Fearless.

If you had to choose one word that described all great entrepreneurs, is there a better one than that? To eschew the steady paycheck and comfortable lifestyle in order to pursue a lifelong dream that will undoubtedly face countless obstacles and take years to become a success. That certainly requires a lack of fear that most people simply do not possess.

But what if one of the biggest obstacles one must overcome to reach their full potential and see their business succeed comes from within? How many seemingly fearless entrepreneurs are actually holding themselves back by an unseen, and quite possibly unrecognized, fear?

While many people believe those with an entrepreneurial spirit are driven by a fear of failure, many of them may be self-sabotaging due to a different fear altogether. They may be suffering from a fear of success.

What is a Fear of Success?

Fear of success may be a difficult concept for a lot of us to wrap our minds around. A fear of failure makes complete sense but how can anyone be afraid of succeeding? The answer lies in the fact it is not success itself that paralyzes some but rather it’s the consequences of that success.

An oft-cited quote from American spiritual teacher and best-selling author Marianne Williamson gets to the root of the fear of success.

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do.”

One of the more prominent scholars who explored this territory is 20th century American psychologist Abraham Maslow who wrote the book The Farther Reaches of Human Nature in which he expounds upon the fear of greatness. He calls this phenomenon the Jonah Complex after the Biblical character who sought to run away from the destiny God had bestowed upon him. In the book he writes:

“In my own notes I had at first labeled this the “fear of one’s own greatness”, or the “evasion of one’s destiny” or the “running away from one’s own best talents”…It is certainly true that many of us evade our constitutionally suggested vocations (call, destiny, task in life, mission). So often we run away from the responsibilities dictated (or rather suggested) by nature, by fate, even sometimes by accident, just as Jonah tried – in vain – to run away from his fate.”

“We fear our highest possibilities…We are generally afraid to become that which we glimpse in our most perfect moments, under the most perfect conditions, under the conditions of greatest courage. We enjoy and even thrill to godlike possibilities we see in ourselves in such peak moments. And yet we simultaneously shiver with weakness, awe, and fear before these very same possibilities.”

The Fear of Success Manifested in Today’s Business Environment

One of the biggest reasons fear of success can grab a hold of many in the business environment is because we have a basic fear of the unknown. We know the new world order will bring changes, but what if those changes aren’t all positive? We tend to tell ourselves stories in the form of questions that begin to paint a narrative. Russell Bishop addressed this occurrence in his article for the Huffington Post in which he writes:

“Have you ever entertained thoughts about what might happen if…? Imagine telling yourself a story that goes something like this: “Well, first I’ll be the one with the office. Then I’ll be the one making decisions. But what if the decisions don’t work out? What if I don’t know what to do? What if I’m not very good at it? Now I’m going to tell them what to do, and then I’m going to have to do their performance reviews. How will my friends/co-workers respond to me being in charge? What if they start complaining about me? What if they abandon me?”

For the entrepreneur, those questions could take the form of, “What happens if the business takes me away from my family? What if overwhelming success means my friends think I’m too good for them? What if this family business venture drives a wedge between me and my family members?”