Don’t Let Fear Control Your Career

Here's how to make fear work for you.

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Curt Rosengren
Fear can be your career’s worst enemy. It has a tendency to see the worst and hits the brakes at a moment’s notice, severely limiting the possibilities available to you. But you don’t have to let fear drive.

Here are eight ways to take back the wheel when fear wants to take you on a joy ride:

1. Acknowledge and interview it

Many people want nothing to do with their fear. They just wish it would go away, so they stuff it down and try to ignore it. At best this is an ineffective strategy. At worst, it actually compounds and expands the feeling of fear, ratcheting up the intensity like a pressure cooker.

Instead of ignoring it, stop and look it in the face. Take a deep breath and, with kindness and compassion, acknowledge that it’s there. Then start asking questions. What’s going on? Why is it up so strong? What is it afraid of? What would help alleviate that fear? What does it need in order to feel OK? You might not completely eliminate it, but facing the fear directly and asking questions can turn down the volume. At the same time, it can give you insights on how to manage it as you move forward.

[See 11 Helpful Sites for Job Seekers.]

2. Ask for its advice

This may sound odd, but your fear can be a solid ally in your career if you let it. First you have to set some ground rules. Your fear is an advisor, not the one in control. Once that is clear, ask it what it is afraid of. Ask what dangers it sees. Ask what could go wrong.

When you put your fear in the position of advisor, you essentially ask, what can I learn from you that will increase my chances for success? Your fear is adept at seeing the dangers. When it is the one in control, that ability can lead to everything grinding to a halt. But when it is an advisor, it can give you some very specific things to work on that will help you avoid some of the bumps, bruises, and downright failures along the way. For each of the dangers your fear brings up, you can say, “OK, now what can I do about that? How do I minimize the potential of that coming true?”

3. Reach out for support

Gritting your teeth and facing the fear alone is a great way to turn up the volume on that fear. Bringing other people into the picture, whether friends, families, colleagues, coaches, or therapists, can work wonders on helping you move through it. If fear is getting in your way, reach out for support. Find someone to talk to about it. Be honest. That might be emotional support, or it might be the support of someone who has “been there, done that” who has insights to share.

4. Make a case for why you can

Most of us have minds that are skilled at coming up with reasons why we can’t. Flip that on its head. Make a case for why you CAN. “Yes, I can make this happen, and here’s why.” Point to past successful experiences. Outline the skills you have that can be applied. Look at the external resources you can call on. Give your mind an alternative to “I can’t.”

[See 7 Ways to Make a Difference on the Job.]

5. Plan

Fear thrives in a state of uncertainty. Take some of the guesswork out of reaching your goal by sitting down and creating a plan. Identify the steps you need to take to reach your goal. Get a better understanding of the resources you will need, and where you can find them. If it helps, come up with contingency plans so you don’t have the pressure of just one option. You can do this at both a big-picture level (for example, a goal of a career change or a successful business) or on a smaller scale (for example, a goal of creating a “board of advisors” to give you advice along the way).

6. Chart the possibilities

Fear typically skews the possible outcome towards abject failure. That view is typically inaccurate. The potential outcomes for most things end up being more of a bell curve, with abject failure on one end, outrageous success on the other, with the bulk of the potential outcomes falling in between. Ask yourself, “How likely is this worst case scenario that my fear is feeding me with? How likely are some of the other outcomes?” To reinforce that visually, try making a bell curve graph or a pie chart assigning percentages to the likely outcomes.

7. Take small steps

Get beyond your fear-induced inertia by creating forward momentum with small steps. Break what you need to do down until it’s manageable, and then dig in. Small steps both create a sense of forward momentum and give you confidence as you make actual progress.

[See 10 Questions to Ask When You Fail.]

8. Use the Emotional Freedom Technique

Finally, try using the Emotional Freedom Technique. Commonly known as EFT, or tapping, it is a technique that uses energy meridian points, much like acupuncture or acupressure. You might think it looks goofy (probably because it does), but there have been many studies on its effectiveness. I have experienced that effectiveness myself. Here is a good basic tutorial on the EFT concept.

Your fear is unlikely to ever go away completely, and you probably wouldn’t want it to. But it doesn’t have to be the one at the wheel (and the brakes). Find ways to reduce unnecessary intensity, let it play a role in navigating obstacles, and start stepping more fully and completely into your potential.

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 Work, 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.