The fear of success at work is an issue that, at a certain point, can threaten our psychological well-being when trying to build a professional career.
That fear of success leads us to hide our accomplishments, making less of an impact on them than we should when we communicate them. Other times it manifests itself in the form of rejecting a job opportunity that, apparently, seems to have been created just for us. It may not prevent us from progressing, but it does cause something worse: it prevents us from enjoying our success at work, our achievements. We are reminded that we do not deserve that promotion (whatever “promotion” means), that we will not know how to handle it properly, and that it is beyond our possibilities.
Sometimes, quite simply, our fear of success in the workplace is based on our belief that the sacrifices required to achieve it will not be worth it or, if we have not yet achieved it, doubt as to whether or not they will be when the time comes.
What does success at work mean to you?
Defining what we base our success or failure on is crucial in order to become properly acquainted with our possible fear of success at work. What do we aspire to in our career? Where do we anchor the goals, the medals, the really meaningful indicators of achievement?
We often base success on aspects such as salary or the status assigned to a certain position, but this depends on whether we understand success as a continuous situation in which we settle rather than as occasional achievements that, in a discreet manner, mark our professional career.
Moreover, the group of individuals who base their success at work on “simply” working at something they enjoy is increasingly gaining ground. Their satisfaction does not necessarily come from money, praise, or social prestige, but from experiencing the pleasure of not feeling enslaved or psychologically crushed by work: for them, work is a space for personal development, and that is where the secret of their professional success lies.
How does our fear of success at work play out?
1. The art of self-boycott
It is typically a human mechanism that expresses our contradictions, even the most inexplicable ones. We are supposed to strive every day, week, month, and year in our professional career to achieve progress, promotions, results, prestige, or satisfaction with ourselves… and then it seems as if a contrary energy switches on and says: “Not so much” or “Be careful what you wish for” or “Now I don’t want or need this anymore”. People are contradictory in many aspects of their lives and the professional sphere is no exception.
2. Imposter syndrome
One of the most triggering experiences for our fear of success in the workplace is the so-called “imposter syndrome“. This leads us to think that we do not deserve the job we have because we do not have the right qualifications to do it and the only thing we are good at is keeping people fooled about what we are capable of. Who can feel at ease in their job and even want to take it further if they are convinced that they are not good enough to do it?
It is a certain feeling of dizziness when we are promoted faster than our minds and emotions are able to handle. At that moment we are not able to see ourselves in such a high position or assuming such high recognition in the form of new responsibilities, congratulations, or a salary increase. We need more time to adjust and feel comfortable in this new role. It takes time for the vertigo, the dizziness, the difficulty to see ourselves reflected at such a demanding point (especially if that pinnacle is not an ephemeral success, but a position in which we settle in a continuous way) to disappear.
Sometimes this vertigo takes a long time to disappear or never completely disappears. Success changes us, or rather, asks us to change: sometimes we have a new role or more notoriety, or new functions, new expectations created, and all this requires us to be adaptable in order to function differently on a professional level.
Why is there a fear of success in the workplace?
Following on from the three factors mentioned in the previous section, the fear of success in the workplace is not much more than the fear of disappointing and not knowing how to sustain the standards of quality in our work that have brought us to this point.
We are terrified of making a mistake that will end up letting us down: it is always disturbing to hear the colloquial expression that says: “The harder the fall will be“. Nor do we want to discover that we do not like the tasks or responsibilities that we would have to undertake from this new position of success.
Moreover, we have in our minds the double-edged idea of “dying of success“, which applies to those projects whose obsolescence or end seems predestined by the mere fact of success: they develop to a point at which they have already fulfilled their mission, it makes no sense for them to remain and they end up dissolving.
Furthermore, we are familiar with many stories of public figures devoured precisely by a success that is too sudden and too high for them to be able to manage it sensibly. They succeeded in their professions, but what was the price for the other areas of their lives, especially for their physical and psychological health? It is only natural that we do not want to be like them.
How to overcome the fear of success in the workplace
1. Try to identify what scares you
Sometimes we become obsessed with abstract or very general fears that end up settling in and cause our emotional well-being at work to plummet. Try to answer the question as clearly as possible: “Honestly and now that no one can hear me: what exactly am I afraid of? What is my fear of success at work based on?”. Maybe the answer won’t make your fears go away completely, but identifying fears is always helpful in managing them.
2. Define your own concept of success and failure
Do not adopt the ideas of others about what it means to succeed and fail in the world of work. Nor let yourself be caught up in their own fears, which usually respond to their own reality but not necessarily yours. Be flexible in your notion of success in the workplace and don’t assume that fear is an obstacle that can’t be overcome.
3. Turn your fear into caution
Let your fear accompany you and try to turn it into caution. Like all other emotions, fear has an important evolutionary function, helping us adapt to an environment that, sooner or later, will show its hostile face. In the case of fear of success at work, therefore, it is useful to be awakened to prevent us from falling into reckless or irresponsible behavior and to compensate for our legitimate desire to succeed, which sometimes may not be a good advisor.
Emotional well-being for companies
At ifeel, we understand that it is not possible to take care of the company without taking care of the psychological well-being of its employees. To do so, we have an emotional well-being program for companies, designed by our team of occupational well-being psychologists with one main objective: to help companies place employee health at the center of their strategy to build their mission statement.
Thanks to this partnership, the people in charge of HR departments can receive personalized, data-driven advice on how to make good decisions in a company to get the most out of the teams they are in charge of and take better care of the psychological well-being of the people in them.
Moreover, this program offers employees a holistic mental health care service structured at different levels according to their needs. This service includes, if required, online psychological therapy with a psychologist specialized in cases like theirs. Try our program today so you can see how it could help you.
We hope you have found this post about the fear of success useful. If you want more information about our emotional well-being program for companies, simply request it and we will contact your team as soon as possible.