Afraid of success? How to spot the symptoms and overcome the fear

By Sandy Schussel

Sandy Schussel, LLC

Lisa, 28 years old, had been earning $40,000 a year at her corporate job and switched to a straight commission financial job working for one of my clients — the sales manager of a company that offers clients mutual funds — because it promised her unlimited earning potential and flexible hours.

In her first six months in sales, starting with cold calls, Lisa cleared $31,000. But how much do you think she earned in her next six months?

That's right: only $9,000. Somehow, in the second half of the year, despite her continued activity on the phone, she could not set as many appointments, she had more cancellations and she ended up with significantly fewer sales per kept appointment. Her annual income came out to be just about what it was at her old job.

How could this have happened? My client called me to ask if I might be able to help Lisa, and he referred her my way. As it turns out, she and I found that her problem is a common subject of coaching. It appeared that Lisa was actually avoiding the success she had in her first six months. But why would anyone avoid success?

Whenever professionals are having a run of bad luck, a fear of success may be at the root of it. Dr. Kerry Johnson, a renowned sales coach, suggests that a fear of success is not usually an issue of self-confidence, but something more specific, arising out of two limiting beliefs that may have become embedded in our thinking:

1. The belief that the only path to financial success is through extremely hard work: If we have a belief — conscious or subconscious — that our success is coming too easily or too quickly, we'll actually slow ourselves down.

2. The belief that being too successful is somehow essentially wrong: If we've been taught that "money is the root of all evil" and "you can only make money off someone else's back," then we may start backpedaling when we suddenly find ourselves making real income. If we think we'll hurt Dad's feelings if we're earning more than he does, we'll slow down so as not to get too far ahead of him.

Here are some symptoms of being afraid of success:
  • Your income has stayed flat or decreased, even though you're not working any less.

  • You feel guilty about your small victories, but you're not sure why.

  • You're missing what usually are easy sales, especially after you've had a good week.

  • You're "forgetting" to follow through on promises made to prospects or clients, and you're blowing sales that were already "in the bag" by acting unusually foolish.
If you have any of these symptoms, you may be backing away from the success you deserve — even sabotaging it. Here are some of the things you can do to turn your situation around:

1. Take a look at where your sales are now. Set goals to take them further, and commit to them in writing.

2. Observe and record each time and place that the uncomfortable, overly modest or guilty feeling appears in your daily business or personal life.

3. Share steps one and two with someone else who truly wants you to succeed.

Through coaching, Lisa started her earnings rolling again and this year, she's right on track to earn a six-figure income.