FEAR. For most of us, this is a word that conjures up mental images of being chased by a wild animal, fighting off an attacker, or wandering aimlessly in the woods at night. Yet, many of us experience fear on a daily basis in the most routine of places ... our jobs! Yes, you read that correctly!
Fear rears its ugly head in mailrooms, classrooms, and boardrooms each day all around the world! How might fear manifest on the job, you might ask? Fear in our career can manifest in the form of not pushing ourselves towards something new, due to fear of failure (or success, for that matter). It can also erupt in the form of not taking the lead on a project where we are uniquely skilled.
Now, before I delve any further into how this manifests within our careers, let me first define what fear actually is. Fear is an emotional response to a perceived threat in our environment that causes physiological changes in our brains. This, in turn, creates a series of cascading events that impact our emotions, as well as our behavior.
Perhaps you've heard of the "fight-or-flight" response? In seemingly threatening situations, our bodies are wired to either "fight" (i.e., engage with the perceived threat source) or "flee" (i.e., escape the situation altogether). And, within my previously mentioned wild animal chase scenario, fleeing the situation makes perfect sense! However, what happens when you begin to experience a racing heartbeat, increased perspiration, and clammy hands, only to realize that you are sitting in your air conditioned office in a leather chair ... with no "real" threat in sight?
Colleagues, I want to challenge you to think about what you fear with regard to your job and/or career. What is the root of your greatest fears - failure, success, recognition, expectations from others, to name a few? Some of you may only need a few seconds to answer this question, while others may need a bit more time to self-reflect. In either case, I challenge you to be honest with yourself ... then, make a plan to tackle your fear(s) by taking small steps out of your comfort zone into your STRETCH ZONE!
Oh, the comfort of our comfort zones! We know them. They are predictable. Fears related to failure are minimal there. Yet, I would argue that someone and/or something is waiting for you in the stretch zone. As cliche as it may sound, there's something that you have within you that only YOU can offer others on the job and within your career! Fear is the perfect "silencer" to our effecting real change throughout our careers. Fear prevents us from being all that we can be ... for ourselves and for others!
This summer, I had the opportunity to try something new in my career ... creation of a social media page to field questions and offer resources to those interested in learning about health and wellness from a psychological perspective. As I considered moving forward with my vision, fear of not experiencing immediate success (aka, failure) hit me like a lightning bolt! Yet, I kept feeling challenged to step out of my fear into freedom. So, last week, I finally took that step! I proudly share the link to my new social media page: www.facebook.com/DrMekel.
You're probably wondering how I tackled my fear, right? Well, it boiled down to my making a choice to do two things ...
First, I engaged the "fight" part of myself to make a difference. It dawned on me that someone was waiting on me to share my knowledge in a practical, fun, and relatable way. And, I realized that my freeing myself from fear in my career could aid others in freeing themselves from their fears. I knew that I had to "fight" as I took the first step!
Second, I "owned" my education, training, and expertise within my chosen field. I accepted the reality that there's no fear in what I know and have to offer others. No one has traveled the exact path I have, so I knew that I needed to celebrate my ability to share what I've learned along the way with others. I needed to shift from my comfort zone into my stretch zone!
Colleagues, I challenge you to tackle your own career-related fear(s). While it may "feel" uncomfortable, I encourage you to reflect again on the definition of fear. Fear is an emotional response to a perceived threat, not a threat that is necessarily rooted in reality. So, step out of the comfort zone of fear, and step into your stretch zone! It's time to make a difference within your sphere of influence!
FREEDOM. That has a nice ring to it, don't you think? Let's make a collective toast to this, once and for all!
Mekel Harris, Ph.D., NCSP is an Associate Professor at The Chicago School of Professional Psychology – Los Angeles and a licensed psychologist in Los Angeles, CA, with expertise in health psychology. She has presented at over 25 national and international conferences throughout the past 5 years, targeting an array of health-related topics. As an avid proponent of wellness, Dr. Harris recognizes the importance of cultivating physical, emotional, and spiritual balance in all areas of life and leadership.