Copyright©2013 by Michal Fisher
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any matter whatsoever without the written and signed permission of the author.
The information presented in this book represents the views of the publisher as of the date of publication. The publisher reserves the right to alter and update their opinions based on new conditions. This book is for informational purposed only. The author and the publisher do not accept any responsibilities or any liabilities resulting from the use of this information.
While every attempt has been made to verify the information provided here, the author and publisher cannot assume any responsibility for errors, inaccuracies, or omissions.
Language editing: Anne Christiansen
Cover design: Maor Fisher
If you’re reading this book, you’re probably building a new business, looking for a new job or striving to otherwise fulfill yourself professionally. In any case, you deserve congratulations as you are facing one of the most exciting phases of your life. Nowadays so many people succumb to unfulfilling jobs; according to a survey conducted by the company Right Management and published in Forbes Magazine in August 2012, only 19% of employees in the United States and Canada say they are satisfied with their jobs. The decision to make a change and build the career you desire takes courage, determination and faith. Kudos for that!
As a life-coach and a career-development group facilitator I have accompanied dozens of people on their journeys towards the career of their dreams. Over and over again I have witnessed the process of people fulfilling old dreams; people who are looking for the best way to bring themselves to the fore, and to express their abilities and talents; people who desire to make a contribution, and to share with others what most excites and moves them. They find a way to build a financially and emotionally rewarding career.
But … it is not always easy.
Career-change reaches deep down inside us, touching issues of self-esteem, self-image, identity, values and meaning. Along with a burning desire to contribute, make a change and develop yourself, you indisputably encounter fears, concerns, anxieties and self-doubt. Perhaps you have experienced disappointments, failures and rejections from clients or potential employers. You may have faced criticism and doubt from friends or family, or have felt loss or guilt over choices you made or did not make.
That is why this book was conceived. It does not matter which goal you’re pursuing, whether it be building a new business or looking for a new job. This guide is designed to help you, step by step, to build up your confidence, raise your energy level, boost your motivation, and give you tools to deal with setbacks, doubts, criticism and guilt.
I do hope that you, like my clients, find that building a new career can be an exciting and empowering process; that you find yourself getting up in the morning with a big smile on your face, that you enjoy the journey and grow as a person. Enthusiasm and positive energy will help you achieve your purpose – building the career you really desire – easily and happily.
I also went through a significant and challenging process constructing the career I today recognize as my calling. When I was a child I dreamed of helping people to grow and to realize their potential, while also aspiring to become a writer. I wrote my first book, about the adventures of Rosa, in sixth grade. Every year I was elected to the class’s social committee. I organized social events and edited classroom and school newspapers.
My academic beginnings were likewise promising; I was an honors student and skipped two grades. However, once school was over and “real life” began, something got lost. My scholastic abilities did not help me when there were no exams and transcripts, and no one from the outside who could define the right thing for me to do. The family circle and social environment I grew up in had taught me to pursue “safe” and “stable” directions. Words like passion, pleasure and livelihood couldn’t coexist in my world. My desire to create, to be independent and pave my unique way seemed like a distant dream or a fantasy fairy tale. I earned a B.A. in psychology, but for many years found myself employed in administrative, marketing and customer service positions, which are great lines of work, but not for me.
The significant change occurred in my early 30s. I was unemployed, felt stuck and did not know where to go from there. I had already realized that the values I was raised with did not work for me, but I could not identify an alternative path. However, life, in its mysterious and wonderful ways, showed me how moments of emptiness and vagueness can become moments of revelation and provide answers. For the first time in my life I came across the realms of meditation and guided imagery, which have since become a way of living – comprising listening, acceptance, observation, and many moments of joy. I also stumbled, purely by coincidence, upon a training course for group facilitators offered by the unemployment office. At the end of the course I was offered the opportunity to lead a fascinating career-development group of single mothers who hadn’t worked for at least the past five years (some of them had never worked). Running a group filled me with passion, satisfaction and meaning. The North Star of my calling started to shine for me .I enrolled in a Master’s degree program in group leadership through the arts. I started my own business and began to write again. The book you’re now reading is my second endeavor since the days of Rosa.
Along the way I had to deal with a lack of trust in my abilities from my immediate surroundings, including my family, and I experienced quite a few doubts, failures, painful feelings and disappointments. I learned to trust my inner voice, listen well to my dreams, grow from my fears and insist on what really matters to me. I share here with you in this book what I learned in this process. You will read inspiring stories of my own experiences, episodes of my clients (all names and identifying details have been disguised), and stories and quotes from successful people.
I will also share with you the insights I’ve acquired in the worlds of business training, psychology and various spiritual teachings, especially Buddhism and the world of meditation, which is now part of my everyday life. Also, because it’s important to me that you get the most out of this manual, it includes tips, tools and practical exercises that you can implement today to find your own way to your dream career, all the while maintaining a high level of energy, motivation, passion, optimism and joy.
How to make the most of this book?
This is a great question, one to which you alone best know the answer.
The following questions will help you focus on what matters most to you, and help you commit yourself to making the most of this book.
What do you want to get out of this book?
(For example, learning how to deal with my fears, raising my motivation to look for a new job, believing more in myself and in my service’s/product’s value.)
What are your own key guidelines to maximizing the value of this book?
