What’s Your Fear Factor?

  The word ‘fear’ brings to mind screaming at a scary movie, skydiving or statistically one of the biggest fears—public speaking. But I’m talking about a different kind of fear. It’s the fear that is often hidden—the fear deep inside that makes us choose the status quo over a change that we know is needed. This fear keeps us from moving forward, making the right decision or even helping ourselves. So how does fear show up? It’s alive and well every day if we can see it. At work and in careers, fear can look like:

  • Not speaking up with an idea because you might look stupid
  • Never asking for advice or help because you it will look like you don’t have the answers
  • Staying at the same company too long because the uncertainty is worse
  • Not wanting to call attention to yourself because it’s safer to blend in
  • Avoiding a recommendation that you know your boss won’t agree with
  • Avoiding something new because you don’t understand it

Fear does funny things to us. It draws a great big line between our beliefs of what is right, important or needed and what we actually do I love the question, ‘What would you do if you weren’t afraid?’ It’s amazing that many of us will describe a life very different than the ones we are living today. Fears can put up lots of roadblocks in our mind. Some are real and some just keep us right where we are. We all have our fears. Obviously some fears are so significant that they require the help of an expert, but many of our fears have built up over time and hold us back from what is possible. I am working on mine, too, and know that it is essential to recognize our ‘go to’ fears so we can manage through them, not avoid them or pretend they don’t exist. In a favorite book, Brené Brown’s Daring Greatly, she asked people to fill in the blank to: Never ________ enough. Some of the responses she received were:

  • Never good enough
  • Never perfect enough
  • Never powerful enough
  • Never successful enough
  • Never smart enough
  • Never certain enough
  • Never safe enough
  • Never extraordinary enough

What is your answer? The answer to this question will likely lead you to the very fears that are roadblocks to starting any change in your life or career.

  • I might be wrong ~ and not look smart enough.
  • I might lose my position ~ and lose my security.
  • I might be rejected ~ and not look powerful enough.
  • I might let others see that it didn’t work ~ and not be successful enough.
  • I might not look as good as the other leaders/speakers/participants/writers/business owners ~ and not be good enough.

The first step is being honest about your fears. Know them and accept them. Determine if your fear is based on facts in your situation or just hardwired in how you think. There is a difference. If you miss opportunities and play it safe because your deepest fear is tied to security, then look at that a little closer. Is that a real fear based on facts and likely events? Or is it a fear that you always carry with you? I spoke to a leader recently who admitted this fear was keeping her from moving to a new dream job, yet she has been successful her entire career, is well respected, well connected and has a wonderful résumé. There is a chance that a well-founded fear she had at 15 is still alive and well at 45, even though the facts may say otherwise. If you have a favorite ‘go to’ fear regardless of the situation or the facts, then the first step is recognizing it and watching for it. This is the first step in starting the change and maybe even stepping out and starting something new you never thought you could do.




Patti Johnson is a career and workplace expert and the CEO of PeopleResults, a change and human resources consulting firm she founded in 2004. Previously, she was a senior executive at Accenture and has been recently featured as an expert in The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, NBC, Money Magazine and Working Mother. Patti is also an instructor for SMU Executive Education and a keynote speaker on “Leading Change.” Her first book, Make Waves: Be the One to Start Change at Work & in Life, hit shelves in May 2014. Visit her website at PattiBJohnson.com.

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