If you’ve ever thought about changing careers, or asking your boss for a promotion, or maybe starting your own business, but you thought, “Why take a risk? I might not be completely satisfied with what I have now, but at least it’s safe, and I get a steady paycheck,” maybe it’s time to think again. It might be true that you’re choosing caution over risk, but you have to consider that what’s really holding you back is fear.
Everyone Contends with Fear
The first thing you should know is that you’re not alone. Most people experience fear at one point or another in their careers. They fear failure, or losing money, or perhaps looking foolish. Those are not unreasonable concerns, but letting them prevent you from following your dreams isn’t without its own risks. You might, for example, be nagged for years by the feeling that you lost a golden opportunity. The truth is, what most people regret as their near the end of their careers is not their failures, but their inaction.
It’s OK to Be Afraid
Fear is normal—it’s part of our genetic makeup, a survival instinct that prevents us from unwittingly entering potentially hazardous situations. What’s not OK is being so overwhelmed with fear that you shy away from a potentially better life.
Patricia DiVecchio is a business and work coach who helps her clients overcome their fears and realize their ambitions. The author of Evolutionary Work: Unleashing Your Potential in Extraordinary Times (Pearhouse Press), and president of International Purpose, DiVecchio has been helping people for more than 25 years manage fear and uncover their work potential and purpose.
Her advice to her clients? Instead of running from your fears, embrace them and treat them as an ally. As she told Forbes recently:
“(Fear) can be a great motivator, a great teacher. We don’t see it like that. We tend to run away from fear, back, or shy away from it, instead of stepping into it. You need to recognize it as something you can learn from. You need to shake hands with your fear and enlist it as a friend- a force to encourage forward movement, rather than something to hide from.”
Here are 5 primary strategies she recommends to embrace your fear and use it to motivate positive action:
1. Make It Concrete
One of the ways fear paralyzes us is through its lack of form. Fear is nebulous, and for this reason difficult to get a hold of and overcome. DiVecchio puts her clients through an exercise in which they draw a picture of what their fear looks like. One of her clients, for example, drew himself afraid as a rickety old car on a road filled with potholes. In making his fear tangible, he was able to grasp its power over him and conquer it.
2. Give Your Fear a Voice
DiVecchio recommends keeping a journal in which you articulate your fear, and monitor how it changes over time. You can’t change what you don’t acknowledge—a journal forces you to confess your fears to yourself, and, in so doing, learn from them.
For example, if you have the desire to begin investing in the stock market, but are afraid you’ll lose the money you invest, writing about that fear might help you make more reasoned investments, or seek the advice of a competent broker. You’ll also be able to examine “the worst that could happen,” and realize that even that worst-case scenario would not be the end of the world.
3. Take Small Steps
Fear often has the power to paralyze us and lead us to complete inaction. To pull yourself out of this trap, do one small thing each day that you’re afraid to do. For example, if you are considering leaving your 9-to-5 job to start your own business, you could begin by doing a little research each day, or calling a trusted mentor for advice. Each small step you take will give you a sense of accomplishment and convince you that you can take another step, and another after that.
4. Practice “the Three E’s”
When we’re afraid, we become convinced that we’re not especially good at anything. This, of course, is not true—everyone has innate skills and capabilities—those things which are not the result of education or experience, but inherent—and everyone needs to remind himself of what those talents are. DiVecchio tells her clients to write about the three E’s: the things that come to you easily, effortlessly, and are exciting, and then to act upon them confidently, perhaps to launch a new career that otherwise might not have occurred to you.
5. Reach out to Trusted Friends and Family
Many people have no clue about where their talents lie. Take the time to interview several people who know you and whose opinions you value. Ask them what they think you’re better at than just about anyone else.
You’ll be surprised to see patterns emerge, similarities in their responses which will help you identify your strengths and act with confidence upon them. It’s sometimes said, “if 5 people tell you you’re sick, see a doctor.” By the same token, if 5 people you trust tell you you’re an outstanding writer, or the first person they come to for advice, believe them.
Success can be as scary as failure—it often brings added responsibilities, and the need to maintain that success over time. It means the kind of change and transformation that you might be afraid to embrace. The good news is that there are competent professionals who are skilled at inspiring and empowering their clients to earn a meaningful living that positively impacts the world.
What have been your greatest challenges with fear and how did you overcome them? Share in the comments because we’d love to hear from you.