Prescription – Overcoming fear and making changes in your career and life

This month we’ve tackled a dysfunction that affects all of us personally and professionally “I’m afraid to make the changes in my career and life that I want to make.” Who can’t relate to the debilitating effects of fear. Our fears are always bigger in our minds than they really are. We give them pointy teeth and terrifying claws. And the costs associated with listening to our fears are high – in many cases costing us our very souls. That’s a price none of us should be willing to pay. In fact, just yesterday a client of mine told me that she feels “condemned to this life.” Wow. Fears are powerful stuff. So what can we do?

Here’s your prescription for overcoming fear in your own careers and life. Mix in equal parts and take daily.

One dose of Purpose

You need purpose to overcome your fears. Simply put, we can define purpose as it relates to our careers as “work that provides us meaning and fulfillment in our lives.” Who doesn’t want that? Purpose is essential to overcoming fear because it helps give us the strength to stand up to those scary monsters under our beds (our fears) on behalf of something bigger. Have you discovered meaning in what you do? You can find it two way: either in the “what” of your work or the “how” of your work. Either way, if you can find meaning in what you do, it will help you look past your fears at what really matters and that can give you the strength to take action.

One dose of Courage

Courage is the second of three critical ingredients to overcome fear of change in our lives. Do you have the courage to make the changes in your life you want to make? Let me rephrase that… have you discovered the courage inside of you to make the changes in your life you want to make? It is about reaching down inside of you and taking action. How do you find courage? Three ways: get mad, stand up for the innocent and say “no”. You’ll find out you are stronger than you think you are. Get courageous and unleash your inner hero. The world needs more heroes and heroines. The world needs you.

One dose of Faith

Faith is essential to facing our deepest fears. The individuals I have worked with over the years who have “faith” might still be afraid, but their faith helped them to confront their fears and take action. On the flip side, those individuals I’ve coached that didn’t have faith were less likely to move from their “stuck” place. They would analyze the situation, look at it from every angle, exhaust all logic and stop at the point where the “unknown” would begin and logic would end. And there they would sit – on the edge, unable to make that first step waiting for a clarity that will never come. Three faith questions for you:

Question #1 – Do you see yourself as meant for something bigger?
Question #2 – Do you believe that things will work out in the end?
Question #3 – Do you believe in something bigger than you?

Like Indiana Jones, facing fear almost always comes down to a leap of faith.

There you have it: the prescription to overcoming fear and making the changes in your career and life you want to make. And like any good prescription, I should also include the usage instructions, warnings and potential side effects.



Expiration Date: This prescription will lose its strength over time. While it will never “go bad”, it’s effectiveness in helping you live the life you’ve always wanted decreases with each passing year. For best results, take immediately and regularly.

Risk of Death: This prescription will NOT result in death. I promise you won’t die by confronting your fears. However, it is also important to note that life is short – you will die eventually. The question to ask yourself is this: “Do I want this to be my life if I died tomorrow?” Do you?

Potential Side Effects: Growth, fulfillment and the life you’ve always wanted. Specifics results vary from person to person.

So what are you waiting for? The clock is ticking.


Prescription for Leaders – overcoming fear and stimulating action in your team

This month we’ve tackled a debilitating dysfunction “I’m afraid to make the changes in my career and life that I want to make.” But what if you are the boss? What can you do to help you and your team overcome fear and take action? Here’s a prescription for helping you to fight fear and get your team moving.

Mix these in equal parts and take daily:

One dose of PURPOSE

If you want to fight fear at work and inspire your team, you are going to need to look beyond the tactical “how” of the daily to-do’s and answer the “why” of your work – for both you and your team. Here are some good “why” questions you can be asking yourself and then answering for you and your team:

  • Why do you do what you do?
  • Why do your customers need you and your team today more than ever?
  • If you all were laid off tomorrow, what would you want to be said about what you accomplished and how you worked? (a version of my “tombstone” question)

Clarifying purpose for you and your team can help you to not only rally around a common inspirational reason for acting (don’t we all need that today!), but it can also help you put your fears back in their rightful place – shoved back under the bed. And don’t forget, inspiration lies in the “why”, so once you have your answers, don’t be shy about sharing your answers with your team. I promise you that they are as hungry for meaning and direction as you are.

One dose of COURAGE


Courage is about taking action. Simple as that. I think we can also agree that courage is in very short supply today. As you mix in courage into your daily regimen, know that it is needed now more than ever. Here are two forms courage can take. You may choose to mix both or only select one – completely up to you:

1. Take action – Have you noticed that most for-profit organizations over the last few years have been growing their stockpiles of cash taller and taller, wider and wider, waiting for something to happen before they take action? Just waiting… for something.  Are you waiting for something to happen before you take action? If so, what are you waiting for? Do you know? Why not “be the change you want to see in the world” (Mahatma Gandhi)? It could be your singular action that starts a ripple effect that ultimately impacts more people than you could possibly imagine.

2. Say “No” – sometimes courage isn’t about doing, it’s about refusing to “do” any longer. Is there something that you have been wanting to say “no” to at work? Perhaps it is an internal policy you don’t believe in or perhaps it’s the peer pressure at leadership team meetings to all be on the same page.  Get the courage to say “No”. Your team will not only admire you for it, but they will follow you because of it.

