Career Fear: Get out of your own way!

Photo of the author - Karen Bremner - on her first visit to Sydney, in 1998I can clearly remember the first time I realized I was standing in my own way.

I was 25 at the time, and holidaying with a good friend from university.

Coming up to the final stretch of her (long and grueling) medical training, she was planning to take a year out back-packing, to see the world before she settled into life as a Doctor… and she asked me if I wanted to join her.

My knee-jerk reaction? I can’t do that.

Here I was, being offered a fantastic opportunity, with a good friend – and I’d always wanted to travel – yet my immediate response was NO! No way! Out of the question, ridiculous! Seriously – I cannot possibly do that…

I remember those feelings so vividly: sheer blind fear.

What my friend said, simple as it is, literally changed the course of my life: Why not?

One by one, my arguments came out – I didn’t have the cash (but yes, I could save). I’d have to leave work (but yes, I could get a new job). I had an apartment… (but yes, I could rent it out). I’d never travelled like that (but yes, I could learn).

I used up every defence I could think of, until I finally ran out of excuses. And that’s when I had my epiphany…

The only thing really stopping me? Me – and my fear.

I see this every day in my work as a career coach. So many people have dreams that won’t quite go away; feelings that continue to haunt them. So often we know we’re not happy, we long to make changes, we see opportunities out there… but we’re caught by our knee-jerk fear response. We protect ourselves from feeling afraid, rather than challenging ourselves and pushing through it.

One by one, the arguments come out… I can’t do that, it’s not possible, it simply can’t be done. There’s a mortgage and bills to be paid, there’s not enough time. I’m too young, too old, too shy. It’s possible for others, but not for me…

Whatever the reality – and there are always ways around even the most intractable of obstacles – we can all find convincing personal reasons to avoid doing something that scares us.

Change – even positive, desired, planned change – is scary. It always involves risk. Risk of falling or failing, or finding out that things aren’t what we’d hoped. That we’re not what we’d hoped. It’s much easier to just keep thinking about our options and call it a pipe dream – or to convince ourselves that really, we can’t do anything even if we wanted to – than it is to take a risk, take a step and test it out.

The danger? One day you may wake up, looking back on what might have been…

In my case, I’m forever indebted to my friend, who made the impossible, possible. First, I agreed to travel for 3 weeks – a survivable commitment – and then that morphed into a month. Once that felt manageable, it became 6 weeks, 2 months… and so on, step by baby step.

In the end, we travelled for a full year, and it’s one of the best experiences of my life. What I didn’t know? Once you leave your comfort zone, the world opens up in ways you can’t imagine. If you’d told me that night, that in 3 years, I’d be emigrating half-way round the world on my own, I’d have laughed at you. Absolutely no way, ever. Simply. Not. Possible.

I’m still learning the lesson. Yes, fear feels horrible, but it’s only a feeling. It turns out to be entirely survivable, and whether you let it hold you back in your life – or in your career – is entirely up to you.

Change will always be scary – so if you’re thinking of making a change, expect to feel scared and expect to come up with all kinds of excuses, to keep you where you are. Challenge them – they’re obstacles to navigate, not reasons to give up – and tackle your change, step by baby step.

You’re capable of so much more than you think, if you’d just get out of your own way!

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