The One Biggest Fear That Prevents People From Building A Happier Life And Career

This week, I spoke with a friend who has been a stay-at-home mom for 13 years, after building a career as an engineer. She told me that her job had served as a good paycheck, but nothing more. As her children are now in their teens, she’s beginning to see the next chapter of her life approaching quickly. She’s intrigued at the idea of having more time to herself, and engaging in different work, outside the focus of caregiving. She even has an idea or two about what she’d like to try her hand at in terms of employment.

But seriously entertaining this idea (and doing anything concrete about it) is scary and intimidating to her.  Her fear makes it hard for her to even stop for a second to contemplate it, so she pushes it aside and squashes it down. And that, in turn, makes her more hyper-focused on what’s happening at home, which exacerbates her fears, unhappiness and exhaustion. I’ve seen this exact same scenario countless times. People want more, different and better for their lives, but are completely daunted by the prospect of change, so they resist moving forward even one inch to explore it. And their “stuckness” makes them ill and unhappy.

My friend also shared with me the one critical fear I hear every week in my career coaching work, and the fear is this:

I’m worried that I’ll try my hand at this new direction, and it won’t work out. What if I end up not liking it or feel it’s wrong again, like my other work?”

This one fear keeps people stuck for years, and sometimes for a lifetime. This “what if it doesn’t work out?” worry is crippling. There are many versions of “what if?” that keep people paralyzed in inertia:

– What if I grow to hate it?

– What if I can’t do it well?

– What if I can’t make any money at it?

– What if I can’t juggle my family life and am exhausted by it?

– What if people laugh at me for wanting to try this?

– What if my family (husband, parents, etc.) think I’m crazy?

– What if it lets me down like all the other directions I’ve taken?

I remained stuck in the “what if” mode for years as well, and know full well how potent and paralyzing it can be. When I started to become unstuck (after a brutal corporate layoff in the days following 9/11), I remember reading the great book The Artist’s Way, by Julia Cameron, and suddenly realized that there were so many more opportunities for me than I ever understood. I began seeing people with very cool small businesses in my community whom I had never noticed before, and it was enlivening and exciting. There were new possibilities I’d ignored for years.  I had a friend with her own very lucrative market research firm, and I so envied her freedom, flexibility and authority, but I thought, “That’ll never be me. I can’t have that.”

I desperately wished to do something more creative for my livelihood — more flexible, productive, and meaningful in my professional life, and being laid off from my corporate job allowed me to see that it was only fear of the “what if’s” that had kept me stuck in something that was so wrong for me. Now as a writer, speaker, and career success consultant, my creative juices are finally flowing and the dots have been connected.

How do we effectively address that “what if?” fear and move through it? These four simple strategies will help you move beyond the fear, into action:

Just do one tiny thing today (and every day) to “try on” a new direction.

Most of us have no idea how to go about exploring a new career. I know now that there are scores of ways to simply “try on” a new direction before we leap. We don’t have to reinvent completely, or chuck our old life in order to go in a new direction. We can just explore it in small, digestible, doable ways – through volunteering, interviewing, shadowing professionals, taking on a small project, talking to someone who does it, consulting, working part-time, etc. The key is to view the exploration and research as a “project” in your life, not as a wholesale life change. You don’t have to risk or lose everything to try out a new path. Just take one tiny step every day or week.

Get your creative juices flowing again.

I believe, as Julia Cameron does, that creative expression is the natural direction of life. So many people I work with (and throughout the world) are highly creative but have become blocked and stymied in their creativity, which in turns brings about unhappiness, pain, and suffering. Limiting beliefs, fears and other inhibiting forces hold us back from sharing our creative energies and talents with the world.

When we get unstuck and start using our creative talents once again, our lives change for the better , as does the world around us. Think about the creative endeavors you used to engage in as a young person that brought you great joy. For me, it’s singing and performing – I’m simply not as happy or productive if I’m not engaged actively in music. What is that for you? Is it scrapbooking, playing piano, interior decorating, designing clothes, writing a novel, making jewelry, playing jazz? Figure it out, and bring it forward in your life today in some small way. When you do, a myriad of exciting new opportunities, relationships and experiences (both personal and professional) will open to you.

Surround yourself with amazing supporters, not critical naysayers.

If the only people in your life right now are critical, judgmental naysayers who would make fun of you for trying a completely new direction, then you have the wrong people in your life.  Period. End of story. The people who surround us dramatically color, shape and influence our lives. Become more selective and careful about who you let into your life. One by one, purge out the negative naysayers, and build a new group of supporters, friends, allies, and advocates. If it’s your family members who put you down and squash your dreams, build a stronger boundary and protect yourself from their negativity. It’s up to you. From this day forward, become extremely discerning about who you allow to influence your thoughts, actions and beliefs.

Finally, recognize the true value of your life and your talents.

More than 60,000 people have downloaded my Career Path Self-Assessment since I developed it a few years ago, to help professionals figure out what’s missing in their lives and what’s needed to build more joyful livelihoods. In reading their responses, I’ve seen core themes, blocks and patterns jump off the page. I can see what my clients can’t — that they are immensely talented, gifted, and accomplished, and each person has so much to offer the world that others don’t have. I can also see their blocks, frailties, and vulnerabilities — what they’re ashamed of and hiding from (I call those their “power gaps.”). Finally, it’s clear to me how they could shine in the world, but they can’t see it. None of us can, without some help.

Get some outside help in the form of a mentor, friend or coaching buddy who sees the highest vision of you before it’s hatched. Find someone who inspires you and can help you see yourself in a way you cannot – that you’re talented, gifted and amazing (every person on the planet is), and there is great value in what you have to offer. You’re not only as good as your last job, performance appraisal, or raise . You’re much, much more. Don’t waste any more time doubting it – just do something today.

(To build a happier career, visit my Amazing Career Project and take my 6-day Amazing Career Challenge.)


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