(For example, to open myself up to new knowledge, or to apply the knowledge I acquire.)
The book is divided into eight chapters presenting the chief emotions and feelings inherent in the career-building process: Love & Freedom, Happiness, Self-Esteem, Fear & Anxiety, Failure & Disappointment, Anger, Grief & Loss, and Guilt. In each chapter you’ll come upon information, tools, tips, inspiring stories and practical exercises to foster positive emotions and to deal with difficult ones.
This guide takes a holistic approach, so each chapter complements the others. Therefore, I recommend that you read the chapters in full. The order in which you read the chapters does not matter. In one chapter you will read that determination and perseverance in light of failure are keys to success, while another chapter reads that it’s important to let go and not hold onto goals at all costs. “To everything there is a season, and a time for every purpose under the heaven,” said King Solomon, the wisest of men. Each moment is different, so what is right for you today won’t necessarily be right for you tomorrow.
Find the right way for you to read this book and apply its contents. Some people read manuals sequentially from beginning to end. Others prefer to read about their own most burning topic at any given time. Some people apply all the exercises, and others draw inspiration and exercise more selectively.
What is your style?
My advice is that in whatever you choose to do, it is important to persevere. This book offers many exercises, some of which are designed for one-time application and some for use over a period of time. You should begin to notice a change in about three weeks, if you practice daily. Changing habits and implementing new ways of thinking is like yoga for the brain – this takes time and systematic work. Therefore, it’s better to practice 15 minutes every day than an hour and a half once a week. The information and inspiration you draw from this book represent only the first step. Application, determination, perseverance, courage and commitment to yourself are your key to occupational self-realization.
Another hot tip is to keep an “emotions journal” in which you freely write down what you feel. Writing your feelings in a journal will help you avoid any accumulation of anger, frustration and pain, and help you find creative solutions to bothersome issues. This book also offers writing exercises for your emotions journal.
In conclusion: this guide is about dealing with feelings while changing career or building a new one. But first and foremost it is a book abou;t love, relationships and growth. In other words, it is a book about life. Managing a successful career is not a recipe for baked potatoes. A successful career is an act of love, passion, and finding meaning. It is a privilege to live a life of love, to arise each morning to a day full of meaning; and the way to this end passes through the tapestry of your values, your dreams, and your old pains and fears.
I hope this guide in front of you will be a loyal friend on your journey, and will help you look deep inside, dig up hidden treasures within yourself, and emerge stronger, clearer, more peaceful, more successful, and, even – happier.
Shall we start?
Studies show that a fear of speaking in front of a larger audience
is greater than the fear of death.
Which means that at a funeral
people would rather be in the coffin than holding the eulogy.
On your path of building your career, it’s natural that all kinds of emotions arise. Some are welcome and positive such as excitement, enthusiasm or joy, and some are a little less pleasant. Anxiety and fear are definitely in the second group.
Anxiety can be paralyzing, depressing and … scary. It’s only natural that people often try to avoid feelings of fear and so “bypass” them in different ways:
Repression: Sometimes the way people deal with anxiety is by suppressing it, and not letting it undermine their actions. I once asked my brother, who used to be an army officer, how he had dealt with his fears on the battlefield. He said: “I did not feel anything. The will to survive and to live through the battle required so many resources that there was no room for feelings like pain or fear.” But those feelings do not go away. They emerge later, at home, in civilian life.
The professional world can also feel like a battlefield, as if it’s a war of survival where the strongest wins, and there is not much room for emotions. The price, though, will probably be paid in one’s personal life: the man or woman who learned to be tough and to repress their emotions might feel aversion towards pain and weakness and have difficulties maintaining close relationships.
Escape: Another coping strategy is to avoid facing fear. That is, to avoid challenging or stressful situations by pretending that everything is fine, even if it’s not. Examples of such an escape can be neglect of accumulating debts and pretending that the financial situation is under control, or refraining from taking active, initiative steps to promote the business.
You must be aware of the heavy price you pay by surrendering to fears. You’ve probably seen how procrastination in the face of your problems makes them bigger, more complicated and more costly. You are probably aware of all those useful things that you refrain from doing, all those creative and original things you would do if you dared. It reminds me of a sentence I once heard: “All you want is on the other side of fear.”
What is on the other side of your fear?
One of the most important things in dealing with anxieties and fears is what is known as “stepping out of the comfort zone,” meaning: changing habits of escape and suppression that reduce and limit us, preventing us from being the creative, full-of-life, vigorous and energetic human beings we have the potential to be. Yielding to fears means giving up the right to live your life to the fullest.
Find some quiet moments for yourself and answer the following question:
What would I do today/this week/this year if I were not afraid?
Make a list of at least three things you would do if fear were not stopping you.
Choose one thing from the list to do this week.
If you feel stuck, worried or restless, it might be because you are afraid.
Maybe someone told you something that undermined your confidence; perhaps you received a negative response from a position you applied for, or maybe you were rejected or criticized in your personal life.
As with other negative feelings – anger, guilt or pain – it is important to express what you feel in order to “clear out” the emotion and move on.
Take a few quiet minutes, ten or fifteen will suffice, and write about your fears and concerns. Don’t be rational about it; don’t analyze yourself or the situation (You can do this later.) Just be as true and genuine to yourself as you can, and allow all your emotions to emerge. Obviously, fear and anxiety are often accompanied by anger and pain. Let it all out. As you follow the trail of your emotions you might gain some interesting insights.
