Facing Your Professional Fears

A woman looks down, holding her head, looking stressed

Are your professional fears getting in the way of your success?

You see a job opportunity that sounds incredibly exciting. But you don’t apply because you fear that you don’t have enough experience. 

You secretly want to make a career change and pursue something you love. But you fear what your friends and loved ones will think of you.

You have a brilliant idea for a side business. But you fear that you will fail and experience rejection. 

While these professional fears are understandable, and most likely grounded in past experiences and messaging from others, that doesn’t necessarily mean that these fears are true—or even bad.

That’s right. Sometimes fear can be a good thing. It’s a sign that deep down, you’re truly excited to try this thing out. It’s also a sign that you have a good head on your shoulders. If you didn’t have any fears about a professional pursuit, then you’d be wildly out of touch and putting yourself at greater risk. But having a healthy dose of fear means that you’re willing to put in the work and prepare accordingly, which will only increase your chances of success. 

Let's take a look at some of the attitudes and strategies you can use to help you manage your fears and go for what you want

What if I don’t have what it takes?

In his book Do Over, author Jon Acuff confronts the question that many of us have asked ourselves when facing our professional fears: What if I don’t have what it takes?

But here’s what you have to remember: there is no definitive “it” to success. 

In fact, there are lots of different variables that contribute to your success. You need discipline, drive, a strong set of skills, and a supportive network. These are all variables that you can work on and develop. So lucky for you, you don't have to rely on just one elusive factor to achieve your big dreams. You don’t need “it” to succeed. You have several tools at your disposal. 

Investigating your professional fears 

Why do we have professional fears in the first place? Where are they coming from?

To dismantle your professional fears, it helps to do a little internal investigation.

For this exercise, you’ll want to find a quiet spot and take out your journal

First, think about a professional step that you want to take. Applying for a new job. Going for a promotion. Throwing your name in to take on a big project at work. 

Then, make a list of all the fears that are coming up for you. Don’t judge, just write it down. Example: I fear that my boss will tell me I’m not good enough. I fear that if I do get the promotion I’ll have no clue what to do. I fear that my friends will resent me for spending more time at work.

Next, find the root of your fears. It really helps to figure out where your fears are coming from, so that you can understand them better, and give them less power. 

Maybe you fear getting a promotion because you worry you’ll be clueless in your new role. Dig a little deeper. Did a parent or teacher or former boss ever make you feel bad for not picking up a new skill quickly? Or did you grow up believing that you had to be perfect all the time?

Finally, reframe your fear. Professional fears are often limiting beliefs that you have about yourself. We pick up limiting beliefs from our parents, friends, and the media. For example, if you grew up hearing the phrase “starving artist” all the time, then a limiting belief would be “I can’t become an artist because I won’t make any money.” 

The trick to combating limiting beliefs is to reframe them into empowering statements. 

Limiting belief: I’m not good enough unless I’m perfect all the time.

Empowering belief: I am allowed to learn as I go. If I make mistakes, I trust that I’ll learn from them and improve.

Remember to be patient and gentle with yourself during this exercise. It may take some time to uncover and analyze your fears and limiting beliefs. But the more you address your fears and work on them, the less power they will have over you. 

False deadlines

Another component that adds fire to our professional fears is this notion that we need to accomplish a big goal by a certain age. You’ll hear people say: “I want to do X before I turn 40” or “I want to accomplish Y before I have kids.”

Your dreams don’t have a deadline. There are plenty of successful people who have accomplished big dreams later in life. And in many cases, the bigger the goal, the more time it needs to come to fruition. 

Of course, deadlines are helpful and give us impetus to get off the couch and do the work. But there’s no such thing as an expiration date on your dreams. So don’t give yourself one.

Look for short-term gains 

When it comes to facing your professional fears, take the shallow end approach. Don’t just dive into the deep end headfirst and overwhelm yourself. Take a gradual approach and dip your toes in the water.

So take a look at your professional fears and identify the smallest action step you can take that will give you a surefire win.

For example, if you have a fear of public speaking, what is the smallest thing you can do this week or this month to help you reduce your fear?

Here are some examples:

  • Talk to a colleague you trust and ask for their advice on public speaking.
  • Practice speaking up in smaller meetings, when it’s just two or three participants.
  • Sign up for an improv or storytelling class to practice public speaking in a safe and structured setting.
  • Pick a mantra that will give you confidence before you speak.
  • Challenge yourself to raise your hand and ask one question during a meeting. 
  • Read a book on public speaking.

You might notice that none of these examples mention speaking in public. The idea is to take really small steps and gain short-term wins, and eventually build your way up to public speaking. 

You don’t have to let professional fears come between you and your dreams. By taking baby steps and learning to work with your fears, you can achieve success over time.

Written by JiJi Lee

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