27 September 2023

Beating the blockages to career success

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Ashley Stahl* describes the three great fears that can leave workers unable to confront the challenges necessary to advance their careers —and what they can do about it.

What are you afraid of? This is a question I ask my clients who know what they want, but won’t take the first steps to get it.

Fear is an emotion sparked by a threat which, in turn, triggers behaviour to avoid and cope with the threat.

It starts in the amygdala, the portion of the brain that detects and defines emotions.

For some, fear can trigger a response of shutting down and freezing, while others may react with rage or aggressive outbursts.

Historically, our fear protected us from actual threats to our survival in nature, from lions stalking tribes of people in the desert, to impending storms.

In short, our fear is often primarily rooted in our human desire to survive, but today, it’s gotten out of hand.

In a world where we no longer need to watch out for sabre-toothed tigers, our fear has found a new focus — social acceptance by others.

As a career coach, I have identified three main areas of fear that could be sabotaging your life and career.

Fear of success

Perhaps you are subconsciously worried that success will stack on a new pile of demands, or put you on a pedestal and push you away from those close to you.

Maybe it will consume your time, or leave you emotionally cold or alone.

If you subconsciously believe that success will hurt your life, you will not be able to welcome it in and as a result, you’ll limit your potential.

One way to overcome this is to surround yourself with people that are successful.

Research has found that actually watching someone interact with the harmful object or idea you fear helps eliminate your own negative response to it.

You might be buying into the limiting belief that success will make you a mean person, or that the monetary gain will make people only want you for your money.

In some instances, this might be true, but challenge yourself to find people who have success and are still genuinely accepted and appreciated by others.

Who you spend time with matters.

A study found that although friends bond by providing moral support, they are also just as likely to become partners in crime and give into poor behaviour or making bad decisions.

So pick who you spend time with wisely.

If you resonate with fear of success, chances are you take yourself for granted a lot.

Begin to practice a success library.

Build a repository of success stories for things you have accomplished or overcome.

When you are afraid to step up and take a risk or reach for higher success, revert to reading these stories as an affirmation that success won’t kill you.

Fear of failure

Perhaps the thought of trying something new and different paralyses you.

You don’t put your best foot forward in a project because if (or when) it fails, you at least know you weren’t giving it your all.

You are self-sabotaging big time, and as a result, walking around with a great deal of regret and hidden shame.

Shame is a troubling emotion since it makes you feel bad, not just about your action, but about who you are.

This hits straight into your ego and knocks down your self-esteem.

It doesn’t help that in today’s society, failure is often viewed as being completely unacceptable.

Expectations are high and if you fail to meet them, you could lose your job, your spouse, your self-confidence or your respect.

Chances are you have failed at least once by now, and these negative experiences are what shape your fear of failing again.

So what do you do? You cocoon yourself into a state of mediocrity and go along with the status quo because it feels safe.

Instead, begin to map out the potential outcomes if you take a risk.

Ask yourself: What’s the worst that can actually happen?

Fear has a way of tripping us up into imagined failures that are unlikely or even impossible.

Start small, and create little goals each day that will build over time into larger accomplishments.

This way, each small step won’t have too big a failure potential and will build back your confidence over time.

Fear of the unknown

Perhaps making decisions is terrifying and floods you with self-doubt.

You have become a creature of habit, so much so you resist any changes that are in your control.

When you think about the future you procrastinate until you feel you have enough information to act, even if it is too late.

Fear of the unknown has been proposed by scientists as the fundamental fear of all fears.

If you experience any sort of anxiety disorder, data supports a strong correlation between anxiety and fear of the unknown.

In order to help yourself in facing the unknown, you need to understand what is happening inside of you.

When an unknown circumstance arises, the part of your brain responsible for fine-tuning motor control and muscle memory can cause the body to automatically freeze.

Combat this by doing something active as quickly as possible.

When you feel a sense of overwhelm or fear begin to creep in, lace up your shoes and go for a run.

Or if you are at work, take a break and walk outside.

Aerobic activity helps to break you free of feeling so frozen.

Once you feel unfrozen, practice giving up some of the control in your life.

Perhaps you go out on a limb and try something completely new (like learning an instrument or taking an acting class).

Walk into the experience with no attachment to the outcome, or pass part of a project that doesn’t need much more work onto a new co-worker.

Allowing fear into your life is a slow process and does require small incremental steps.

It is okay to feel the fear; it’s what you do with it that matters most.

*Ashley Stahl is a career coach, keynote speaker, podcast host and author. In a previous life she was award-winning counter-terrorism professional. She can be contacted at ashleystahl.com.

This article first appeared at ashleystahl.com.

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