Writing may enable you to put things in perspective and help you move on, or help you realize that there is a real problem that requires your attention.
Continue to write over the next few days until you feel lighter and calmer, and have a clearer picture about how to deal with what is bothering you.
Sometimes what holds us back is larger than a specific fear like initiating a meeting or being interviewed for a new job. When we make a significant change in life – and embarking on a new career is definitely such a change – one might be overwhelmed by anxiety.
You may be beset by anxiety when you go on interviews and repeatedly receive rejections; you are afraid you might not find a good job before you consume all your savings. Anxiety might result after a launch evening to which only your family and a few friends showed up. Or anxiety might strike for no apparent reason at all. You are constantly worried. You sleep poorly, feel restless, and begin to think that all this talk about a life of purpose and fulfillment of one’s dreams is for the pampered and rich, but not for you – an ordinary person – who is just trying to make ends meet.
Anxiety can manifest itself in thoughts like: “My business will fail,” “I’ll never develop enough customers,” “I have no chance of succeeding in job interviews,” “I’ll always stay poor and unemployed,” and so on. One of the most disturbing symptoms of anxiety is the feeling of helplessness; paralysis in the face of a challenge that seems just too big to handle. In addition, anxiety may be accompanied by physiological and psychological symptoms such as palpitations, chest pain, migraines, stomach irritation, sweating, poor sleep, shortness of breath, emotional distress, a choking sensation, incessant worries, confusion and more.
Anxiety is a deep-seated fear that things will crash, collapse or spin out of control. It is an inner conviction that if things do not work out properly you will fall into an abyss. Often it comes with a strong feeling of foreboding, of impending doom, that something horrible is about to happen. If you suffer from anxiety I’m sure you know very well what I’m talking about.
When I decided to make a career change and pursue my dream of becoming a group counselor and life coach, I encountered a wide range of emotions. Anxiety was certainly one of the dominant ones. Most of my life I’d worked in jobs I didn’t really like that much, but I believed it was the way to make a living. I learned at home that work is a serious matter, and making dreams come true is a luxury activity for leisure time. I had an excellent teacher in this regard: my father. My beloved father had forgone his dream to engage in teaching Torah (that is, Jewish and rabbinic scholarship) and chose instead to work as a computer programmer so as to provide for our large family. However, he didn’t relinquish his dream altogether, and devoted his afternoons and Saturdays to Torah study and teaching congregation members. The message I received was that there was a time and place for work, and one for hobbies, but they didn’t go together. Work should be undertaken safely and responsibly.
Becoming a doctor or a bank employee, for example, certainly met these criteria. But I just wasn’t inclined this way. My heart pulled me in directions that were obviously not serious enough, such as writing and creative work. Moreover, my dream of starting my own business as a freelancer was classified under the category of “extremely dangerous” because being self-employed was considered a irresponsible gamble.
In retrospect, I’m not surprised that I felt panicked in the first weeks after leaving my job. Although I felt tremendous joy and excitement about setting off on a new path, I also suffered from tension and restlessness, I slept poorly and had difficulties concentrating. I was overwhelmed by worries and self-doubt: “How will I manage?” I wondered. The question “What have I done!?” gnawed at me.
The truth is that anxiety is more connected to our past than to our future. Unlike the natural fear aroused by an imminent and tangible threat (a snarling dog chasing you down the street), anxiety is a sense of danger that stems from messages we picked up from (mostly) childhood experiences. The psychologist Donald Winnicott proposed that it “… turns out to be very simple. I contend that clinical fear of breakdown is the fear of a breakdown that has already been experienced.” This is the most accurate definition of anxiety that I know of; being afraid of a hypothetical future danger – usually imagined and irrational – that has already threatened us in the past. The threatening event happened when we were too young to process it or adequately cope with it. It became a dark, lurking inner shadow. Now, past is projected onto future as anxiety. An example of this is Maya’s story, presented in one of the next passages.
The good news is that anxiety is a normal and natural emotion. And even better news is that anxiety (and its best friend, guilt) is often an indication that you are on the right track. If you were not breaking through the boundaries of the known and familiar, the warning bells wouldn’t be ringing. If they ring, let them – and give yourself credit for your courage to make a change.
Here are the steps for dealing with anxiety:
Breathe: Anxiety and fear often shorten the breath. Remind yourself from time to time to take some deep breaths, and prolong the exhaling above and beyond the usual rhythm.
Make friends with fear: You can treat fear and anxiety as unpleasant or intimidating emotions, but you do not have to. Professor Mario Livio, a senior researcher at the Hubble Space Telescope, and author of The Golden Ratio and Is God a Mathematician? says that the way to deal with fear is to be curious about it. In his own words: “The cure for fear is curiosity.” Often, when I think of something I would like to do and yet I’m scared of, I intentionally approach the fear rather than following my natural instinct to stay clear of it. I remind myself that I may be curious about what would happen if I dare do that thing that scares me. It turns the fear into a game.
If the notions behind “making friends with fear” sound far-fetched to you, at the very least you need to familiarize yourself with your anxieties and agree to look them in the eye. You can’t deal with that which you’re avoiding contact with and running from.
