Confession: I’m Scared Of Failure But I’m Terrified Of Success

On some level, we’re all afraid of failure — the idea of not achieving something we’ve invested time, energy, and hard work into can be crippling, but that fear is also what motivates us to persevere and try that much harder to achieve our goals. For me, it’s not necessarily the fear of failure that holds me back — it’s the downright terror of actually succeeding.

  1. I’m a perfectionist and nothing is ever good enough. No matter how well I’m doing, it feels like I’m failing on a daily basis. The funny thing, though, is that I’ve failed plenty of times throughout my life — I know it so well that I really shouldn’t be afraid of it, but I am. Even worse, I’m afraid of success. As a perfectionist, even a success is a failure on some level. No achievement will ever be good enough; each project could have been better and each run could have been faster. It’s a serious problem.
  2. People can forgive failure. A lot of what I consider failure is what my friends and family consider small obstacles or just ordinary life events. But even when I’ve failed on a larger scale, I’m always forgiven. As a society, we forgive failure. Whether it’s a moral failing or a work disaster, the people who love me will always brush it off and encourage me to get back out there and try again. Success, however, is a different story. It takes long hours, hard work, and a lot of sacrifice to achieve it, and that often hurts or inconveniences other people in your life.
  3. I learn from failure — and I never want to stop learning. Everybody learns from failure, including me. Sometimes I learn about myself, sometimes I learn about business, and sometimes I just learn how to be a little wiser next time. Whether the failure is tiny or huge, I always learn something. It’s a lot harder to find the learning points in a huge success — you assume you’ve done everything right, and where’s the lesson in that? I don’t want to get comfortable with achievement and stop evolving as a person.
  4. People celebrate success, and I’m uncomfortable with that kind of attention. I have amazing friends and family, which means that when I accomplish something, there’s always a celebration. It’s lovely, it really is, but it’s also incredibly uncomfortable. I’m not a huge fan of people singing my praises — it makes me cringe. It’s so awkward to have people telling you how great you are. It’s really nice of them, but it feels so weird. At least if you fail, people tend not to talk about it.
  5. Failure is good for the soul — what does success do for personal growth? Sometimes I really need to fail. In high school, I was obsessed with getting good grades. My soul was crying out for the C I got in my first month of college. I needed that slap in the face to see that failure isn’t that scary after all. Success, on the other hand, is an entirely different story. Success is definitely not good for my soul — it’s just stressful. It’s probably a little crazy to think that way, but I do.
  6. Success breeds expectations, and I don’t know if I can handle that. Once I succeed at one thing, there’s an expectation that I’ll accomplish something else — something bigger and better. Success can quickly become a vicious and exhausting cycle. The idea that other people will have higher expectations of me is fine. I can deal with that. What I struggle with is the crippling weight of my own expectations. I’m terrified to succeed because, if I do, my life will become increasingly more stressful as I chase the next accomplishment.
  7. The greater the success, the more disgraceful the failure. With all these ludicrously high expectations flying around, any failure — no matter how tiny — will seem so much worse. Falling off a two-foot wall isn’t so bad; falling off a skyscraper is a disaster. The danger of succeeding is that it makes failing a far bigger crime that it has ever been before.
  8. I’d have to develop self-confidence to handle success, and I’m just not there yet. To become comfortable with success, I’d have to develop a certain degree of self-confidence. I’d have to get comfortable with failure, I’d have to acknowledge that I’m good at certain things and it’s okay to be praised for them, and I’d have to accept that I deserve success. To fail, on the other hand, I don’t have to go through the painstaking work of building my confidence.
  9. I sometimes feel like I don’t deserve success. This is the crux of the matter: I truly believe I don’t deserve success most of the time. I’ve had an amazing life, and it was all because I was born into a fabulous family and my parents were financially stable. I’ve had so many opportunities that weren’t of my own making. People who worked three jobs to get through college deserve success. Single moms deserve success. People who have overcome debilitating illnesses deserve success. People who’ve had relatively easy lives (like I have) don’t deserve success. I’m not saying we deserve abject failure, but we certainly deserve to struggle as much as everybody else has.
  10. I’m scared of losing momentum. Failure drives me forward. It forces me to see where I need to improve, and it motivates me to take action. If I were to succeed, would I lose my momentum? Would success mean that I could finally stop pushing and start relaxing? It probably wouldn’t because I’m a perfectionist, but just the thought of succeeding, relaxing, and resting on my laurels is enough to make me sick.
Aileen is a freelance writer and recovering perfectionist. When she was consumed by perfectionism, Aileen was always confused, angry and frustrated. At she tries to help other women who feel the same because life after perfectionism is bloody great!