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Curing Career Fear

Not-magic pills for reducing career anxiety.

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Am I ever going to land a job? I know I need to network, but I don’t want to look like a loser who needs to beg people for a lead. And I don’t like imposing. I’m afraid I’ll sound stupid. I’m not even sure what kind of job I want. Okay, I’ll call one networking contact — Jen; she’ll be nice. But does she really know anyone who could hire me? Probably not and even if she does, I’d be terrified at the interview. The employer will realize I don’t know enough. They’ll reject me. And even if they hire me, I could absolutely fail. I’d get fired and then have even a harder time finding a decent job. I’ll end up sweeping floors. I’ll end up a bag lady. And even if I succeed, I don’t want to be like those people who work a zillion hours a week. They have no life! Argh! I’m going to get something to eat. Maybe I’ll think about looking for a job tomorrow. Maybe.

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Even competent people can suffer from career fear: The Imposter Syndrome, fear of failure, and/or The Peter Pan Syndrome, the fear of growing up. Of course, there are no magic pills but these have most often helped my clients.

The Imposter Syndrome

Most university-trained professionals feel like an imposter at the start of their career and even ongoing. That’s because much of that training, especially and ironically at prestigious/research-driven universities, is dispensed by academicians who are longer on theory than on master practice. Just being reminded of that may help you.

Additionally, recognize that every beginner, by definition, has a lot to learn. Key to curing the Imposter Syndrome is to accept that you are a beginner. Then maintain an experimental mindset: Try things out and change when they don’t work. Ask for candid feedback from clients, customers, and especially from master practitioners. Too, observe them in action. Keep reading, watching videos, become active in online forums for your profession, attend conferences, and ask clients or customers for feedback. Not only will those likely go a long way to curing your Imposter Syndrome, you’ll be more helpful to others, and achieve greater career success.

Fear Of Failure

This and its sibling, fear of rejection, so often keeps people from even trying to succeed. They trade the possibility of success for the phony comforts of thinking, “I could have succeeded if I had tried,” “At least I didn’t appear like a fool,” or “I didn’t impose myself on others.“

I feel like a bit of an imposter as I offer suggestions here because they’ve only yielded middling success among my clients but it’s the best I’ve got. Do remember that not trying ensures failure while trying affords the possibility of success. And if you’re quite sure you'll fail, then fine, your goal may be too ambitious. For example, I’d fear failure at the thought of trying out for the Golden State Warriors. I’d be wiser to show up at the local playground for the next pick-up game.

The Peter Pan Syndrome

Even near career’s end, many people resist “growing up.” Who wouldn’t, at least at times, be tempted by youth’s unbridled pleasures? But if you decide you’re paying too big a price for your hedonism, it may help to remember the upsides of getting responsible. Perhaps for you it’s being able to afford your own place, be more attractive to romantic partners, or the good feeling that you’re pulling your own weight rather than being your spouse’s, parents’, or taxpayer’s charity case. If you decide it is time to grow up, rely on that time-honored tactic: baby steps. Ever ask yourself, “What’s the next not too painful baby step I could take toward growing up?”

The takeaway

Is there one "pill" in this career-fear medicine cabinet you want to try?

This article is adapted from a chapter in my new book, Careers for Dummies.

I read this article aloud on YouTube.

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