The 3 Reasons You Don’t Feel Worthy of Success

A sad man in a dark hoodie representing not feeling worthy of success
An all too common feeling

Imagine you’re an Olympic athlete. A sprinter. It’s the one hundred-meter dash. You plan on running faster than any human has ever run, and you’re favored to win.

You’ve bled and suffered for years to get where you are. Every minute, every breath, and every action was in service of you crossing the finish line before anyone else.

The gun goes off. All you see is a lane and a destination. You pull ahead. You stay ahead. No one can compete with how much you’ve prepared and trained. You arrive at the finish line, but before you cross it, you stop. In front of the world, you look down at the line, and say to yourself:

“No. It shouldn’t be me.”

You walk away. A stampede rushes by you. Your family weeps. Your country weeps. And the world is a little worse off because you didn’t allow yourself to succeed. Here are the three reasons that you don’t feel worthy of success:

1. You Feel Like Your Success Harms Other People

I used to believe that my success would humiliate other people.

If I did something well, that meant someone else would have to feel inadequate, and there would be less success to go around. It wouldn’t be fair if achieved something and others still had to suffer. I didn’t want to succeed unless everyone else got to succeed too.

This is a tragic and deranged way of thinking.

Life isn’t fair. We all have different definitions of fairness like we have different definitions of failure and success. Happiness is not a zero-sum game.

Your wins are yours. If someone doesn’t like your success and starts talking about fairness, maybe they should check themselves before criticizing you.

Your success could serve as an inspiration for what is possible. Someone who isn’t bitter and insecure will see your success as something to aspire to. When you win, the people who love you win too. And if you want to bring it to a grander scale, when good people win, the world is a better place.

2. You Feel Like You Haven’t Earned Success

Success is always sweeter when it’s earned. No arguing that.

But should a person have to earn their right to be successful? Don’t we all fundamentally deserve a chance? Some of the most hardworking, virtuous, well-meaning people are the ones who feel the least worthy of success.

Their bar for deservedness is always just above their heads. They think, “The harder I work, the more deserving I must be, right?”

Yes, but not necessarily. You could be an intensely hard worker and still treat people like garbage. Do you deserve success then? How do you define “deserving”? If you’re constantly chasing achievement to one day be worthy of achievement, then you’ve doomed yourself.

“If my aim is to prove I am ‘enough,’ the project goes on to infinity-because the battle was already lost on the day I conceded the issue was debatable.” nathaniel branden

For your own sake, you should earn success. Otherwise, it will feel cheated. But if you can’t accept yourself, success will never feel earned. Nothing is earned when you’re never enough.

This is why perfectionists are never happy. You try to be perfect to compensate for a wounded sense of self, hoping the world will love you for your perfection.

Your accomplishments are a way of begging others to tell you you’re ok. Achievement becomes something you do not to satisfy your own soul, but to fill a gap.

Figuring out what you’re worth is something you need to do on your own. That brings us to the biggest reason you don’t feel worthy of success.

3. You Don’t Care About Yourself

No child is born believing that they don’t deserve happiness. Life convinces them.

Whether it’s through your parents, your peers, or your circumstances, you’ve been convinced that you aren’t worthy of the things you want. So you when you do accomplish something, it feels like you committed a crime. You don’t feel that winning is something you should do.

Worthiness, deservedness, and being enough, all need to be negotiated in your own way.

Maybe you’re holding a grudge. Maybe you still need to forgive yourself for something you did. Maybe you’ve internalized someone else’s words onto your self-worth. Maybe you’re holding on to a pattern of thinking that no longer serves you.

The bottom line is, you don’t like yourself enough to feel worthy of success. You need to be open to receiving success before you can appreciate it.

If you fundamentally reject yourself, whether you realize it or not, you’re not going to feel a thing when you succeed–that is if you ever allow yourself to.

The Criteria For Feeling Worthy of Success

Feeling worthy is a long process, especially if you’ve felt unworthy your whole life. It takes a lot of introspection and self-exploration to be able to identify how your worthiness was taken from you, and what you need to do to get it back.

I consider this general framework when I’m feeling hesitant about something I’ve done. I ask myself three questions:

  • Have I worked for it?
  • Have I harmed anyone to get to it?
  • Is there any reason it shouldn’t be me?

I heard from a friend that the key to happiness is learning to fall madly in love with yourself. Take that how you will, or look at it this way:

You want the people you love to succeed, right? If you really love someone, you want them to flourish and be at peace with themselves. They want that for you too.

So, try to see what they see. Treat yourself as you would a close friend. I bet half the terrible things you tell yourself you would never say to someone you love.

It should be you that succeeds. You just need to believe that's true.