Photo: Will Fisher via Flickr
When you’re waiting for that amazing first date to text you (or reply to you) — you have no qualms asking your best pals for advice. Or, when you discover an itchy spot on your arm, seeking the advice of WebMD seems like a smart choice. Second opinion on your child’s developmental stage, since they aren’t exactly where your parenting book said they should be? Your sibling will come in with their thoughts (and to ease your mind). But when it comes to your career, you probably think all of your irrational worries are less crazy and more warranted.
Because most professionals are far harder on themselves than their colleagues, managers, or employees are, the anxieties that keep you up at night are probably not as intense or noticeable as you perceive them. And hey, as career coaches put it: You’re performing much better than you give yourself credit for.
This high-stakes, go-big-or-fail mentality has shifted over centuries. “As humans, we have evolved to prioritize negative information and/or potential outcomes. In caveman days, this made a lot of sense. Forget that mushrooms could kill you, and you die. Forget that apples are tasty, and you just miss out on tasty apples. Therefore, you brain focuses on the information that keeps you alive,” career coach and founder of Rowan Coaching, Colleen Star Koch explains. “Today, we rarely find ourselves in situations oriented purely around survival. As a result, the part of our brain that is doing it’s best to keep us alive tends to obsess on worries that are often irrational.”
Here, some super-common fears all working professionals have — and how to nix ‘em.
I’m a fraud. I have no idea what I’m doing.
Of all the issues Rowan has helped her clients with as a career coach, she says this worry is the most common. Though many believe one day their employer or manager will pick up on their ruse, most people are actually, Rowan has found that the more outstanding and together a person is, the more likely they are to have this concern. “Success is scary, and the personalities that tend to succeed are also the ones who tend to do the most self-reflection and take the biggest risks. These combinations create a constant ‘what if’ threat state in your brain,” she explains.
So how do you reassure yourself that you’re doing better than wine — and excelling? Rowan says developing new thinking habits. By implementing new habits and processes, you work your best to overwrite the message you have swirling on repeat. It won’t happen overnight, but with time, you might actually convince yourself of the truth, instead of leading your career riddled by fear. “Choose a new belief that feels true to you, and giving it as much attention and repetition as you used to give the ‘I’m an imposter’ statement,” she recommends. These sentiments could be, ‘Sure, I feel like a fraud sometimes — but I’ve been in this industry for 10 years and I keep getting promoted. There’s no way that’s just due to luck,’ or ‘Even if I feel like an imposter now, I’m also taking real steps to improve my knowledge and expertise. Let’s see how I feel later!’
She also adds that much like a detective or a journalist would gather sources to back their claims, come up with an ‘Evidence of Awesome’ file that you can point to when you start to doubt yourself. This could be an award, a positive note from a mentor, anything that reminds you of how far you’ve come — and the stellar places you’re headed.
If I don’t have all the answers, I won’t be respected.
As you add on more words into your title and move out of the open office space to a glass-door office, it’s not just the zeros that pack on your pay stub, but the pressure, too. You might feel the expectation to have all of the answers, but career coach and author, Linda Adams explains, great leaders don’t need to be perfect. Instead, coming from a genuine place and an honest perspective will win the respect of employees.
“If you act as if you never need help, you are modeling that there is a greater value in standing alone than collaborating with others. The fear that you always have to have it together, isolates you as a leader and creates an environment where your team’s contribution is significantly limited,” she says.
You might have to sweat a bit and lean into the discomfort, but Adams challenges leaders to be vulnerable. “Invite others to share and discuss the challenges you and the team face and then celebrate the successes you drive together,” she recommends.
I can’t have financial security and have a happy life.
Depending on which industry you’ve built your career, the idea of so-call ‘having it all’ might seem as farfetched as becoming, say, the CEO of Facebook. Rowan says many people struggle to find the balance that gives them the cushion to live comfortably while also savoring an experience outside of the workplace. The challenge for many professionals is to take a step back and analyze the fear itself, and why it keeps parading your thoughts and psyche.
And as Rowan says, redefine what it means to be successful and happy from your unique lens, not through the eyes or the definition of someone else. “If you are willing to really assess your values, what matters to you most as a person and as a professional – you absolutely have the ability to create a life that is both financially stable and personally fulfilling. It’s irrational to believe that you are required to hate your job forever, and that there are no other ways to make an income that won’t eat your soul,” she says.
To begin your journey toward balance, Rowan suggests creating a vision board, complete with bullet points on what your ideal life would look like. Or, if you’re more of a communicator, talk with a trusted partner, family member, or friend. And most importantly, ask yourself the tough questions that lead to the right answers. Do your prioritize travel over an office setting, and desire to work remotely? Or, do you want a gig that gets out at 5 p.m. on the dot, without being expected to be on call. Whatever the answer, you can start to determine the practical steps — like a budget or having a tough conversation with your employer — to get there.
I’m going to get fired.
Even if you’re executing efficiently, effectively, and consistently, you probably still feel that gut-wrenching ache that convinces you, surely, today will be the day when you get fired. The truth is, you probably won’t get the pink slip. Adams reassures it take a lot to get fired, especially the more senior you become. “Generally unless the action violates company policy or the action is grossly negligent it’s unlikely that any decision you make or action you take will ever result in you being fired — even if the decision goes south.”
Though a common irrational fear, Adams says when you listen to it, you prevent yourself from working creatively because you’re in a race to the finish line, instead of focusing on what you can do to improve and strengthen the processes. And well, make choices that stir the pot, rather than following protocol. “Leaders who take decisions reflecting informed risk are those who drive progress for their companies. Have confidence that you have the authority associated with your role and step-up to make the decisions that will keep your company agile and relevant,” she says. “Working from a position of informed risk taking, there’s a much better chance that your actions will be celebrated than you might get fired.”