Taking on Fear Advances a Career

Last week I was sitting in a workshop on courage and leadership at the Pennsylvania Conference for Women when the panel moderator asked "Does fear ever go away or do you need to be willing to take the leap and be fearful while taking action?" Suddenly my mind flashed back 27 years to when I was faced with the decision to stay in a job full-time or leave and leap into life as an entrepreneur with no road map and no guarantees.

Pregnant with my first of two daughters, I knew that I didn't want to stay in the same job working full-time. Flex time had not yet been embraced in the workplace and, despite it being an organization providing psychotherapy to families and children, there was no willingness to think out of the box to support me and other staff as we embarked on beginning families. It didn't matter that I had envisioned a new program and received a significant grant award to fund it, and it didn't matter that another pregnant employee was the only Spanish-speaking person on staff. The director of Family Service of Philadelphia refused to let us share a job, or come up with any other means for us to work less than full-time, so it became clear that I would need to leave the security of paid employment when it came time to give birth.

My fear was massive. I was terrified, yet I knew that I needed to go-for-it. I had no idea what my professional future would look life but I knew I needed to take the leap and create my own path. At the same moment I reflected back on what made me able to act with the fear rather than avoid it and stick with what felt safer, I heard one of the panelists speak up: "It takes the willingness to be uncomfortable, to have a huge learning curve and to be bold." That was it, I thought. It was the willingness to take a risk, to work hard at reinventing my work-life from employed to self-employed and to face the fear rather than avoid it.

Truth is that leaving my job was the best career move I ever made. It freed me up for new endeavors, ultimately allowing me to fulfill my sense of passion and purpose by making significant contributions to women and men struggling with self-empowerment, body-image and emotional resilience. So often people want the fear to go away and bargain with themselves to avoid taking forward action until the fear diminishes. That strategy often strengthens their fear and instills greater emotional resistance. What made me able to go forth toward success in my career was the willingness to actively work with my fear and resist allowing it to get the better of me. When we don't get paralyzed by our inner worrier and instead coach ourselves to think supportively and optimistically, we build skills that support resilience and grow confidence. We sustain a focus on what's reasonable rather than what's ideal and promote attitudes that aim for good-enough rather than perfect.

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