The Power of Fear Series 2

The Power of Fear Series 2

By Revd. Gracious Nyabonda

This is part 2 of the Power of Fear series. The first paper made it clear that fear is normal. However, its effects depend on how it is viewed. When regarded positively, fear sets one into fight mode. This inspires one to explore new horizons. When viewed negatively, it renders one in flight mode. Most of the time people react than use the intellect. Often, one is paralyzed due to fear. However, the good news is that it can be harnessed. For that to happen there is a need to be acquainted with its manifestations and triggers. Though fear manifests in many forms, it is generally agreed that there are two core fears out of which many emerge. These are fear of success and fear of failure. It is the objective of the current paper to expose these two core fears so that one is able to identify the traits and triggers and eventually master the energy of this emotion. The ultimate goal of the entire series is to empower the readers to identify fear where it manifests, master courage, harness fear positively and eventually be able to conquer all limitations and redefine one’s boundaries. Instead of being fearful, one is converted to be fierce.

The paper is not written for the fearful but for those who have the courage to confront their realities and pursue their goals against all odds. It needs the courage to look within self and accept one’s weaknesses. The paper is informed by the author’s life experiences as well as sources from various fields which are psychology, theology, and the coaching fraternity. Those seeking personal development, this is a must – read.

Fear of Success

Generally, success brings beautiful emotions and calls for celebrations. The word “success” is defined as the favorable or prosperous termination of attempts or endeavors and the attainment of wealth, position, honor, or the like ( It seems absurd to think that one can be afraid of succeeding because it is what everyone strives for every day. If one is not successful, he/she is happy to associate with the successful. Nonetheless, it is so real that one might have a fear of success. One is not really afraid of success itself but the package that comes with it. The fear of succeeding and then having to sustain that status can be deadly. It is easy to believe that after being successful, there is no place to go but down. People know that success changes lives forever. Unfortunately, change has always been accompanied by mixed emotions especially if the change one envisions is negative. For instance, if one perceives that, there will be always an expectation to maintain the level of success previously attained, no one wants to feel that kind of pressure. It always feels safer and more comfortable to maintain the status quo. However, success starts at the end of the comfort zone. The core triggers of fear of success are fear of change; a feeling of not deserving and fear of disappointment.

Change is a scary concept because it often ushers the “unknown”. Most people love something that is familiar and comfortable. Safety and comfort are found in what is predictable. Knowing how family and friends relate in one’s life gives peace. Day- to- day routines make life easier. However, going for intended dreams requires change. It demands one exposes him/herself out there in new and uncomfortable ways. There is no way of knowing exactly how life can change when the desired success is achieved. One thing is certain; life will change if one is successful.  New routines will have to be developed, the work- load will change, people may ask for money and favors, and more likely there will be less time to spend with family and friends. One may even lose family and friends if they are jealous or resentful of achieved success, view him/her as arrogant, or feel that he/she just does not fit in the “old group” anymore. It is commonly said, “it is lonely at the top” and one’s inborn fear of abandonment is challenged. This unconscious fear of change can hold one back from claiming success. In order to conquer the fear of change, Dany Gokey, an American musician says, “one has to replace fear of the unknown with curiosity”. Curiosity is the basic ingredient for people of impact.

The self-limiting belief that one does not deserve success is a hindrance and a trigger of fear of success. Dittmar (2015) believes that successful people know they deserve their success; they know they have worked hard to get where they are; they feel good about claiming their success; and deep down they know they are good enough. “It is those who have this imperative demand for the best in their natures, and who will accept nothing short of it, that hold the banners of progress, that set the standards, the ideals for others” Dr. Orison Swett Marden (1848-1924, An American Inspirational author). Likewise, one needs to harbor positive beliefs and embrace a winning spirit so that he/she is not bound by fear but remain determined.

