No need to wonder. It’s, first and most of all, your fears that might kill your career. Behind every decision or no decision, a fear is hidden. A fear to do or not to do. A fear to say or not to say. A fear to proceed or not to proceed. A fear to get up, out, in, away with etc. Often these fears determine our lives more than we can imagine, more than we think, more than we dare admit. When it has to do with professional careers, these fears play the most important role for our overall development and future. Being afraid will most probably condemn someone to fail sooner or later, in one or the other way.

I’ve seen fear playing the predominant role in lots of actions, behaviors, attitudes. Below, I’m trying to locate some of the fears I’ve seen designating a person’s professional prospect in the unpleasant direction of depriving her/him from the opportunity to build a really sustainable career (= life long successful one).

Examples of 11 indicative types of fear at work:

  1. It’s performance appraisal time. A manager is having one-to-one’s with his direct reports to discuss their performance, give feedback and listen to their opinion. In a “difficult” case (= employee with obviously low performance) he prefers to avoid “getting into trouble” by NOT giving real feedback. So he goes away without mentioning any of the shortcomings he has already identified. The employee is justifiably surprised when – after some weeks – the exit door is shown to him because of low performance. The manager is unjustifiably surprised when – after some months – he receivers a bad “manager feedback” rating. We may call this fear to give sincere feedback.
  2. The team has worked over-night to complete the technical and financial proposal for a very important customer. The proposal is submitted to the customer, the customer is thrilled with the good work, the holistic approach, the reasonable pricing. So she assigns the project to the team! Back to the office the team leader announces it (alone) to the director not mentioning the contribution of the other team members. The team leader emphasizes on his own contribution to win the deal. The rest of the team members get to know what has happened. They are very unhappy because their effort has not been recognized by their supervisor, BUT they say nothing. This is the fear to express your feelings.
  3. A new software application is being designed for small/mid market. Some of the people involved in the blueprint phase, very clearly see that the specs used are going the wrong direction: the company has asked for a product appropriate for small/mid size companies while the chief architects are preparing a product for large enterprises! They can see the mistakes, they understand pretty well what’s wrong, but they are not willing to make a point and get into a (constructive) conflict. They are influenced by the fear to articulate your opinion.
  4. Promotion time! A colleague is being promoted to manage your team although everybody (including yourself) expected you to take this position. You feel disappointed BUT you do nothing to clarify why this has happened and what you should do from now on to further enhance your career. You have unconsciously (or consciously) decided to spend your working days with the fear to pursue what you (think you) deserve.
  5. You have been working for 5 years in this team. You are delivering very good results and you are recognized by your colleagues and the management. Moreover, you know pretty well what should be done in order to further improve company results. In fact, you have kept some notes on the next steps the company should take to thrive in the area you’re involved. You consider, though, that in case you propose your ideas, you will be asked to take over and deliver the new plan. You never make the proposal. You’re afraid of undertaking this assignment. Your potential is caged by the fear to take initiatives.
  6. The company is experiencing hard times. Your manager has identified your capabilities, so she asks you to do something more, over and above your regular tasks, in order to boost company results. You’re terrified by this new, extra assignment. You might not be able to deliver. You’ll have to work harder. No, you will not undertake it because you’re trapped under the fear to make the extra mile.
  7. During the last 10 years, you have been managing the services business of the company quite well. However, you have started losing some customers by your competitors who have obviously adapted to new market trends very fast. You feel that you are pushed to change your methods, processes, approach to the customers. But you cannot move on because this would mean that you’re getting into a totally new mode of conducting the business you’ve been running for years. You cannot resist your old habits. You cannot manage the fear to get out of your comfort zone.
  8. You have joined a new team. Your colleagues are not very interested in technology advancements, but you are. You know that the more technologically advanced your work is the better the competitive position of your company will be. Your colleagues do not share this opinion of yours. In fact, they pinpoint your approach as very “technical”. You understand that you would be safer (= better accepted) if you followed their attitude. You’re seriously thinking about it. You do not have the courage to convince them, you do not have the will to go after your beliefs while they do not agree. You condemn yourself to mediocrity since you cannot get over the fear to be different.
  9. Last year you received the “employee of the month” award. This year you were able to win the “employee of the year” award. You’re doing great! People admire you. But they do not talk to you in an open way. They treat you as a “special animal”, which makes you feel so uncomfortable! You cannot stand it. You want to be the same. You’re ready to sacrifice the awards and recognition in order to have everybody feeling that you’re the same. Your fear to be better is damaging your career, let alone the effect for the company…
  10. Times have changed. You used to have a very high position in a large organization with millions of revenue, dozens of products and activities, hundreds of employees. You enjoyed the respect (and may be the hatred) of the professional society. But times have changed and this is not there anymore (not for you, at least). You are now in front of the challenge to undertake a rather lower position at a smaller company. You do want the job. You know you can do it. They do want you for the job. They know you can do it. BUT the fear to adapt to new conditions is torturing your mind and distorting your decision.
  11. Last month you received the “10 years services” award by the company you’re working for. You were not happy for that. You’re not happy with your work anymore. You’re not happy with the management, with your tasks, your position, your remuneration, your possible career advancement in this company. You see no attractive future there for you. You have been thinking of moving to another company for 2 years now. But you’re delaying your decision. The fear to go away and pursue new challenges is prevailing.

Different types of fear lie in a great deal of life attitudes (decisions – no decisions). In fact, what is hidden behind all these (same origin) reactions is one core fear: that of making a sincere dialogue that will most probably create a conflict either with yourself or with some other people around you.

“One needs to break eggs to make an omelette” says a well-known proverb. No “egg-breaking” no food. No braveness no results. No courage no career. Fear will undoubtedly kill your professional development. Slowly or at a glance it makes no difference. Fear can take you nowhere… except from backwards.

You might have chosen this attitude for your professional life. Rethink about it. If you still want to stay where you are, remember not to complain next time you experience one of the above cases. You want to admit it or not, you have taken the decision to make a fear-career not a real-career!

My little piece of advice: abolish a fearful life; it’s not worth living. But beware that a fearless life besides from being challenging, it is also demanding.

I am sure you have also encountered the same and/or other types of fear at work. Please mention them in your comments. It would be great for all of us to know and re-consider our attitude.

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