Fear is an emotion that most of us dislike as it makes us feel uncomfortable and vulnerable. And truth be told, we often employ all sorts of strategies to avoid feeling fear – preferring to stay safely within our comfort zone. But fear is a normal emotion that everyone experiences at least now and then in the course of life and work. Not only that, but a willingness to explore our fear can be powerful and lead us to make breakthroughs in our careers and lives.
When you feel the stir of fear, rather than trying to avoid it, I recommend that you instead face it head on. Look it straight in the face and ask it, ‘Fear, what do you have to tell me?’ Then be open, and listen to the answer. You may want to think on this. You may want to actually write down the question and then write down any and all answers that come to your mind. Your goal is to give the fear a name, to make it specific and concrete so you know what you are dealing with.
Based on what comes up for you, consider it and make a plan for how you choose to deal with it. For example, is there legitimately something to be afraid of? A real danger? If so, then take action. Do something to protect yourself.
Is your gut instinct or sixth sense warning you that something is not right and that you need to pay attention? For example, are you sensing the writing on the wall that layoffs/redundancies are coming in your team or division? Or do you realize that you are in a toxic work environment? If so, start considering your next steps and exit strategy.
If you discover that there is not a real and concrete threat, your next step is to dig deeper and figure out what is really behind the fear. For instance, is it just trying to keep you from leaving your comfort zone, from changing the status quo? Our brains are designed to keep us safe. They do not like change or the unknown. Our brains like the safety and security of our normal circumstances and routine.
Perhaps you have been entertaining ideas of making a big change or taking a risk in your career. And maybe, just maybe, the prospect of that is scaring the daylights out of you. Ask yourself: ‘If there were no limits, and I knew I couldn’t fail, what would I allow myself to do?’
When you think of this thing that you dream of doing, but are terrified of trying, what comes up for you?
Is it fear of failure? Then I have reassuring news for you – you are a normal human-being. Congratulations, and welcome to the club! All of us humans fear failure.
When you think of taking the leap and going after your goal, do you start thinking, ‘What if?’ What if I fail? What if people think I’m a joke? What if…?
Why not turn it around and consider the positive possibilities: What if I succeed? What if I try and find out I’m a natural? What if this is the breakthrough that takes my career to the next level?
When we try something new, we have no way of knowing how it will actually turn out. But we can choose whether or not we will adopt a negative or a positive attitude and expectation. Why not choose to be positive and believe that you will be successful?
If none of these ideas and examples quite nails it down for you, then try this. Reserve some uninterrupted time for yourself and get yourself a means to record your thoughts – paper, computer, whatever works for you. Then write: ‘I am afraid that _____________ because __________.’ Or ‘I am afraid of _______________ because ________________.’
Next write everything that comes to mind until you can’t think of anything else. Then go through each fear you wrote down and ask yourself, ‘Is this a fact that can be proven or is it a belief?’
For the statements that you labeled as beliefs – go through each one and ask yourself, ‘Does this belief serve me? Help me?’ If not, and if you decide you want to change it, then flip it on its head and re-write it as a positive statement. Use these to create affirmations, statements that support and encourage you.
For example, imagine that your goal is to be promoted and become a manager. However, you wrote down this belief: I am afraid that I will be a bad manager and no one will take me seriously because I am not tough enough and not old enough. Instead, you could re-write it into something like this: I will be an excellent manager who is well-respected by my direct reports and peers because I am extremely knowledgeable, I am strong, and I believe in empowering my team to be their absolute best.
Choose a few of your statements that seem most relevant and resonate most with you. Polish them up to create affirmations that are positive and empowering for you. Then start to repeat them to yourself daily. You might also set aside a few minutes each day as your mindset time where you focus on repeating your affirmations and really feeling the emotions around them when you say them.
And when you think about your career goal and you find yourself feeling doubt and fear, ask yourself, ‘Is my goal worth it to me? Does it really mean enough to me to push through my fear and do what I know I need to do?’
If your answer is yes, then recognize that your fear is around change and the unknown. In this case, choose to acknowledge the fear, take a deep breath, and proceed forward. Remember this: if you never feel afraid in your career and in your life, if you never fail, then you are not taking enough risks. You are playing too small.
Decide that you will not be controlled by your fear. Instead, decide that you will use your fear as a tool to guide you and help you make a career breakthrough. And once you summon your courage and start going after your dream, keep reminding yourself to ‘feel the fear and do it anyway’ (Jeffers, 2012).
Jeffers, S. J. (2012). Feel the fear and do it anyway. Random House.