Is Fear the “Enemy” of Your Career Success?

If you’re not progressing in your career the way you think you should or if you’re holding back from making a move that might give your career a boost, maybe fear is the culprit. Fear can wear many faces, and you might not recognize it as being the source of your problems.

Fear of Change

Probably one of the biggest fears is the fear of change. You can hesitate, even wait too long and lose out on a new employment opportunity, because it means you have to change something about what you’re doing. If change is pushed on you externally (by your boss, your company, a family member who thinks you need to get out of the rut you’re in), it’s harder to overcome the fear than if you were the one who thought up the idea in the first place.

The bird will start some free fallsEven in the latter case, though, you’re facing an uncertain situation, which could make you feel insecure and doubtful about the wisdom of moving forward. While I’m not advocating flying without a parachute (free falling!), I do believe you need to be willing to take at least a little leap of faith (faith in yourself, if nothing else) to overcome the fear and pursue a meaningful goal. (In the interests of full disclosure, I should mention that I don’t fly with a parachute, much less without one.)

Recently I read an article in Harvard Business Review titled, “What FDR Knew about Managing Fear in Times of Change.” The authors shared some compelling explanations and ideas about how leaders have managed major changes, using Franklin D. Roosevelt during the Great Depression as a prime example.

To begin with, they said, “In our work with leaders we’ve found that managing successful transformational change has a lot to do with managing fear. This includes fear of the unknown, fear of failure, fear of change, or even fear of fear itself. This is especially true when making bold changes — the kind of change that could take an organization to a whole new level of performance, or, out of a paralyzing tailspin. The bolder the change, the bigger the fear, as fear is our resistance to change.”

You might think of it as a balancing scale (you know, the classic image of two pieces hanging from a support arm, one kind of item being placed in the left side and another in the right). On one side you have the fear(s) holding you back from the career success you’re targeting, and on the other you have the qualities, assets, motivation, etc., that could potentially move you forward. Your goal here is to identify more and stronger items you can place on the right side of the scale, to outweigh the fears.

So what else might be holding you back?

Fear of Doing the “Wrong” Thing

Fear of failure is part of this. “If I do the wrong thing/make the wrong decision, I’ll fail.” Could it happen? Possibly. Is it likely to happen? That’s harder to say, but in many cases, the answer could be, “Probably not.”

I’ve known people who automatically (or so it seems) leap to the assumption that disaster looms ahead, even if they can’t actually see it coming–they’re masters of the “what if…” scenario, with the “what if” being almost invariably a bad outcome. They also waste an incredible amount of time and emotional energy on negative events that never occur.

Don’t do that to yourself! As I’ve said before, you’re unlikely to make a truly disastrous career choice, certainly not one that’s life-threatening. Start with commonsense and throw in a little positive imagination, then get moving.Depositphotos_1074168_m-2015

Another quick “tip”: If you seem to have a ball-and-chain holding you back, view it for what it is: fear forges those links. With the right approach and the right tools, you can cut the links! Then you’re on your way to the great new job opportunity you deserve.


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