Are you downplaying your success? 7 ways to overcome your business success guilt

7 ways to overcome business guilt success -Julia Ngapo Business Cochig - woman on top of the world, sitting in office chair, celebrating success with arms raised.

Are you downplaying your success? 7 ways to overcome your business success guilt

We all love a “rags to riches” story. The ones where someone overcomes immense challenges and triumphs over adversity. We marvel at the “overnight success” stories that appear in the media, and we work hard to achieve our own success. And yet, often, when we achieve our goals, we can experience success guilt. That particular brand of imposter syndrome, which tells us that our success is a fluke, that we don’t deserve it, or that others are far more deserving.

Feeling guilty about our success is a far more common experience than you might believe. In fact, Freud wrote a paper in 1925 regarding “Those wrecked by success”. Often those negative feelings stem from societal or cultural expectations or inherited beliefs from our family.

We may have developed a habit of downplaying our successes for fear of upsetting others, appearing “big-headed” or feeling in some way, that our own success will come as a burden to others. We self-sabotage to protect others from our own success!

This success guilt can hold us back from reaching our full potential and enjoying the fruits of our labour. In this blog post, we’ll explore some of the reasons why we feel guilty and strategies for overcoming this guilt.


One of the main reasons we feel guilty about our success is that we often compare ourselves to others. We may look at the achievements of our peers and think that we don’t measure up, or that we’ve somehow got lucky or had an unfair advantage.

We may also feel guilty about our success because we think that others have suffered or been left behind as a result of our achievements. This can make us feel like we’re taking more than our fair share and that we don’t deserve the success we’ve achieved.


When we hold ourselves to impossibly high standards, we may think that we should be able to achieve everything we want and that anything less than perfection is a failure. This can make it hard to enjoy our successes because we’re always focused on what we haven’t accomplished, rather than what we have.

So, how can we get to a place where, instead of suffering success guilt, we celebrate our achievements?

Firstly, it’s important to recognise that success is not a zero-sum game. Just because we’ve achieved something doesn’t mean that someone else has lost out. Because we attempt to dim our own light, it doesn’t necessarily follow that someone else’s light will shine brighter! We have to own the fact that our success may be, at least in part, down to a lucky break, or the planets aligning, but it is underpinned by our own hard work.

We can also cultivate a sense of gratitude for the opportunities, resources, and people that have helped us achieve our goals.

Another strategy for overcoming guilt about success is to focus on the positive impact we’ve had on others. We can think about the people we’ve helped or the contributions we’ve made to our community and society. This can help us see our success as something that is not just good for us, but also good for others. We can focus on “giving back” by training, mentoring, and otherwise supporting others.

As with any imposter syndrome or negative self-narrative, we can use journalling to improve our self-awareness around self-belief. When we are aware of the triggers for any negative thought, belief, or action, we stand a much better chance of being able to reframe the negative to the positive. This will also allow us to ensure that we are pursuing success for ourselves, rather than to fulfil someone else’s expectations of us.

It can also help to write down our definition of success; what it means to us, rather than what we’re led to believe success is. When we pursue success that is meaningful to us, as an individual, then success guilt is less likely to derail us.

It’s also important to remember that success is not always linear and that setbacks and failures are a natural part of the process. Recognising that failure is a part of success can help us be more forgiving of ourselves and less likely to feel guilty when things don’t go as planned.

Lastly, it’s important to remember that success is not just about achieving our goals, but also about enjoying the journey. We can focus on the joy and satisfaction of the work we’re doing and the progress we’re making, rather than just fixating on the end result.

In conclusion, success guilt is a common experience, but it doesn’t have to hold us back. By recognising that success is not a zero-sum game, cultivating a sense of gratitude, focusing on the positive impact we’ve had on others, recognising that failure is a part of success, sharing our success with others, and enjoying the journey, we can overcome guilt and fully embrace our successes.

Are you navigating your road to success? Would you benefit from a wing woman to support you, act as your cheerleader, a sounding board, a challenger of thoughts, and to light the path towards your business success?

If so, I offer a variety of coaching and mentoring services for both small businesses and larger organisations. Why not book a free, no-obligation 30-minute call to discover the benefits of coaching for you?

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