Whenever I’m attempting to stretch myself beyond my comfort zone, I’m excited, of course.
But also, if I’m honest, a little scared.
The farther I venture away from what I already know—the more I try to flex a different set of muscles—the higher the fear level rises.
I’m not unique. Many people feel this way. Some admit it freely. Some deny it altogether.
Whether you are conscious of it or not, the truth is, change wakes up fear big time.
And what is reinventing your career but change in neon lights, right?
So, of course, no series on career change will be complete without dealing with the topic of fear.
Figure out how your fear hides
Nobody wants to stagnate. But loads of people don’t want to change either—if they’re being honest.
More often than not, the reason they don’t want to change is that they’re afraid. Of all kinds of things: uncertainty, failure, success, rejection, the feeling that they’re frauds (aka the impostor syndrome), the hard work, Dementors in the closet. Whatever.
And when I say they, I mean I.
I’ve been scared all my life. This I discovered only in the last couple of years. I just didn’t know that fear was controlling me all that time.
People who know me might say that I’m fearless, bold, and a risk taker. And at some level, all those things are true. But looking back, what seemed to have been risks to others were in reality, safe grounds for me. The truth was, there were many things I would have wanted to do but didn’t because the fear got the better of me.
My life in the corporate arena allowed me to hide from fear; whatever success I achieved bolstered my ego, thinking I had it all under control.
Today, my career change journey is helping remove my blinders. I realize that in the past, I only achieved as much as my fear allowed me to reach. Now that I’m building a new professional life around my creative pursuits, I no longer have a corporate structure to hide behind. And the excuses I used before to camouflage my fears no longer worked.
The only way to get to where I want to go is to face fear head-on. Either that or go back to the old—which, by the way, I don’t want to do!
Dance with fear, sure, but how exactly?
I’ve learned over the years is that courage is in the same room where fear presides.
Courage is not the lack of fear. Courage is proceeding despite fear.
As Harper Lee once wrote in To Kill a Mockingbird, courage is “…when you’re licked before you begin, but you begin anyway, and see it through no matter what.”
I’m working on a new relationship with fear that works for me. It’s a healthier one, I think, because I don’t fight with it. I don’t try and wrestle it to the ground—I tried that too, but it didn’t work.
I take inspiration from something Elizabeth Gilbert talked about in her book Big Magic.
If you can’t learn to travel comfortably alongside your fears, then you’ll never be able to go anywhere interesting or do anything interesting. —Elizabeth Gilbert
Every day, I work on traveling with my fears comfortably. One way that I’m doing this is by looking at fear as a signal. In fact, it’s only trying to protect me by waving all sorts of red flags, so I don’t veer off somewhere and fall off a cliff.
When I feel fear gripping me by the throat, I ask kindly what it’s trying to tell me.
If you haven’t been able to move forward with your career change plans (or any change, for that matter), consider what your fears are truly warning you about.
Below are three reasons why my fears flag my attention. Test them against your experience; see if these ring a bell.
1. Warning: You’re entering a personal growth area.
Fear is telling you to get ready because you’re about to stretch yourself in ways you’ve never done before. You’re about to use a muscle for the first time or in a different way. Fear is warning you that if you don’t stop, you’re going to be sore.
You know very well how this goes, though. Yes, you’re going to feel it like crazy initially. But you know the soreness will eventually go away. And you’ll feel better and stronger if you keep at it.
The first time you got behind the wheel of a car, you were probably scared. Do you remember the first time you had to parallel park? In a crowded street? And there were people around, watching how many times it was going to take you to fit your car in the dang spot? Maybe, just for added pressure, you were with the guy or the girl you were trying hard to impress.
Well, years later, look at you now. Parallel parking a Yukon is a cinch, no sweat. Or, if you’re like me, it’s still pretty much hit or miss. But you’ve learned the tricks that work for you. And you don’t care about the bystanders as much as you did way back when.
So you can tell fear not to worry. You expect to be sore in the beginning, yes, but it’ll get better. And you’ll be stronger for it in the end.
2. Warning: You’re about to discover something new about yourself.
Fear is telling you that you’re about to surprise yourself. You’re about to learn something that you may have never imagined before. Maybe you’ve even thought the opposite about yourself, and now you’re going to know better.
You’re going to have a chance to say, “Whoa, isn’t that something? I never knew I could do that.”
Or even, “What? No, no, no. I can do better than that!”
To test your mettle. To figure out what you’re really made of. These are the moments to grab when they present themselves. Otherwise, how are you ever going to know your potential? How will you know how far you can go if you don’t ever push yourself to go one step further, one rung higher?
To empower yourself is to know your strength. And you get to know this by going after the very things that scare the crap out of you.
So you can tell fear not to worry. You’ve got this. You’re open to testing yourself and discovering the parts of yourself that you never knew before.
3. Warning: You’re getting a chance to heal something broken.
Sometimes, fear is the voice inside you saying, “Wait, wait, there’s a buried thorn here, and it’s getting too close for comfort.”
This is likely the hardest of the fear warnings to pay attention to. Many of us spend our lives burying the broken things we don’t want to be reminded of, let alone address. So, when fear shows up as we’re getting closer to the main issue, it’s so much easier just to turn around and forgo the experience altogether. This was largely the case for me all those years when I was ignoring fear.
You have two choices:
- address the core issue once and for all, or
- arrange your life so you can avoid the issue as much as possible.
Our limiting beliefs about ourselves are learned. No one was born thinking this way. Something happened—we experienced something, saw something, or heard something—that planted the seed in our head. Over time, the seed grew, and now it’s a full-blown, well-rooted belief we have of our abilities or self-worth.
Fear is telling you that you’re butting up against a deeper issue, and you may need to flesh it out a bit. Far be it from me to say whether or not you’re ready to address your limiting beliefs. But I will suggest that you find a way to do so. Beliefs can be unlearned. At the very least, you can find ways to minimize their influence on your career decisions.
So you can thank fear for this warning. Tell it you hear its message and that you will look into what’s buried underneath.
Career change isn’t easy
Any kind of change can be challenging. And navigating a career change is one of the trickiest ones you’ll do in your life.
It’s natural to feel scared. The key thing is not to let that feeling keep you from going after your career goals.
One way of doing this is by treating fear as an ally. Don’t try to fight it like it’s a dark thing that needs to be avoided or worse, clubbed to death!
Instead, think of your fear as something that shows up simply to give you signals and signs. If you’re able to dance with fear this way, you’ll be able to proceed and do the thing you said you really wanted to do.
p.s. Also Starting Over: Is it For You?