Why Fear is Really Your Career's Best Friend

Productive fear can help you move toward your goal by shining a light on potential pain so you can figure out a way to avoid it

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Curt Rosengren
Think you’re going to do anything worth doing in your career without feeling a healthy dose of fear? Ha! Good luck. The reality is that, if you are stretching yourself to any degree and not just playing it safe, fear of some sort is bound to come with the territory. And that’s not altogether bad. Fear can actually be your career’s best friend.

[See 21 things hiring managers wish you knew.]

Think of your fear as coming in two varieties – productive fear and limiting fear. Productive fear can help you move toward your goal by shining a light on potential pain so you can figure out a way to avoid it. Limiting fear makes you turn around and run the other way (or at the very least stops you dead in your tracks).

Often the difference between productive fear and limiting fear isn’t the feeling itself; it’s what you do when you feel it. Let’s say, for example, you want to make a career change but you’re afraid you’ll fall on your face and fail. That could become a limiting fear if you decide that it’s best to not take the risk, spending the next twenty years dissatisfied with your work instead. On the other hand, that very same feeling of being afraid that you’ll fail could become a productive fear if you look at it and say, “Good point. That’s a real risk. OK, what can I do to minimize the potential of that actually happening?”

[See 8 questions to ask when your career derails.]

To turn fear into productive fear, look at it and ask questions like:

  • What are some ways to prevent this outcome?
  • What do I need to be aware of that will reduce the risk of this outcome?
  • What are some things I might not be paying attention to that would make this outcome more likely?
  • How do I need to prepare so I can avoid this outcome?
  • Your fear can be a rich source of insight. If it opens your eyes to potential trouble and energizes your action to minimize the likelihood that it will actually happen, fear can be your career’s best friend.

    [See the question that could change every average day.]

    Of course, there’s a fine line between putting your fear to use to prevent unnecessary pain through preparation, and avoiding taking action. If you suspect that you might be falling into avoidance, it might help to give yourself a deadline for when it’s time to start taking steps, and tell someone else so you’ll be held accountable for actually doing it.

    Next time you feel fear about some kind of action that stretches you, ask yourself, “What can I learn here?” Use it as a tool to help smooth the path as you move towards your goals.

    After years as a professional malcontent, Curt Rosengren discovered the power of passion. As speaker, author, and coach, Rosengren helps people create careers that energize and inspire them. His book, 101 Ways to Get Wild About, and his E-book, The Occupational Adventure Guide, offer people tools for turning dreams into reality. Rosengren's blog, The M.A.P. Maker, explores how to craft a life of meaning, abundance, and passion.