Fear needs no invitation to rear its ugly head. Fear takes many forms: from fearing heights to a severe case of arachibutyrophobia (fear of peanut butter sticking to the roof of one’s mouth, a common enough phobia to have it’s own name).
Fear can cause serious paralysis of our progression, if we let it. Not all fears affect our careers, although perhaps a fear of heights may limit opportunities when it comes to working in offices located above the ground floor. We may not realise it, but we often cower away from opportunities and our ambitions, largely because we fear change, failure or judgement.
Fear of Change
Everyone fears change to some degree, and rightly so. Not every change is for the better. Whether it’s anxiety about moving to the desk outside the boss’ office (justified), or a change of career, we are experts at creating worst case scenarios in our heads. We create conspiracies; often concluding that if things were to change, it couldn’t possibly be for the better. We make excuses: ‘but if I change jobs, I could end up somewhere that doesn’t embrace Thirsty Thursdays, and then I’ll only have Fast-Food Fridays to look forward to. Plus, I doubt I’ll get a chair that swivels as smoothly as this one’. Or, ‘if I move interstate, I’m really going to struggle with the language barrier’.
Instead of change, we would rather bask in the mundane comfort of our safe daily routines. There’s nothing wrong with that, except we then continue to complain about it. We would rather entertain misery than risk feeling uncomfortable in the zone of the unknown.
Americans appear to have mastered mulling in misery. Nearly 70% of Americans dislike their jobs, and 36% of employees would willing sacrifice $5,000 a year in salary to be happier at work. Surely 70% of all working Americans aren’t nailed to their desks, water boarded until they agree to stay, or contracted to work until death? Rather, people seem to tolerate unhappy situations and jobs for fear of disrupting the status quo, and ending up in a worse predicament. Employees must imagine that if they did leave their miserable job, they’d find themselves unemployed and begging on the street, or washing car windscreens at traffic lights. Why else would they stay?
Fear of failure
‘I love failing because I enjoy working my gag reflex’ – said no one ever. Whether failing constitutes letting ourselves or others down, it’s the fear of suffering humiliation and disappointment, that stops us from progressing in our careers and making bold decisions. We can be guilty of undermining our own abilities. We often choose not to push ourselves in work or in life generally, reaching an optimum benchmark of achievement that we can easily sustain. This then allows us to stay comfortable, mitigating any risk of failure, hiding behind a facade of confidence and fulfilment.
There is always a risk of failing at something, but what about the risk of succeeding? We are ultimately the ones who define what constitutes success and failure. Is your ultimate ‘success’ characterised as having a wallet that looks like a bible? Or is it mastering a work life balance? Is your ultimate ‘failure’ losing a company client and getting fired? Or is it accidentally burning a hole in your kitchen ceiling with a blow torch, in the pursuit of the perfect creme brûlée? Either way, success and failure happen whether we like it or not. The feeling of failure will eventually pass and we can learn from the experience and be glad we tried. By contrast, failing to take up an opportunity, creates a feeling of regret that lingers much longer.
Fear of judgement
If your dream is to become a Lady Gaga impersonator, you may feel obliged to hide your vision behind a grey pinstriped suit. Working on the stock exchange may have left you fearful that other brokers and investment bankers would be disapproving of your career change, and envious of your hidden talents. This leaves your ambitions confounded to the privacy of your parent’s basement, the only place you feel you won’t be judged for singing about Bad Romance, and wearing a delicious meat dress with glitter in your hair. Alas, the world continues to suffer for want of more financial service professionals, able to pull off leather studded bikinis. A waste of talent to say the very least.
We all look for approbation from our friends, friends of friends, family and colleagues. Often, we are so concerned about other people’s opinions, that we suppress our true ambitions. In return, we are offered neat conformity in line with popular opinion about what constitutes a ‘respectable’ career choice. Ironically, we rarely have the courage to ask the opinions of those who judge us. Instead we just assume they’ll say something we don’t want to hear.
We get hung up trying to create a certain impression, when in reality, we create impressions we can’t really control. It’s human nature to judge, no matter whether you decide to be a stock broker or the next Lady Gaga. The question to carefully consider is; are other people’s opinions more important than what you’re seeking to achieve?
You decide whose opinion to care about. Whether you’re seeking approval and acceptance from your family, Twitter’s social media influencers, or 15 year-old die hard Justin Bieber fans, you ultimately choose how much weight you place on their judgements.
To tackle the fear of change, failure, and judgement, you need to:
- Stop creating conspiracy theories. If you choose to quit work and find something else, it’s unlikely that you’ll be so financially destitute that you’ll have to take up Irish folk dancing, in the hope that you win the next TV talent contest and make it large.
- Make friends with change, because you have nothing to lose and everything to gain. In most cases, the benefits of change outweigh the risks involved. If you decide to switch desks, jobs, careers or move somewhere new, decisions are rarely so condemning that you’ll reach the point of no return. That said, if your career change involves ditching your job as a high-school history teacher, to independently contract as a drug mule for international criminal cartels, that may be harder to come back from.
- The people who really care about you want you to succeed. The people that will judge and gossip about your life choices, are already doing that anyway. Gossip is the resource of the idle, so leave them to it.
Your bravery in facing the unknown may become a glorious victory! At the very least it may not be as bad as you anticipated, then you’ll be jolly chuffed that you decided to declare war on the fear of change, failure and judgement. Life’s permutations are rarely so ruinous that they prevent us from crawling back into the box of status quo, if we really wanted to.