Photo for fear of success: escalator going up with red tape across the entry reading Danger No Entry

3 Reasons Writers Have a Fear of Success

“Why am I terrified of my progress?”

It’s a question I regularly explore with clients and one I’ve asked myself.

This terror frequently reveals itself after a leap in understanding, the completion of a class, or a period of sustained momentum—an experience many of us have as spring transitions to summer.

Fear of success is the fourth, and often deepest, of the summer anxieties we might face.

Our fears of success can be broken into three components:

  • Fear of losing our success
  • Fear of being seen
  • Fear of the grief/terror sandwich

Fear of Success Reason One: Fear of Losing Our Success

Has this ever happened to you? After months of hard work, your project seems to be going somewhere. Part of you is doing a happy dance and screaming, “Yippee!!!” while another part waits for the kids to get sick, a work-related emergency to occur, or your creative well to run dry.

As your success nears, or your progress continues, you tense up, fearing an unknown doom is about to trash your project.

If you fear the other shoe dropping, it’s likely you’ve battled a series of setbacks in the past. When that happens, our default reaction is often to control by imagining the problems to come so we an solve them.

But unless you’re a psychic, you don’t know what’s going to happen. Operating from that old program can actually invite trouble in. That’s because controlling for danger prevents you from paying attention to what’s needed to maintain your focus and momentum.

Most of us do this unconsciously, but when you recognize this well-worn habit is at play, say, “Thank you habit for making yourself known.” Then remind yourself of the tools you’ve developed for dealing with what life throws at you.

If it helps, create plans A, B, and C for how you’ll get things done, or how you’ll pivot, if something comes up.

Even if you never use these plans, knowing you have choices will calm your nervous system.

Fear of Success Reason Two: Fear of Being Seen

Sometimes the issue isn’t about mental habits. Sometimes, you’re battling a deep nonverbal groove in your nervous system that tells your body that being seen isn’t safe.

If you don’t already know this, success is the ultimate form of being seen. 

Fears of success creep up when we’re expanding, but life (or other people) have told us playing small is the best option. While this can have its roots in trauma (i.e., when I was seen bad things happened or I wasn’t seen at all), sometimes we play small because of what we see or what well-meaning people have said.

Don’t turn yourself into a starving artist. 

Be sure to have a backup plan.

Most people don’t succeed in such a competitive field.

Here’s the meta-message behind all this: You’re about to destroy your life, so don’t try too hard.

But you deserve to be your biggest self—not just for yourself, but for all of us.

If you’re nearing a major success, that means you’ve given it your all, and now your job is to honor your hard work and help the scared part of you move forward.

Instead of battling it, show it some love by calming your nervous system, acknowledging its reality by seeing its perspective, and then using your tenacity to succeed anyway.

To calm your nervous system, try these strategies.

To acknowledge its reality, do a little journaling. Ask the fearful part of you what it needs to say.

For each reason it gives, start by writing, I hear you and I love you. Acknowledge the realities of the past, and then share how your life is different, and how you’ll continue to protect this part of you.

If the issue is related to deep trauma, some of this work will need to be done with a therapist.

But you can do this.

The goal will be to take your time, and only proceed as fast as the most fearful part of you can go.

Fear of Success Reason Three: Fear of the Grief/Terror Sandwich

For many of us, success is bittersweet because we’ve just glimpsed how amazing we are, and when we do, a tsunami of grief follows.

It’s the grief of what could’ve been, and it’s a feeling many of us have encountered.

We feel sad that we didn’t pursue our dreams or honor our talents sooner—or that the broken people in our lives covered our light with their shit.

Most of us will do almost anything to keep from feeling this, including sabotaging our projects.

Does this grief suck? Yep.

Can you get your time lost back? Nope.

But you don’t have to let past shit steal from today. Allow yourself to grieve, then go to your journal and ask the sad part of you what it needs. Whatever the answer is, provide it.

The fear side of this combo comes from getting a glimpse of how powerful you are and knowing you now have a responsibility to nurture that power. This can be scary as fuck, and yet accepting that responsibility is how you become a resilient writer. Over the coming weeks, we’ll talk about how to use the seven Cs of resilience to do this work.

For now, let’s prepare for a joyous summer—whether that’s one chock full of writing or one where you’ll be largely checking out. As we prepare for this leap, I have two questions for you: what does success look like, . What do you need to pursue it? Hit reply and send me your answers. I’d love to see what you’re up to.

No matter what you do, and no matter who you are, I know your biggest self is waiting. When you connect with that beautiful person, make sure you always, always use their gifts to write on.

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