Dare: Step out of the comfort zone of your familiar behavioral patterns. Identifying and understanding your anxieties and escape mechanisms is necessary but not enough. It is imperative to deal with situations that frighten you. Dare to do what you love; express your desires and emotions; be assertive; allow yourself to be acknowledged for your achievements. Challenge yourself. Allow yourself to succeed and recognize that you can enjoy it. Cherish small successes. Say good words to yourself – that you deserve to be happy, successful and to be heard. Encourage and forgive yourself if you stumble or make mistakes along the way. Create a supportive environment, and connect with people who support your growth.
This last point – Dare – is so important that I will elaborate on it separately later.
Anxiety is just an emotion. If you treat it like a little kid who wants your attention it will be much easier for you to address. It won’t disappear if you run away from it.
Dealing with unpleasant feelings is not necessarily done by “fixing” them, but rather by “being with” them. Observing your anxiety (or anger and pain for that matter) – and the physical sensations, emotions and thoughts that accompany it – might make the difference. Great relief results from just allowing yourself to “be with” what you feel at the moment and not rushing to resolve it right away.
Being cheerful and smiley-faced is so highly valued in our society (look at your Facebook friend’s albums for instance) that sometimes it turns into a cumbersome chore. In his interesting essay “History of Emotions,” Professor Peter Stearns depicts how the U.S. and Western Europe have dealt with the “threat of emotions” by embracing cheerfulness as the predominantly appropriate emotion as early as the eighteenth century:
Once launched, the new insistence on cheerfulness gained ground steadily. By the late twentieth century it affected labor relations as well as commercial interactions, with workers expected to display a sunny disposition as proof of their employability.
Well, that can be so exhausting! Sometimes all we need is support, a shoulder to lean on and someone to hold us. For yourself, be that person who holds you.
The concept behind observation meditation is “being with” things on an intimate level. You will see that feelings come and go, and often, when the drama is gone, the feelings subside as well.
Try to “be with” your emotions using the following observation meditation:
Sit in a quiet place where there will be no interruptions. Turn off the phone.Set an alarm clock for 10-20 minutes.Close your eyes and assume a comfortable posture that allows you to sit with your back straight but not stiff.
Pay attention to the natural movement of the breathing, to the incoming and outgoing air. Focus on the area where the breathing sensation is most dominant – it could be your abdomen, your chest or the nostril area. After a few natural breaths, shift your attention to the sensations of anxiety in your body.Do you feel a knot in your stomach? Contraction in your throat? Does it affect your breathing? Making it faster? Shallower?
Observe these feelings as an onlooker or witness. Don’t interpret the flow of your emotions or try to understand them. If you feel anxiety taking over, it’s OK. Keep on breathing. One of my meditation teachers once said that even if you are emotionally overwhelmed 90% of the time, and observe only 10% of it, the meditation is still effective enough.
Approach your anxiety with curiosity and treat yourself with affection and caring. That’s really what matters.
Set aside 10-20 quiet minutes.
Get a sheet of plain paper and crayons. Make a drawing of your fear. Let the feeling of fear take form. Your drawing may be concrete (e.g., a monster or an animal) or abstract.
Look at the drawing. Does fear arise in you? Good.
Display the drawing in a place where you can see it frequently. Look at it every day with the intention of making friends with your fear. After a week of two, throw it away.
Let’s examine your more specific fears, those which stop you from taking those small steps that can promote your career. For example, is there anyone who can possibly help you but you’re afraid to make the call, so you continue to procrastinate? Are you afraid of giving a presentation at your neighborhood’s community center even though you want people to know about you and your services? Do you balk at talking to the bank manager or tax authorities? Do you have an unresolved issue with an employee/client/colleague but avoid discussing it with them?
Make a list of those small actions you set to the side again and again.
Look at the list. Is there one thing you can do today? Or in the coming week?
In my experience, if you adopt an attitude of curiosity, like of “Hmmm … I wonder what would happen if I do this?” it is easier to find the courage to take that step.
Now let’s look together more deeply into our anxieties: at how they developed and at how they run our lives. Let’s look into the eyes of fear. This will help us control it.
Many of us learned in childhood that success and self-expression are dangerous, and despite the strong desire to achieve and to engage in meaningful activity, we harbor anxiety that success will demand a high price.
Sometimes anxiety overcomes us to the point that it blocks our career progress. An example of this is Maya, a woman in her thirties who participated in a career-change workshop. Maya worked for years in a technical job that didn’t suit her creative talents. The hours were long and the pay was low. Maya stood out as a diligent, professional and responsible employee, but she felt exploited and even victimized. Every morning for years she got up at 7 am, went to work and hated every minute of it. Maya knew she wanted a change, but she did not know which change and how to make it. When she came home at the end of a workday she was too tired to think about new options.
Maya shared with the group that as a young girl she was required to take care of her little brother and be responsible for the household. Her parents were poor immigrants who each worked two jobs and were rarely at home. She received a subtle message that being a kid, playing and frolicking, was selfish, irresponsible and even dangerous. (Once while she played in her room her brother accidentally poured boiling water on himself in the kitchen. Her parents were furious.) Maya had to grow up fast, set aside her desires and take responsibility at home.
