Overcoming Fear in the Business World

Recently I reached out to my subscribers and asked if there were any topics I should cover.  I received several great ideas, and the next few blogs are in response to these topics.  One request was how to deal with fear in the workplace.  To quote the email I received, “I am not fearful of many things, but moving up to the next level in the business world scares the shit out of me.”  This topic is one that all of us deal with, no matter how high we move in an organization.  Even Presidents and CEOs have to deal with fear and overcoming the effects it can have on our ability to grow, learn and lead.  Let’s fight fear with courage!

Fear causes us to delay or stall our dreams and keeps us from doing the things that provide the most fulfillment. It can be toxic to us both mentally and physically if dwelled upon for too long.  I have felt all of these things at some point in my career and I still struggle with some of them from time to time.  Here are some fear inducing situations that may sound familiar.  

I’m not ready yet. I don’t have the experience I need to be successful.

There have been many times I have felt this way in my career.  An example that sticks out in my mind is when I took a Director’s level role and for the first time reported directly to the President.  Here I was, sitting at the same table as VPs, SVPs and the President.  I was the youngest person in the room by at least 10 years and I was the only woman.  While I knew I had good ideas I was so afraid to share them.  The thoughts that consumed me included, “Who am I to be speaking up in these meetings?  These guys obviously have a lot more experience than me and they see me as junior to them.  They don’t respect my opinions.”  These thoughts were toxic and lies I was telling myself.  Letting these thoughts fill my mind led to poor performance. When I would speak up in meetings, I would come off defensive.  I learned about this defensiveness when I asked for feedback from my boss during my annual performance review.  He was honest with me and that was just what I needed.  Not only did he tell me not so good news, but he also shared that my opinion was respected and that the others in the room did value my opinion.  This was really important for me to hear and I’m glad I stuck my neck out and asked for the feedback.  The feelings of imposter syndrome are often in our head. Your boss and leaders in your organization are people too.  They have been where you are and have thought the same thoughts.  They are no better than you.  They may have more years of experience than you but if you can find ways to build trusting relationships with them, they will help you through your shortcomings.  It is important to squash feelings of inadequacy and find people around you that can help you to know how you’re really doing so you can adjust.  

If I take this new assignment and fail, will I get fired?

In this case, there are two things to consider.  First, have there been other examples of people failing in your company and getting fired for similar type assignments?  If not, let it go.  This is an unfounded fear, and you work in an environment that allows for mistakes without fear.  If there have been people fired for making mistakes, you may need to assess whether you are in the correct work environment to be challenged and grow.  I’ve honestly never been in a work environment where I saw someone fired for a single failed assignment.  I’m not saying it doesn’t happen, but it hasn’t happened to me.  The second thing to think about is, what if I succeed?  What positive things will happen if I do well?  It’s easy to focus on the possible negative outcomes but instead, flip the script and think about how you will feel if you succeed and what it will do for your personal value and career advancement.  Focus on the positive and shut the negative out.  It does not serve you and is holding you back.

I’m not happy with my current job but what if I fail at making a change?

This is a fear I have faced every time I have made a career change.  It’s scary.  There are a lot of unknowns and I have been burned.  Early in my career and marriage to Jake we were going through a rough patch.  In addition to some misalignment in our relationship, there were fears of Jake losing his job because of the recession.  Out of fear, I applied for a job back “home” in Nebraska.  I got the offer and it seemed like the answer to our prayers.  Well, it wasn’t.  It was the answer to running away from problems.  Not only was it running away from our problems, but it also ended up being a disaster job-wise.  I was reporting to a micromanager.  I was miserable and felt like I could not be successful at the company because of the situation.  After about six months, I called my previous employer and asked if they would have me back.  Fortunately, they said yes, however, I had to wait until my one-year date with the current company.  We had taken a relocation contract as part of the deal and if I left before a year, I’d have to pay it all back.  It was more than we could financially bear at the time, so I stuck it out until day 365 and I turned in my notice.  This experience made it very difficult to leave each employer after that because I fear making another poor move.  I have learned more about what to look for in companies while interviewing to try to minimize the risk.  I will share my thoughts on that in a future blog.  In addition to assessing the company during the interview also think about what you will gain with the new position.  Be cautious and smart but don’t let it paralyze you into inaction.  I know it is a fine line, but I’ve found that more often than not, the risk has been worth the reward.  Nothing is forever.  If it’s a bad choice, you can always get out of it and in my case, I’ve always learned from the poor experiences – sometimes more than the good ones!

I have witnessed a lot of managers fail and be ineffective. Do I have what it takes to lead?  