In order to avoid disappointment, one might resolve not to act. Everyone hates disappointment. The idea behind not acting is the thought that, if nothing is done then nothing happens. There is nothing worse than putting time, energy, and effort into something and then feeling royally disappointed about how it turns out (Jimenez, 2001). This can be especially true for achieving goals. There is no guarantee that once one gets what he/she desires; satisfaction will automatically follow. Unfortunately, one’s inaction becomes his/her action. Setting and achieving goals is a risk, but the kind that everyone should take because not setting goals is an even greater risk. Knowing that one always has the liberty to change his/her decisions if the first one does not work out should be a source of freedom. There is no need to be so scared of disappointments, if one is not happy with what happens, he/she should change the circumstances by effecting new decisions and new actions.

In addition, the fear of living to the fullest may have paralyzed a person, causing him/her either to never really try in life. Alternatively, one tries but ends up sabotaging his/her efforts in order not to face his/her fear of success. Most people live their life in this fear bondage, and they are not even aware of its control over them. Fear is the one thing that can turn one’s dreams of financial freedom, loving relationships, and a fulfilling and significant life into a pattern of procrastination, self-sabotage, and other bad habits. The thought of going beyond one’s first success, or just maintaining that success can be crippling. Instead of being crippled with fear, one must confront it.

It is, therefore, clear that the fear of success if not handled well can be a great hindrance. In order to be successful, one has to accept that change is a constant factor and part of the everyday story. Hence, one has to embrace it. Likewise, disappointments are a portion of the living. It will be unrealistic to expect that happiness will always be knocking at the door step without struggles and frustrations. Besides, it is after a great struggle that the taste of victory becomes sweeter. Therefore, believe that success is the destination well deserved and it will be so.

Fear of failure

When taken negatively, failure is a force to reckon with. Even the most intelligent and those armored with great potential can be reduced to nothing. The truth is failure is inevitable. Everyone fails, it is part of being human and part of taking risks. The most successful people have failed the most. There is no way to have success without failure. Paul Coelho, a Brazilian lyricist and novelist says, “The road to success runs right through failure”. Thomas Edison (1847-1931), one of the famous and prolific inventors of all time says, “I failed my way to success.” The fear of failure is a force that can hold one back from taking even the first step toward intended achievements. It is easier to do nothing than to take the first step. Here is the irony: when one does not try, he/she has already failed. When one allows the fear of failure to hold him/her back, he/she is already experiencing the very failure he/she fears.

What is needed is a shift in perspective. That is what successful people have done, they have shifted their perspective when they experienced failure. Instead of looking at failure as a loss or something wrong, they knew they were one step closer to achieving their dream. “Every failure brings with it the seed of an equivalent success” (Hill, 2007, p.34). Dittmar (2015) attests that, the core triggers of fear of failure are past mistakes, fear of being judged and criticized by others as well as perfectionism. In addition, the major indicator of fear of failure is a habit of focusing on what one does not want.

Past mistakes are held in every cell membrane of the body and directly influence the current choices. Anytime one is in a situation that remotely looks, feels, smells, sounds or tastes like one of those past major mistakes, the memory of that mistake is activated in the cells, and there will be a conscious or unconscious reaction to what is happening (Vornbrock, 2013). It follows that, one will not be able to make a choice or decision from a present moment place. Instead, these unresolved memories and emotional chemicals will bear influence. The choice or decision is most likely made from a fearful, guarded place. Usually past mistakes feel so horrible because they previously brought embarrassment. Past mistakes provide guidance they should not be regarded as part of an identity. Jim Rohn (1930-2009), an author and motivational speaker says, “We should take our past as a school.” Hence, instead of freaking out and being rendered inactive, one learns from those mistakes. In fact, new inspirations are born from such episodes if taken positively. Failures in life are signs that one is active, initiative, and growing. Failure is a symbol of continued learning. It does not define who one is but indicates what one has learnt.