Choosing a tedious and unrewarding workplace was an unconscious choice in a natural continuation of what Maya had learned and been accustomed to as a child. She chose an arduous job that didn’t reflect her desires and talents, just as she had had to assume the burden of taking care of her brother and set aside her own wishes. However, this job also served as a sort of addiction. In this respect, it played an important role in Maya’s life: the whole time she worked there she avoided the looming feelings of anxiety that struck her when she began to think seriously about pursuing her desires and realizing her potential. This job was part of Maya’s psychological defense mechanism. It had helped her escape the deep anger she felt towards her parents and the anxiety and guilt called by her attempts to find her unique voice and realize her dreams.
During the workshop, Maya slowly acknowledged the rage that she harbored towards her parents, which she had suppressed all these years due to shame and guilt. “How can I be angry at parents who worked so hard to provide for us?” she cried. At the same time a new desire was emerging within her – a dream to open a bakery and put into practice her love of baking. The first steps of building her own business and relinquishing the familiar behavioral pattern (sacrificing her own desires for the sake of others) were accompanied by fears, self-doubt and worries. Maya discovered she was afraid that if she were true to herself, people would reject her, in accordance with the conditioned love she experienced from her parents: “To get us to love you, be responsible and mature and put the rest of your nonsense aside.”
Maya finally realized that the difficulty she had in leaving her drab, unsatisfactory job was partly due to it having been a shelter from her anxiety and self-doubt. “Confronting all these doubts, anxieties and feelings of loneliness is sometimes so discouraging,” she remarked wistfully. However, despite the difficulty, Maya found inner courage and the strength to look inward, and move to the other side of her fear with increasing creativity, joy and self-confidence.
Maya’s story is a classic example of an experience common to many people, as depicted in the following diagram:
1. The child expresses a strong emotion
(such as anger or joy)
2. The environment responds negatively
3. The child learns that expressing
strong feelings is negative and dangerous,
and associates guilt and anxiety
4. Later, as an adult, the person operates
within the limits of what is permissible,
safe and legitimate, and thus avoids contact
with feelings of guilt and anxiety
The Triangle of Conflict, developed by the psychoanalyst David Malan is a simple graphic illustration of the formation of anxiety and how to alleviate it.
This simple triangle can help you gain deep insights about yourself.
The Triangle of Conflict’s three angels stand for: Defense, Anxiety, and Hidden Feeling/ Impulse. According to the Triangle of Conflict, underlying every defense mechanism is anxiety that is related to an impulse or a strong emotion that was blocked during childhood. Defenses are all those negative behavior patterns with which people hurt themselves, such as addictions, fear of crowds, victimization, a tendency to please others, obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), depression, exam anxiety and fear of intimacy.
Defenses are ways in which we avoid expressing that which was not legitimate in childhood – whether it was anger or pain, or conversely, a sense of joy and playfulness. Dismantling destructive behavior patterns (i.e. defenses) often entails dealing with the underlying anxiety, guilt and anger. This is why people who undergo psychotherapy are often surprised that the way to happiness is not always pleasant; because traveling the path to self-expression awakens old pain, regret about missed opportunities, fear and other dormant emotions.
Malan’s model suggests that stepping out from the safe haven of our familiar behavior patterns, especially if they are self-destructive, inevitably gives rise to anxiety because those patterns were developed to ensure psychological survival in childhood. Hence, we can expect some warning lights to turn on in our heads if we dare to deviate from our safe route, from what is known and familiar.
You surely understand what that means: anxiety and self-doubt are natural responses to a change in situation. And more importantly – anxiety is an indication that you are on the right path. You are growing and beginning to really touch all that you suppressed in the past and which is now crying out for expression and fulfillment. It’s your time to start living for real.
To overcome fears and anxieties it’s really important to have a clear picture of what truly scares you, to be curious about your fears.
What are your deepest fears regarding your career? Are you afraid to fail? Afraid of being unemployed and impoverished? Are you afraid of the reactions of your family, friends, colleagues and peers if you really do make it? Do people around you think you are taking too big a risk and recommend that you go safe and avoid trying new things? Or maybe you are afraid of success? Afraid of accepting responsibility? Are you afraid of rejection? Afraid that you will give it all and yet others will think you’re not good enough?
Find a few quiet minutes to yourself. Make a list of everything that makes you frightened or anxious. Elaborate and be as specific as possible. Let all the demons run free. Do not hold anything back:
Fear of failure: “I’m afraid to fail, it seems like the end of the world to me.” “It’s my last chance. If I fail, I could never try again. People will feel sorry for me and I will get stuck in a boring job for the rest of my life.” “I’m afraid to fail and to find out that I am not as talented as I thought.”
Fear of success: “I’m afraid to succeed because that means being alone and lonely.” “People won’t like me because of what I am, but will only want to use me.” “All successful people walked over cold corpses on their way to the top. I do not want to be this kind of person.”
Other common fears and anxieties:
Fear of loss: a fear that success comes with a price tag and that downfall is inevitable (“It’s too good to be true. There must be a ‘catch’.”)
Fear of loneliness: stems from a belief that successful people have no true friends.
Fear of losing quality time with family: fear that career will prosper at the expense of one’s family.
Fear of relinquishing freedom: a perception that committing to a profession means boredom, lack of diversification and loss of spontaneity.
Fear of exploitation: similar to fear of loneliness, it’s a conviction that others associate with successful people only to take advantage of their money, their connections and so on.
