From Judith:

The Fear of Being Fabulous can show up in countless ways, but one that deserves extra attention is what we call "Growth Shudders."

It happens in response to a big win, a recent promotion, and/or more money than ever believed possible. There are countless other scenarios that spark "growth shudders," but they are fueled by what my husband Jim Sniechowski and I call "unconscious forbiddances." Prompted by messages or models in early upbringing, the underlying forbiddance argues against being more successful.

When The Fear of Being Fabulous is lurking in an employee’s unconscious, and they achieve beyond their comfort zone then you’ll want to be alert to all the ways they may act out that discomfort on the job.

For example:

*** After a major win, the person can get caught in self-doubt which will show up in team meetings or in your 1-on-1s with them as they insist in some way, "It was just a fluke, it’ll never happen again." Don’t assume they’re just being modest. They truly cannot take in and OWN the big success they’ve just achieved and need to blow it off in order to stay loyal to their life-long diminished self-image.

*** Starting off in a new position with immediate and impressive success—and then, and then, and then drifting into mediocrity. Singer song-writers Simon and Garfunkel wrote about it. "The closer your destination, the more you’re slip sliding away." It’s another way of not being able to hold on to a new and larger identity.

*** Being given visible new and more demanding responsibilities that could lead to a promotion if executed well, and instead of stepping up to the plate the person becomes over-eager, extra-anxious, flustered, disorganized, and bites themselves in the you know what, unconsciously needing to prove they’re not good-enough.

*** After a big win, the person may start coming in late looking haggard, frazzled, and may seem to be ignoring others around them. Sleepless nights, troubled dreams, and confusion about their new identity haunting them, they are clearly experiencing a major "growth shudder."

*** Despite a glowing promotion, that event may cause the destruction of what was previously a fairly solid professional identity platform. Where once they knew who they were on the ascent of their career, now they have no idea who they are and what they really want to do. They start complaining that they aren’t happy and don’t actually know what happiness is.

I could go on and on about the myriad ways people stumble into and express their own "growth shudders." But the main point is to be aware of this pattern in others and in yourself, if it applies, which it usually does as people tell us all the time. And my husband Jim Sniechowski and I have both gone through it many times on our way out of the "no-ambition, no education" lower middle-class families we came from.

Whether it applies to you or people you manage, trust that the "growth shudder" is a very normal element of the success curve and do the best you can to be compassionate toward yourself or others. The unconscious programming we all received before we were old enough to evaluate what we were learning (which can only occur after about age 7 when the neo-cortex area of the brain has been sufficiently developed to support the "thinking process") too often contained messages about not being good enough, comparisons with others with you on the losing end, and/or snide comments about your ambition or your successes. Parents don’t mean to damage their children, they often think they are teaching about "reality" or exhorting their child to do better. But the negative messaging goes into the unconscious nevertheless.

For most people, this "growth shudder" period of disorientation and identity-upheaval will fade and be replaced with a sturdier more fulfilling identity that has integrated the new success. But for a few, they cannot allow themselves to grow further away from the dictates of their unconscious forbiddances to greater success, and they will either leave, or provoke you to have to let them go.

If this applies to you, or when you are managing someone going through it, the key question is:

"What are you more dedicated to than owning your own new success?"

I look forward to hearing your responses to this provocative and often unaddressed issue.

Author's Bio: 

Judith Sherven, PhD and her husband Jim Sniechowski, PhD have developed a penetrating perspective on people’s resistance to success, which they call The Fear of Being Fabuloustm. Recognizing the power of unconscious programming to always outweigh conscious desires, they assert that no one is ever failing—they are always succeeding. The question is, at what? To learn about how this played out in the life of Whitney Houston, check out

Currently working as consultants on retainer to LinkedIn providing executive coaching, leadership training and consulting as well as working with private clients around the world, they continually prove that when unconscious beliefs are brought to the surface, the barriers to greater success and leadership presence begin to fade away. They call it Overcoming the Fear of Being Fabulous