Fear of judgment and criticism create cold feet. This can be one of the biggest triggers for fear of failure. It is triggered by previous harsh judgments and pleasure taken by others in one’s failures. Judging and criticizing others is sometimes an indication that the person is not taking responsibility for that very issue in his/her life (Dittmar, 2015). What one thinks reflects on him/her and what is going on in their internal world. Most likely one has a fear of being criticized because he/she has been the worst judge and critic of self. The fear of judgement and criticism is underpinned by the need for approval. Focusing on people’s approval can really be enslaving.

Striving for perfection might sound like a good thing but it often gets in the way of being effective. Perfectionists often have an extreme fear of failure. Perfectionists will not even attempt to do something if they cannot do it perfectly. They believe everything has to be done at the highest level possible and there is no room for mistakes. There is even a correlation between perfectionism and procrastination. If one believes he/she has to do something perfectly he/she will not even start the project for fear of failing. It may just look like procrastination, but in fact, it is the fear of failing that is causing the procrastination. Perfectionists tend to be especially harsh on themselves and talk themselves out of potential opportunities before they even get started. One needs to understand that failure is an important part of life. It is how one learns, grow and evolve. Failing does not mean that one lacks value and worth as a person. A perfectionist suffers pressure to maintain reputation as a high achiever and often sets impossible goals. The perception is usually, if the business or project is never started, then there cannot be failure. When one is paralyzed by fear of making a mistake, he/she often does nothing. Remember flaws make one human. Harriet Braiker (1948-2004), a psychologist says, “Striving for excellence motivates you; striving for perfection is demoralizing”.  It is good to strive for excellence but perfection is not real. Be practical, no human is infallible.

People who are afraid of failure place their focus on avoiding failure and focus on what they do not want. Extremely successful people are clear about what they want and they stay focused on striving for success. When one is motivated by focusing on not making mistakes and worrying about failing, he/she is imprinting on the subconscious mind exactly what he/she does not want (Vornbrock, 2013). The goal becomes avoiding mistakes rather than setting positive goals. By focusing on not making mistakes one tightens up, over- think, and performs poorly. Focusing on avoiding failure will cause one to miss opportunities, over- analyze and make poor choices. Successful people stay focused on what they want, they celebrate small accomplishments, knowing each one brings them one step closer to the goal they are working on.  Most importantly, they never quit if they experience a setback, rejection, or failure they simply use it as a learning experience and move on quickly. On the other hand, people who are afraid of failure use rejection or a setback as an excuse to quit. Obstacles are not hindrances; problems are not a hindrance; most of all other people are not a hindrance; the only hindrance is one’s self.

To conquer fear of failure one needs to understand that failure is normal and a part of growth. Without fear one cannot discover new things. In addition, one needs not to be too obsessed with pleasing other people. Life needs to be tied to goals. It is easy to sacrifice one’s dream while focusing on attaining other people’s approval. Choose to make decisions based on what is best for self rather than on what others think. Praise self for failures and know they are stepping stones to success.

The indicators and triggers of fear of success and failure reveal that fear is part of everyday story. The problem is really not fear itself because it is normal. The problem is failing to recognize and confront it. More often there are logical explanations for self-sabotaging behaviors. One might never have realized that it is sabotage but now there is enlightenment. Identifying it means it can be rectified. The good thing is, one is never helpless. One can be totally in control. All what is needed is to master courage and soldier on. Tom Bilyeu, the co-founder of billion-dollar brand Quest Nutrition and co-founder of impact theory says, “Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the judgment that something else is more important than fear”. To harness fear positively, there is need for tools to convert the negative energy into positive energy. Watch out for the third series which is going to expose these tools.


Dittmar, V. (2015). The Power of Feelings: A Practical Guide to Emotional Intelligence. Verlag VCS Dittmar

Jimenez, L. (2001). Conquer Fear. Florida: As A Man

Hill, N. (2007). Think and Grow Rich. Retrieved from

Vornbrock, S. (2013). Conquer Your Fear of Failure and Your Fear of Success. Arizona: Breakthrough Performance


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