As far as commonly discussed fears go, the fear of failure often gets most of the attention. People understand how crippling it can be to give up the possibility of gaining something great because you fear the possibility of losing something else. What gets considerably less attention, though, is the fear of success; just as failure can terrify people, so can success.
Being afraid of success takes many forms, one of them being the imposter syndrome. Those afflicted with it typically suffer from feeling like frauds, as though all of their successes were coincidental and not because of any talent, ability, or effort of their own. They live their days feeling like imposters, hence the name of the syndrome; the greater the heights of their successes, the more they fear being “found out.”
Upon first glance, it doesn’t seem as debilitating as the fear of failure. Nevertheless, it has its own incipient ways of sabotaging progress and growth at work and in life. Here’s how.
P.S. Recognise the different ways you hold yourself back; sharpen your self-awareness with SSA Academy’s WSQ course on applying emotional competence to manage yourself at work today!
An imposter’s worst nightmare is having someone or something blow their cover. When you’re afflicted with the imposter syndrome, then, you live your life feeling like it’s only a matter of time before someone finds out how supposedly untalented or undeserving you are of your successes at work and in life.
In other words, your mind functions like that of a criminal running away from the law, making you feel like you’re living on borrowed time, thus multiplying your stress and anxiety levels exponentially.
It can also make you feel like you have to constantly “prove” yourself to others, or that you have to constantly prove your worth to others, and even to yourself. This is also why women and minorities tend to suffer from the imposter syndrome; it’s difficult to think you don’t have anything to prove to anyone when you’re the only woman or minority-race person in the team.
More often not, it makes them feel like as “representatives” of their gender or minority, they need to prove that everyone in the same demographic can succeed as well. In this way, they often carry huge mental burdens on their shoulders.
Similarly, when feel that you have more to prove, it can worsen your fear of failure. This is especially crippling when it’s coupled with perfectionism, which often catastrophises and makes failure seem like the absolute worst thing that could happen to anyone.
The more afraid you are of being found out, the more it amplifies, in your mind, the cost of failure. Far from being willing to take risks or recovering well from failure, you become hyper-sensitive to the possibility of failure.
For that reason, it can also create a fixed mindset, where your priority becomes simply preserving what you currently have instead of reaching out for more learning, progress, and personal growth.
Those with fixed mindsets often believe that their skills and abilities are static, or that there’s not much anyone can do to improve them. The imposter syndrome worsens this because it also makes you feel like at any time, someone can discover just how bad you are at what you do.
If you feel like little to none of your success is deserved, you’d be a lot more hesitant about putting yourself forward at work. Clearly, succeeding at work isn’t just about keeping your head down; it’s equally important to play the field as well, whether it’s networking, asking for growth opportunities, or even asking for raises or promotions.
Imposter syndrome, though, will make you feel like you don’t deserve to do any of these. The less confident you are about your abilities, the higher the chances that you won’t proactively go after or try to create the future you want for yourself.
Regardless of how hard you work, the imposter syndrome can make you feel like all of it is worthless, since you attribute your successes to good luck or just being in the right place at the right time. That’s not to say that luck doesn’t factor into success; only that the imposter syndrome can grossly overstate its importance.
Subsequently, no matter how much success your hard work earns you, it’s never enough, because at your core, you think you don’t deserve it. Since you feel like you don’t deserve your success, you work hard to prove yourself.
When you accomplish what you set out to do, you don’t think it happened because you worked hard or because you earned it. The more success you get, the more you feel like you have to prove yourself. It is, therefore, a cycle that never ends—until you stop it.