Fear of liability: a belief that success – especially if a person becomes a public or recognized figure – entails turning into someone else, more “respectable” and representational, and that one will lose their right to be human and flawed.
Fear of dying: a belief that if you live to your full potential you will cease to exist.
According to Malan, in order to fully express yourself, you must sever the link between anxiety/guilt/fear and the emotion you originally suppressed. That is, learning that it is safe to be emotionally authentic, to feel anger or joy, to desire, to create and play. Then the destructive behavior pattern (the defense mechanism) will dissipate.
Take for example the fear of confrontation: it is a very common fear that undermines one’s ability to stand up for their rights and freely express their desires. Did your childhood environment encourage or discourage assertive behavior?
If your anger distressed or upset your parents (when you were angry they said: “Look how you made Mom cry!”; “Anger is forbidden! Behave yourself!”), then you may have developed feelings of guilt and anxiety regarding anger (“I hurt my mom and dad,” “I’m bad when I’m angry.”). You learned to repress your anger and you might have even lost contact with it.In adults, potentially contentious situations evoke anxiety and feelings of guilt, making it difficult to display assertive and firm behavior, and to stand up for your rights and promote your wishes. Perhaps you do not even know what you want, because anger is, in essence, a positive motivational force to make a change, and express and fulfill oneself. The anxiety and guilt you’ve learned to associate with anger made you prone to pleasing others. Perhaps you also suffer from psychosomatic symptoms such as migraines and digestive problems.
Practicing assertive expression will break the connection between anger and anxiety; you will see that assertive and emotionally honest behavior will help you pursue your goals, make you feel better about yourself, and gain more appreciation from the people around you. The more you practice expressing your will and desires, dare to express your opinions even when the other side thinks otherwise, and tell people if something bothers you or hurts you, the sooner will the fear of conflict diminish and the need to please others drop significantly.
First, Look at the list of your biggest fears which you indentified in the previous exercise. Inverse of your fears by turning them into positive statements about yourself.For example, instead of “Successful people step on others on their way up,” write: “Success makes me a better person.” Instead of “Committing to a job will take away my freedom,” write: “Committing to a job will set me free.”
Finally, contemplate each positive statement: What does it mean to you? How can you make it happen? Make new commitments to yourself, and specify the actions you will do to stick to your commitment.
Think of what being a better person means to you. You could commit to acting honestly and fairly with all customers and employees.
Think about what makes you feel free. If it’s about time management you could write: “I commit to balancing work and leisure; I will go out with friends at least once a week,” and so on.
Be specific. If your idea of freedom is about being your own boss you might decide to open your own business or search for a job with a high level of responsibility and authority.
A monk once asked the Buddha:
“What to do with fear?”
The Buddha replied:
“It depends on what you are doing at the moment;
if you are sitting – sit down with the fear;
if you’re standing – stand with the fear;
and if you walking – keep on walking with the fear.”
Do you look your fears in the eye and step out of your comfort zone? Do you dare and take risks? If so, well done. Stepping out of your comfort zone is vitally important. The Triangle of Conflict illustrates how our safe zone and behavioral patterns are often no less than an emotional prison. You have probably realized by now that fear is an inseparable part of your progress, and I hope this helps keep you going even in the presence of fear. This is a huge step on the way to success. The noteworthy English singer Chris Martin once said that he often suffers from bad dreams about concerts going bad. But it does not stop him from getting up on stage again. In the spirit of the Buddha above, the psychologist Dr. Tal Ben-Shahar writes in his book Happier: “To bring about change in our lives we need courage. And courage does not mean not being afraid, but rather being afraid and still carrying forward.” [Emphasis in the original.] Rumi, the Sufi poet who lived in the thirteenth century, went even further, saying: “Run from what’s comfortable. Forget safety. Live where you fear to live. Destroy your reputation. Be notorious.”
As mentioned, it is a mistake to wait for fear to fade before taking action, because this is an ideal way to ensure that nothing will happen soon, if ever. Fear triggers escape or freeze mechanisms, and sometimes the best strategy is to make precisely the opposite move – to confront that which scares us, to be proactive, to look in the eyes of the monster. Usually, just taking the action, no matter the consequences, will give you a feeling of tremendous achievement. Often the best way to dispel fear is to undertake exactly what you are afraid of.
I remember the first time I led a workshop, at the end of the group facilitators’ training course in which I participated. Unfortunately for me, leading a workshop was a requirement of the qualification process. I would have gladly relinquished it, because I suffered from public-speaking anxiety. I was to deliver a short workshop to the other students with whom I had studied intensively and spent the past three months. But at the moment of truth, as fear gripped my throat, I could not remember their names. I was afraid to the extent that parts of my brain shut down. Somehow I managed to conduct the workshop – without once calling my friends by name.
This was my first experience in group-facilitating, but several years have passed since then. Gradually, thanks to recurrent experience in giving lectures and delivering workshops, I have reached a point where my anxiety has subsided and I actually enjoy working with groups and usually feel relaxed and calm (although always excited). One of the highlights affirming my triumph at the end of a long difficult road was at the conclusion of a weekend meditation seminar – when I went on stage before an audience of 150 participants and related my experiences as a kitchen volunteer during the seminar. I shared the fact that I chose to volunteer in the kitchen even though I had no idea how to cook or prepare food. “Volunteering in the kitchen was a daily challenge,” I said. Everyone laughed when I shared that: “For me, today, being in charge of dressing a salad is much more frightening than speaking in front of 150 people.”