I have had many effective and inspirational bosses in my career, and I am ever grateful for them.  I also had one specific experience where I had to report to a micromanager. It was not my first boss but was early in my career.  The person I reported to would watch every move the people under her would make including walking around the office and asking questions to make sure we were working at all times – no fun or socialization was to be had in that office!  My first working experience out of college was very different, having bosses who would share the work needs with me, set an expectation for completion and then just let me do the work.  This new situation was very different and within a couple of months working under the micromanager, I found myself crying in my car every day at lunch.  I’m completely serious here.  It was a disaster.  I was still an individual contributor at the time and didn’t yet know what my leadership style would be.  Luckily, I had several other great managers and leaders around me and when I did get the chance to become a supervisor, I replicated the tactics and leadership styles that I liked in them.  So far, it has done me well.  Bottom line, if you get the opportunity to move into a management role, remember what you have liked most about your boss’s style or people around you that you think have done a good job and then utilize the same approach.  Don’t focus on all of the bad you’ve witnessed.  Generally, if you lead people the way you would want to be led – utilizing positive assumptions and building trust – the leadership track will go well for you.  If you are looking for some formalized training on leading, my number one recommendation is attending a workshop from the HPWP Group. Their teachings and approach have been career changing for me as a leader. If you are currently employed, consider asking your employer to cover the cost of the training for you as part of your personal development. www.hpwpgroup.com

I like the work-life balance I have.  What if all that goes away with a move up?  

This is often a fear that reflects wanting to stay in our comfort zones.  For some people, this is a valid excuse to settle into what you’re doing.  There is nothing wrong with staying in a position you are happy with, if you are satisfied.  If you are not satisfied, a bit bored or get presented with an opportunity of a lifetime, I say go for it!  I have been able to find the work-life balance I have needed throughout my career.  There have been times that I have felt stressed out and a bit out of balance but at those very same companies I have been able to take some time off to balance things once the activity settled down.  One key to this is also setting boundaries about when you will work and when you won’t.  I can’t prescribe on this because each situation is different, and you have to find the balance that works for you.  With that said, I have worked for some great bosses and all of them have been flexible in what I have needed to feel balanced.  If you don’t ask for it or if you make assumptions about what is required, you will be frustrated.  In general, if your job is getting done at a level that you are always meeting and sometimes exceeding expectations, bosses will be flexible with you.  Don’t let fear of having to work harder keep you from taking a new opportunity.  You know the common phrase…work smarter, not harder!

In situations when facing fear, here are some steps to help assess and resolve it: 

  1. Identify your fears.  What are you actually fearing?  Write them down.  
  2. Next, with each of those fears, play out the worst-case scenario.  What is the worst that can happen to you?  
  3. Now, flip the script.  What is the best case-scenario?  What could you gain professionally and more importantly, personally?  Could the opportunity lead you to being happier overall and with more job satisfaction?  Could it lead to more financial gain and therefore the ability to provide more for your family?  
  4. Focus on your why.  What is it that keeps you going to work every day? Why do you do it?  If this decision is in line with your why, shove the fear aside, take action and go for it.  
  5. Lastly, find positive people around you to help mentor and collaborate with on ideas.  You are not alone in this. I am here to bounce ideas off of if you think it could help.  Your family members can also be good sounding boards.  My husband Jake and my Dad are both trusted advisors for me in addition to friends and co-workers.  Let them help you gain the confidence you need to accomplish your dreams.  The key here is you need to believe them and substitute negative thoughts with positive ones if you are to overcome your fears and essentially grow and succeed.   

I hope these steps help you overcome your fear, be courageous and most importantly allow you to achieve both your career and personal dreams.  I’m thankful for this idea from my subscriber Mark.  If you have a topic idea, please send an email to natalie@pineapplecourage.com.  And if you haven’t subscribed yet, it’s easy!  Just visit the bottom of any of my website pages at https://pineapplecourage.com/.  I’d love to have you join. 


1 thought on “Overcoming Fear in the Business World”

  1. Natalie,
    Thanks for the reminder. Yesterday marked the 10th anniversary of a major career move in my life. I went through most of the feelings you illustrated in the article. As you mention, it was scary. But now, in reflecting back, it was so worth facing the unfamiliarity. I love my job and the organization I work for…but I didn’t know that beforehand.
    I would encourage your other readers to embrace change. Sometimes we have the choice to change, like I did 10 years ago, and sometimes it is forced upon us, i.e. Covid. But please keep in mind that the only constant in the universe is change. Change helps us grow. Change offers opportunities. Like it or not, change is coming and will always be ahead of us until we die. Try not to fear it. It is not our enemy.
    Again, Natalie, thank you for the reminder and the suggestions. To all your other readers, I wish you the best with your path forward!

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