7 Harsh Signs A Person Is Afraid Of Success

As someone who has conquered this fear, I can spot it from a mile away.

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"You’re afraid of success," is something I often heard when I was younger — especially coming from my dad’s mouth. At the time, I didn’t understand what he meant, or rather, I didn’t want to understand what he meant.

I was a 3.9 student at the time. I had extracurriculars. They kept insisting I wasn’t pushing myself.

To a point, this was kind of true. I didn’t want to pursue my field of study in software engineering and f***ing hated the coursework. So, I acted stupid and tried to behave like I was a ditz.


Why? For a large portion of my life, I noticed a pattern. The more successful I was compared to the rest of the people around me, the worse I got treated by everyone. 

Even my own family made it hard for me to connect with others and take time to just be a young adult.

Eventually, I just associated success with being miserable and selling your soul for people to like you, only to never get what you really want. I began to associate it with being picked apart.


It came to a head, but this is a real phenomenon. There are people out there who are terrified of success because of the chance that they will be expected to do more or because of a past history of trauma. It took years for me to overcome it.

Fear of success is more about the worry of how people react to you doing well rather than doing well itself — at least in most cases.

But, how can you tell if someone is consciously or subconsciously afraid of success? If these signs ring true for you, you may be afraid of success.

RELATED: 78 Inspiring Quotes About Fear To Give You Courage

Here are 7 harsh signs a person is afraid of success: 

1. You hide your accomplishments from others or refuse to associate your name with successes

The guy from Good Will Hunting reminds me of this. When he was a janitor at an Ivy League, his genius was only discovered after a professor caught him solving a problem that was allegedly unsolvable. (It may have been another movie, but it was based on a true story.)


There are a lot of people out there who are similar to that guy.

One of the most brilliant artists I ever saw refused to ever show their work to anyone but close friends. I have no doubt that she could have made a fortune off her work.

At times, this means they’ll go and post — but just refuse to show their face or use their real name.

Corpse Husband tends to be a good example of this, though I can’t tell whether he’s afraid of success or just wants to keep his options open if the internet idol thing doesn’t work out.

2. When presented with an opportunity that could greatly improve their life, you turn it down and give an excuse

I remember when I offered a job connection to a friend of mine. He was a struggling writer, and I made the stupid mistake of introducing him to a friend of mine who needed writers. I told my friend to expect a resume from him.


A week later, no resume.

I asked why he didn’t do anything with the connection. He looked uncomfortable, searched for some words, and then said, "Well, I want a better job."

This man was working a minimum-wage job. This was an entry-level writing job that paid $10,000 more than that. It was local. He was not going to get any better with his qualifications, but it’d get his foot in the door.

Every other time I’d ask him to apply to something, it’d turn into another excuse. His cat was sick. He was too busy partying and didn’t want to give up the summer. His job left him too busy to apply. Excuse after excuse after excuse happened.

Truth be told, he didn’t want that job. He wanted to say that he tried but didn’t get the job. He wanted to make it look like he was making an effort.


He was terrified of actually having the chance to get the job and f*** up after having succeeded at getting the job he wanted.

RELATED: 10 Daily Habits Of Crazy-Successful People

3. People have told you that you undersell yourself

I think we all know people who lowball themselves.

In many cases, it’s because they were taught to do so at a young age. However, there are moments where you can tell it’s not just a matter of being socialized to do something.

It’s hard to explain the difference, but it’s easy to see it in people.

There’s a certain look of panic people who fear success get when they are offered what they deserve, rather than a lowball.


This is particularly true with titles. A person who is afraid of success will often wince at having a higher rank.

4. They actively sabotage themselves when it comes to their looks or career

Sometimes, sabotaging goes beyond actively refusing jobs and opportunities that could better one’s lot.

This is because success tends to mean different things to different people. However, I’ve noticed that their self-sabotage rarely ever sticks to just refusing to say no to stuff.

What do I mean? Well…

  • It’s the person who pushes people away because they are afraid of being popular. Yes, this is a thing. People who do this are afraid of being "top of the food chain" because others may start to spread rumors about them or because people may get jealous.
  • It’s the girl who seems to dress extra sloppily during a date. I’ve also seen people who seem to purposefully gain weight or even refuse to bathe when they are around people they deem attractive.
  • It’s the person who is clearly playing dumb. My friend who does art and tells no one also claims she doesn’t know who Picasso is. Coincidence? I think not.
  • It’s the person who magically self-destructs right when things are going super well. I know more than one or two DJs who got so wasted that they couldn’t perform at their very first music festival. While they could be dealing with other things, it often is because they want to avoid their big break.

5. You and the spotlight don’t mix

Fear of success is more about having a fear of how people will behave with you after you succeed.


As a result, the number one thing that people with this fear hate is being in the spotlight — especially if it’s for something that one might envy.

If you (or someone you know) balks at the idea of being applauded by a whole room, you already know what this is. It’s a fear of success.

If they actually show off their talents, the person knows it could end up with a backlash or that they may have to leave others behind.

RELATED: 50 Motivational Success Quotes To Inspire & Honor Your Journey

6. You had a lot of trauma that involved reactions to some form of success, or were regularly warned not to "fly too close to the sun"

Remember the old story about Icarus, the guy who made wings and flew too close to the sun? In the myth, Icarus died because he became too cocky about his wax wings.


Believe it or not, many people grow up hearing that they shouldn’t flaunt things or brag or even stand out due to the fear of being torn down.

People who have a fear of success don’t just get it overnight in most cases. It’s from repeated trauma that happens because of the ways that people treated them when they started to show their talents to the world.

Sometimes, people are brought up to fear success — such as the kid whose mom would tell them not to wear flattering things out of fear of them being called "a whore."


If you were told, "The nail that sticks out gets hammered down," as a kid, then it makes sense that you would eventually fear sticking out in any situation.

7. You are more concerned about what people will think or do than the work that needs to be done to succeed

A lot of these signs may be chalked up to laziness. You might be wondering what the main difference between being lazy and being afraid of success is. I mean, the symptoms look fairly similar — especially when it comes to turning down a job.

Here’s the big one: motivation.

A person who is lazy will have no problem accepting praise, recognition, or a more famous job if the workload is the same.


A person who fears success will balk at anything that involves applause, a better title, or more opportunity, even when the workload will be the same.

So what do you do if you have a fear of success?

It’s up to you. More often than not, the best thing to do is to confront it.

Whether this means feeling the fear and doing it anyway, learning to stand up for yourself or even hitting up a therapist doesn’t matter.

What matters is that you start recognizing that this is hurting you and it needs to stop. You deserve success.

RELATED: 8 Unsexy Morning Habits Of Extraordinarily Successful Humans

Ossiana Tepfenhart is a writer whose work has been featured in Yahoo, BRIDES, Your Daily Dish, Newtheory Magazine, and others.