Well, in this life there’s always room to grow.
Do you need to do everything perfectly? Are you waiting to be one hundred percent ready before applying for a job? Are you constantly improving your website and putting off going live with it?
Perfectionism is another manifestation of anxiety. It stems from the fear of making mistakes, to be rejected or to fail.
Ofer Melamed, a former marketing vice president of a large high-tech company and now a business coach, once said to me: “We change and learn all the time.” He coaches people to achieve business success by focusing on dealing with procrastination and perfectionism.
“Whatever you do, tomorrow you can do differently, better,” he went on.
“I told you so!” cried the little perfectionist in me.
“But,” he continued, “It’s also comforting.”
Hmmm … I raised an internal eyebrow.
“It means that whatever you do, it will always be imperfect, so you better do it today. There is no reason to wait.”
“Okay …” I mumbled uncertainly.
To illustrate his point, Ofer showed me his business card: “This is my seventh version, and I’m sure I’ll change it again in the future.”
“Life is imperfect” is one of the principles you learn through meditation practice. No matter how important you are in your own eyes, how many degrees you have acquired, or how many people follow you on Twitter, you are still flooded with petty and boring thoughts once you’ve decided to focus on breathing: thoughts about your bank balance, the supermarket shopping list, calorie calculations from lunch and anger at the driver who cut you off this morning on your way to work. All these (and more) take over your mind until you remember to direct your attention back to breathing, and it won’t be long before you get distracted again. Futile attempts to become the “perfect meditator” remind you again and again that there is no such thing. The only thing you can do is try the best you can right now.
There is a story about a young novice who joined a monastery and asked one of the older monks: “When your mind wanders during meditation practice (he already knew that the mind constantly drifts) what do you think of?”
“About sex” replied the older monk.
An hour of meditation is one amusing reminder of our humanity and lack of perfection.
Recognizing that we are not perfect is really liberating. It gives us permission to be light, playful and daring. Accepting our imperfection also relaxes the fear of making mistakes. Mistakes will always happen, so at least enjoy it when you make them.
Take a sheet of paper and write this title at the top of the page:
What would I do this day/week/month if I didn’t need to do it perfectly?
Write down all the answers that come to mind, even the most outlandish.
When you’re done, go through the list and choose three tasks to accomplish during the coming day, week or month.
I recommend doing this exercise once a week, especially if you are a perfectionist.
About regret: Studies show that people usually regret things they have not done, and not the things they have done. How does this relate to you?
Think about the worst-case scenario: Sometimes it helps to think about the worst that can happen: What if I fail? What if I’m rejected? What if I don’t get that job? What’s the worst that could happen? Usually you’ll see that whatever the answer is, it’s not that bad. Or, it’s a price worth paying.
Choosing a worthwhile goal: One of the best criteria by which to choose a worthwhile goal is that it should excite and also scare you. Goals that do not frighten you at all, that hold no risk whatsoever, are goals that won’t help you grow beyond your limits and get to a place where dreams come true. Do that which accelerates your heartbeat.
Preparation and information gathering: These are anchors that can give you a sense of security. If you repeatedly put off making a decision, one of the tools that can help you move forward is researching the issue you are dealing with. Knowledge is power. For example, if you are undecided about a particular job, gather information on the company, the terms of employment, the nature of the job. Before an important meeting gather intel on the client, the employer or your target audience. Ask questions like: What interests them? What is important to them? What bothers them? Then formulate in advance the most significant points that you want to discuss or emphasize.
One small reservation about preparation and information gathering: If you constantly postpone a meeting, interview or venture “to prepare for it,” ask yourself, in all honesty, whether you are really busy with necessary preparation, or inhibited by fear. There comes a point when you must take the plunge!
Processing fear: Another anchor to help you deal with fear is processing it through talking or writing. This is another way of looking the monster in the eye. Write down or talk to someone about what scares you, really look into it, and ask yourself questions such as: Why does it scare me so much? What is it about this situation or person that shakes me up? Looking into yourself takes a lot of courage. Sometimes the answers may feel embarrassing: “I’m scared of him because I really want him to love me,” “I’m afraid of her because she reminds me of my mother.” Remember that many times fear is an expression of that little child inside of you.
Processing your fears will help you overcome them. Just take care to actually do something about them and to avoid getting stuck in the processing phase.
Fear and anxiety are “cold” emotions: When people say that a fearful situation sends “chills up their spine,” it’s quite an accurate depiction of what fear triggers. Sometimes it’s helpful to warm yourself up emotionally. Warm feelings are love (at one pole) or anger (at the other pole). When you are fearful it might be advisable to be with someone you love, do something you like doing, or watch a good-spirited movie. Soon I will suggest a way to harness anger for the purpose of allaying anxiety.
Avoid procrastination: Procrastination is a tendency to put off doing something, especially boring, unpleasant or intimidating tasks. An excellent habit is to do your most unpleasant tasks in the morning. It will take a weight off your chest and free up your day for the more enjoyable stuff.
Make decisions quickly: This is one of the characteristics of successful people.
