fear of failure. But can a fear of success hold you back from achieving your dreams?

My initial reaction to the question was, sure, I have some concerns about what may happen in my life if I achieve success as a writer. But I actually don’t think that accurately covers the scope of the fear.

So, I did some Googling. I came across quite a few websites explaining it but the easiest one to understand was’s Handling Fear of Success. It gives a simple list of bullet points and follow-up questions. It struck me then, I DO have this fear and it’s probably pretty common.

I won’t list every bullet point, but check out the link above to see if any of them fit in with your own insecurities. The two that stuck out most to me were:

  • Fear that you will accomplish all that you set out to, but that you still won’t be happy, content or satisfied once you reach your goal
  • Lack of belief in your own ability to sustain your progress, and the accomplishments you have achieved in your life

“I’ll take: Go to Disneyland for 100, Alex”

“Erin, you’ve just achieved your dream, now what are you going to do?”

In a nutshell, that’s what Bullet Point #1 means to me: now what?  When I was younger, I had very clear goals and I’m happy to report I achieved them. I wanted good grades–I had them. I wanted to go to college–I did. I wanted to move to Chicago and get an internship–I did. I wanted to have a career doing something exciting–I did. I wanted to get married and have kids–I did. But that was as far as my planning ever took me. So there I was, 27 years old with my first child, thinking, “Now what?”

Boy, did that “Now what?” have me feeling guilty! Here is what I had to tell myself: “Now what?” is actually a positive question. It didn’t have to mean what I achieved wasn’t good enough, it just meant there was more I was capable of doing. I had to find my next goal.

Sustaining Success: Second Book Syndrome

Finding the next goal actually brings me to bullet point number 2: “What if I can’t sustain progress?” It’s no secret in the writing world you’re expected to be more than a one-trick pony. You can’t just write one book. If you get an agent and a publisher wants to invest in you, they want to know you can repeat your success. Hopefully over and over again. What’s more, your readers will demand the same thing. Scary, right?

There are horror stories floating around the internet about “Second Book-itis” or “Second Book Syndrome” where debut authors have their dreams crushed when the public fails to love their second book as much as their first.

Gosh, why bother trying? All that hard work for…what? Seems easier just to quit right now.

Well. Wait a second. That’s putting the cart WAY before the horse (I must have a first book before I can worry about a second!). Why am I letting fear of what happens after success scare me out of being successful?

To answer that I had to rationalize. If I have the talent to do this once, I will still have the talent to do it twice. Being scared of the follow-up to success kind of implies the first time was luck, right? Well, there’s nothing lucky about being successful. It’s about hard work. If you can work hard enough to do it once, you can work hard enough to do it again.

So, how do YOU overcome these fears?

It’s about asking yourself what those fears mean and how do you logically move beyond them.

Why do you fear a lack of satisfaction with success?–> Because I won’t know what to do next. How do you logically move beyond that? –> Keep setting goals, even little ones.

Why do you fear sustaining success? –> Because if I can’t do it again, am I really successful? How do you logically move beyond that? –> Remind myself that I was talented enough to do it the first time and I still have the talent to do it again.

So, I’m no psychologist, Aunt Marilyn, but those are my thoughts on the subject. A lot of overcoming fear is facing it. Doing that requires positive affirmation and surrounding myself with support. I actually think a good support system may be the MOST important step, for me. Here’s what I did:

  • I told people about what I wanted to do. Not only to get encouragement, but to also have them hold me accountable.
  • I sought others who seek the same dream as me. is a wonderful community. Twitter is full of supportive writers (I suggest searching the #MyWANA hashtag group and check out this blog by Kristen Lamb).
  • Get yourself some cheerleaders (another Twitter group under the #wordmongering hashtag has been great for this).
  • Take a break once in a while. This is a toughy. Writing a book makes me feel exactly how I did in school when I had a paper due the next day…everyday. Having other interests and friends gives me the breather I need to dive back in everyday.

No matter what you want to do, I think those same principles apply (just tailor them to fit your exact needs).

What do you think? What fears are holding you back? How are you/did you overcome them? 


10 thoughts on “Fear of success?

  1. The first thing I thought of while reading this post was that the only fear I would have would be coming out with a 2nd idea for a book. I’m still writing my 1st draft and I’ve often thought, “How in the world would I be able to come up with something else after I’ve finished this?”. I know it will come though. I just have to work as hard the 2nd time around.

    • Thanks for the comment, LJ. I think we all have that fear. You work so hard on the first one that anything after that seems a little daunting. But you’re right, hard work (and trust we still have good ideas) is what it will take to get past that.

  2. Oh, this is interesting. I definitely fear actually succeeding and then people expecting more out of me than I’m capable of, or just running out of goals in my life. It’s scary, for sure.

  3. I think I understand the fear of success. In fact, I think it’s harder to sit down and start writing the second book. Finishing the first novel felt great! But what if that was a fluke? What if that’s all I have in me?

    I’m sure it will feel the same with a published novel. Will I be able to match or better my first performance?

    The only way to know, of course, is to go for it!

    By the way, I have finished my first draft on a second book, so I guess I had something else to say. 🙂

  4. Thank you for responding so quickly to my question about fear of success. It is a subject that has been paralyzing me since I was a child. I’m not a writer, but I am an artist. My works were noticed at a very young age, and I continued it as a hobby for years, into adulthood.

    At age thirty, I went to college to study commercial art, and did very well there. I got commissions locally and after a while, I began to get commissions from out of state from businesses and boat owners who had seen my work at the Marine City Antique and Classic Boat Show, where I did a “boat portrait” for the owner, whose boat I fell in love with and got a ride in! Then the show committee asked me to design the cover and draw some boats for their booklet about the show. From that I got other commissions for boats and some local advertising commissions. Then I got a letter from a magazine called “Antique and Classic Boats”, who wanted to put my rendering of the boat portrait along with a feature story on me. It got published, and I got another request for
    an article for “The Real Runabouts Vol. 6”, in hardcover with photos and feature story. I was jumping for joy…Wow, I’ve made my marque in life!

    After seeing the booklet, hats, tote bags, plaques,etc that I did for the Marine City show, I got letters from California to do designs for clothing, another to illustrate a book, and other things that would pobably
    have been fun and rewarding to do, but all of a sudden I got artist’s block…aka writer’s block. I was afraid to
    do any of these things. What if I screw it up? What would I charge these people? How long could I sustain this level of my works? I looked at my drawing board and it’s like there was a big monster sitting on it saying..
    “Don’t even think about it”. I did accept a couple commissions for horse portraits, but I never really accepted anything after that. I just couldn’t force myself to pick up pen, pencil, nor paint brush. I’ve been afraid ever since. I told myself I didn’t care, told myself I didn’t need it, and now I’m pushing toward 70 years of age and I’m thinking, too late now!

    That’s my story dear niece, “for what it’s worth”. And that’s why I said I’d like to see you write on the subject!

    • Wow! Did you do the painting of the ship my grandparents had in their house for so long (the one in the family room?). I always loved that picture. I don’t think it’s too late, if you think you still love art, you should go for it. At the very least you’ve got a therapeutic and enjoyable hobby and at the very most, you might make a little money from it :).

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