We’ve all seen a powerful boss woman in the movies. She’s fierce, confident, and knows exactly what she wants and won’t stop until she gets it. She’s truly fantastic. She’s also fake. A more realistic character would have a healthy balance of that spark and self-assuredness with hesitation while also second-guessing herself. But that character isn’t nearly as entertaining to watch on the big screen, right?
It’s not to say that it’s impossible to feel like you’re on top of the world professionally—it’s just that those moments don’t come without similar periods of doubt and fear. There’s a reason the saying “fake it ‘til you make it” is so widely known because everyone gets scared and to combat our fears, we must be brave to push through the fear.
Forcing yourself to push through the anxiety isn’t the ideal solution, though, is it? With that approach, all you do is stifle the fear. Instead, what you can do is learn how to appropriately manage the anxiety so that when it shows up again (in any form), you’ll know what steps to take to get to the other side of it and move forward.
It may sound like complete nonsense because if telling someone, “just don’t worry so much,” worked, no one would have anxiety. But that’s not what this advice is because you’re right —there is no getting around the fact that you will encounter moments of fear throughout your career. However, with a management plan in place, you won’t become paralyzed the next time one of these situations comes up because you’ll know what steps you need to take to get to the other side (no “faking it” required).
Step 1: Identify the Source of the Fear
Have you ever had one of those days where you’re just in a terrible mood, your patience is thin with the kids, and the tiniest inconvenience sends you over the edge? Those days are the worst. But have you ever taken the time to stop and think about why you’re in such a bad mood? There’s probably something deeper going on. Maybe you haven’t had any alone time to recharge in a while, or you’re in desperate need of some quality sleep, or perhaps you have too much on your plate but aren’t asking for help. Whatever it is, you have to identify it to do something about it. The same is true about career fear.
There are all kinds of reasons you may be experiencing fear in your career, and the source of it could be undeniable (best case scenario, go to step 2). Sometimes a career fear can be your resistance to take on a new project at work because it will prevent spending less time with your family. The fear isn’t in doing the job but the fear of missing out on what’s equally important, if not more valuable than work itself.
Here are some other examples of career fears:
Career pivot → fear of failure, fear of change, fear that you won’t enjoy the work, fear of starting over.
Mom pause → fear that you won’t be able to return to the workforce, fear that you’ll be bored or disappointed, fear that your family will suffer financially as a result.
Looking for a new job → fear of change, fear of wasting limited personal time, fear of the process, fear that your current boss will find out.
Taking a new job → fear that it’s too good to be true, fear that the company isn’t secure, fear that you won’t be treated well, fear that it’ll be some kind of mistake professionally.
Asking for a raise/promotion → fear that your boss will say no, fear that you’ll have to negotiate, fear that you’ll be criticized.
Filing a complaint with HR → fear of retaliation, fear of no action being taken, fear of not remaining anonymous.
Confiding in your boss about your struggling mental health → fear of their response, fear they won’t respect your privacy, worry your team will resent you for taking on some of your work.
Scaling back to part-time or up to full-time → fear of change, fear you won’t like the new schedule, fearing what you have to give up (income, personal time).
Step 2: Navigate the Fear
Now that you know what the fear is, it’s time to start thinking about what it will take to get you through the situation and on the other side. Unfortunately, since every situation is unique, there is no one-size-fits-all answer for this step. You may have to ease into the situation slowly to get comfortable or that the only way to get through it is to jump right in and hope for the best.
However, there are a few techniques that you can try as you analyze and navigate the fear to determine your next steps:
Play the “worst-case scenario” game; this will take you spiraling into the worst things that could happen if the fear you’re feeling is valid. The chances are high that you’ll find the worst-case scenario is pretty awful, but also very extreme and incredibly unlikely, so it shouldn’t hold as much power over your decision as it currently is.
Seek guidance; lean on your community and ask them how they’d handle the situation or see if they have any advice to help you navigate the problem less scarily.
Talk it out; maybe you don’t need advice at all. Perhaps you just need someone to sit there and listen as you rattle off all of your thoughts about every direction this situation could go and offer you some validation for how you’re feeling (assurance can do wonders).
Ask questions, depending on the situation. You may be able to directly ask someone involved questions that will make it easier for you to push through the fear (like asking a hiring manager many questions before accepting a job).
Do some research; in some circumstances, there may be some research or data available that will provide you with enough information that you’ll feel more confident moving forward, even if there are still some unknowns.
Simply admit your fears to someone who loves you; sometimes, just saying it out loud is enough to face the fear and accept it.
Step 3: Overcome the Fear
Now, there’s nothing left to do but to decide how you want to move forward. Are you in a place where the fear is a little less intimidating? You’re ready to take it on, or have you come to terms with the fear and decided it’s just not a risk you’re prepared to take right now (this is perfectly acceptable as long as you’re confident that you won’t have any regrets). Either way, the only option is to get to the other side of the fear, so it’s no longer paralyzing.
Once you’ve overcome the fear and are on the other side of it, you’ll probably discover a new sense of hope and may even notice new opportunities presenting themselves to you. Maybe you decided to take the mom pause after all and you see a significant improvement in your mental and or physical health because of it. Or, you asked for a raise and were told “no,” and that gave you the push to find something even better at a company that genuinely values its employees.
You probably already know that we grow the most when we step out of our comfort zones, which means we have to take risks to move forward. When you start looking at moments of career fear as moments of opportunity, they become a little less intimidating, making it even easier to go through the steps of managing them. And, once you’ve successfully managed them, you can go back to being the Hollywood boss lady you know you are.
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