Think about the added value you give: This is a great approach to bring to meetings, lectures or presentations. Instead of thinking about how to prove yourself and impress other people, think about what you’re going to give to those people you are about to meet. When you think in terms of giving, you connect to your added value and to your strengths. Instead of waiting for approval, you will receive it naturally. In addition, such thinking connects you to love, and this is a fantastic energy to bring to any human encounter. Value you give can be humor, respect, appreciation, knowledge, inspiration or any other qualities that characterize you.
Self-talk:It is also a good method for dealing with fear. Often, I encourage myself all the way to the phone, to an interview, to a lecture, to a meeting: “You can do it, you’ve got it what it takes, you have so much to give.” I remind myself of the value I bring, and give myself permission to make mistakes, play and enjoy. Brainwashing is a terrific tool.
Determined action raises self-confidence: Moving forward despite the obstacles, setbacks, fatigue and feelings of despair, pain and fear produces inner stability and growing confidence in yourself.
Building a career is a creative process: That is, you are creating your life, aren’t you? The process of building a career, like any creative development, entails anxiety and uncertainty, and involves fears and self-doubt along with passion and a quest for meaning. The mere knowledge that anxiety and doubt are part of the deal is half a solution. Remember that facing any task under uncertain conditions requires trusting the process. Steve Jobs called it “connecting the dots.” This is what he said in his famous Stanford speech:
You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something – your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. This approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference in my life.
Ask! Do not be afraid to ask. People are afraid to ask because of fear of rejection and refusal, or due to an inner belief that “I don’t deserve it.” The fact is that if you ask you might get it (or not), but if you do not ask – you won’t get it for sure. Right after I left my job as manager of a Pilates studio, they opened a Pilates instructor training program in which I wanted to enroll. I had no means of paying for the course, and I decided to ask whether I could take it for free even though I no longer worked there. I contacted my ex-employer and – much to my surprise – she agreed.
Deal with objections:Anxiety has a powerful way of giving rise to objections. Suddenly there’re an awful lot of important things that need taking care of – the house is dirty, there are dishes in the sink, there is that call to make to the plumber. I’m always amazed at how facing unpleasant tasks is a great impetus to get me clean the house. Do you recognize this?
Sometimes our body joins the chorus of objections with pain, fatigue and constipation. These might all be manifestations of resistance. An even more interesting phenomenon is when external reality reflects your anxieties. When I moved into my own apartment for the first time I was very excited but also a little scared. During the first week I had all possible objective reasons why I should not sleep in my new home. One day I had a car accident, and the next my house was flooded by pouring rain. Finally I realized that what was happening around me was an accurate reflection of my resistance and concern.
The way to deal with objections is, first, to identify them as such; second, to reassure yourself that they are only manifestations of your fear of change; and finally, to keep on moving ahead.
Love and forgive yourself if you feel weak and scared. First of all, it’s a matter of principle. Weakness or fear do not justify self-hatred. Nothing does. In addition, acceptance of yourself and self-love are conditions for happiness and success in life, and they are more important than money, success, and even happiness. We all have a little child inside us who gets excited about some things and is terrified of other things. Adulthood is about respecting, not rejecting, that little child. Simply say to yourself: “I forgive you for being afraid, for being weak. I love you unconditionally.”
You might ask yourself: Doesn’t accepting something mean settling for less? If I accept an undesirable situation does that mean I give up on changing it? It is always surprising to find out that it is the other way around. If we accept a situation it becomes easier to change it.
Forgiving yourself is not manipulation; it is a true act of understanding, acceptance and compassion and ultimately love for yourself. But it certainly can make a real difference.
The Anger Process: This technique was introduced by Dr. John Gray in his book What You Feel, You Can Heal, and it’s instrumental in harnessing anger’s warm energy in favor of positive change. The foundation of anger is positive; under all existing anger lies desire, and beneath desire lies a sense of self-worth and self-love. The Anger Process is a way to come back home to the positive source of anger, in a manner not unlike following a path of bread crumbs in the forest.
The Anger Process includes three steps: the first step is getting angry with yourself. Look in the mirror and tell yourself all the things about yourself that make you disappointed, angry or bitter. You can say things like: “I hate you because you are so scared when …,” “I’m disappointed that you’re acting like a chicken when …,” and so on. Address yourself in the second person (“I’m mad at you”) and not the first (“I’m mad at myself”). Use an angry voice. Allow yourself to throw unprocessed charges and blame. After 2-3 minutes move on to the second step.
In the second step become your own motivator. Express your wishes for yourself using the same angry and assertive tone. For example: “I want you to grow up,” “I want you to really succeed,” “I want you to express yourself,” “I want you to calm down” and so forth. This stage also takes about 2-3 minutes.
In the third and final stage be your own cheerleader. Encourage yourself with the same bursting energy and firm voice. Use positive and supportive statements. For example: “You can do it,” “You deserve to succeed,” “I love your courage and determination,” “I love you,” “You can do it.”
The Anger Process may sound contradictory to forgiveness and self-love, but it is not. In my experience, sometimes the best way to approach difficulty is through softness and compassion, and sometimes it’s through a firm and energetic attitude. Choose the most suitable approach for you at the moment.
Treat fear as a friend: Try to treat fear as a signpost that reads: “Caution! Border Crossing Ahead!” Be curious about this border, and make it a regular practice to cross it from time to time.