One dose of FAITH

For many senior leaders, what holds them back from taking action is a fear that their actions or decisions will start a ripple effect that will ultimately result in the total destruction of the team and perhaps even the organization. Sounds pretty extreme when we read it, doesn’t it? But it’s a real fear. Trust me… I’ve heard it from countless clients. And if we do succumb to this fear, we begin to move away from faith and try to get “perfect” information. So what does this move away from faith look like? We have been seeing it in action in mass over the last few years. Organizations looking for merger and acquisition targets but never pulling the trigger (I’m sure you know some of those M&A folks and how incredibly frustrated they are). Organizations interviewing senior candidates, getting down to the final two candidates and then stopping the process cold because they just don’t have “enough” information to be “sure” that the one they pick will work out. We’ve all heard the saying “there is no such thing as perfect information.” Logic will take us to the edge, but it’s a leap of faith you need to take that final step. Have faith. Know that if your intentions are in the right place, if your heart is in the right place, whatever decisions you make will ultimately work out in the end.

There you have it – a prescription for overcoming fear at work and inspiring your team to take action. It won’t be easy, but what’s the alternative? Sitting and waiting. Watching others be brave, bold, courageous and inspirational while we sit on the sidelines, watching and refusing to claim our own power? We all can be heroes and heroines. The world needs more of ‘em. Your team needs more of ‘em. Your team needs you. The world needs you. Be that hero or heroine. I promise you won’t regret it. And as my mentor always says, “I promise you won’t die.”



Got Faith?

Got faith?  Faith is the third of three critical ingredients necessary to overcome fear of making change in our careers and lives.  So what is faith?  I’m convinced of two things as it relates to faith:

  1. Each of us has our own personal definition of “faith”
  2. Either you got it or you don’t

Given these two important traits of faith, this is gonna be a short post – but an important one nonetheless.   I’m also going to take a different approach to this topic than I traditionally do.  Rather than break-down faith, analyze it and give you a prescription, I’m going to ask you three questions that people who battle fear with faith typically answer “yes” to:

Question #1 – Do you see yourself as meant for something bigger?  Are you meant to play a bigger game than the one you are currently playing?  This faith question relates to purpose, but unlike purpose, faith isn’t about setting a vision, it’s about taking that first step “knowing” that you are on a path that you are meant to be on.  Perhaps you call it intuition, gut instinct or destiny.  Regardless of what you call it, people who take leaps of faith in the face of fear are driven by this call to something bigger.

Question #2 – Do you believe that things will work out in the end?  Faith is about believing that things have a way of working out the way they are “meant to” in the end.  This not only means that you won’t die if you take that leap of faith you’ve been putting off, but that the outcome of that step will be a positive one for you eventually – maybe not initially, but eventually.  Have you ever noticed that the people we admire the most for their courage to take those steps into the unknown, more often than not operate “knowing” it will all work out?  I have.

Question #3 – Do you believe in something bigger than you?  People who take action driven by faith have a deep conviction that there is something bigger than them at play.  Is that true for you?  In my work, I can say that the individuals who believe in something bigger than them often take steps into the unknown with a confidence and peace that is unmatched.  They know that they are not alone.  How ’bout for you?  Are you alone?

Faith is essential to facing our deepest fears.  The individuals I have worked with over the years who have “faith” might still be afraid, but their faith helped them to confront their fears and take action.  On the flip side, those individuals I’ve coached that didn’t have faith were less likely to move from their “stuck” place.  They would analyze the situation, look at it from every angle, exhaust all logic and stop at the point where the “unknown” would begin and logic would end.  And there they would sit – on the edge, unable to make that first step waiting for a clarity that will never come.

After all, when we come right down to it, that first step into the unknown truly is all about faith and nothing more.

I think this clip sums up that first step perfectly, and who better than Indiana Jones.  Indy rocks!

Got Courage?

Are you courageous?  Courage is the second of three critical ingredients to overcome fear of change in our lives.  Do you have the courage to make the changes in your life you want to make?   Let me rephrase that… have you discovered the courage inside of you to make the changes in your life you want to make?  Often we think courage is reserved for Superman or Wonder Woman, but it’s not.  Courage is a funny thing.  It can’t come from others or from a magic pill.  Each of us has to reach down deep and find it.  The good news is that it’s there.  We all have budding superheroes in us, we just have to be willing to look hard enough and realize our own potential.  Here are a few handles to reach for as you dig down for the courage that’s inside of you:

  • Get mad – my wife has a fantastic phrase when she has had enough.  She says, “I’m over me.”  Are you over you?  Get mad, reach deep down, find the courage you need and discover your inner superhero.  She / he is in there.  Let ‘em out.
  • Stand up for the innocent – any good superhero protects the innocent.  But you don’t have “any innocent civilians to protect in your life” you say?  Oh contraire.  You have your family to protect.  As one client of mine recently said to me, “it is critical to me that I model a life of courage and risk-taking for my children.  I don’t want them to grow up afraid of life and fearful to make the changes they want to make.”  Are you modeling the life you want your family to be proud of?  Your ancestors, your parents, your siblings, your spouse, your children, your children’s children?  You get the picture.  It’s not about you.  It’s about them.  Be the hero they need you to be.
  • Say No – Stop the “bad guys” by refusing to let them continue.  Sometimes courage is not about doing, it’s about refusing to “do” any more.  Say no and stand up to the games you no longer want to play.  This kind of courage can be even harder to come by, but as I mentioned in an earlier post, “I promise you won’t die.”  Say No.

I think this quote from Marianne Williamson sums it all up nicely:

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate.  Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.  It is our light, not our darkness, that frightens us most.  We ask ourselves, ‘Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented and famous?’  Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God.  Your playing small does not serve the world.  There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that people won’t feel insecure around you.  We were born to manifest the glory of God that is within us.  And when we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same.  As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”

Dig down, realize your true strength and find the courage that’s been in you all along.  For an inspirational example, check out this commencement address from J.K. Rowling (Harry Potter fame).  If you haven’t seen it, it is an absolute must.

J.K. Rowling Speaks at Harvard Commencement from Harvard Magazine on Vimeo.

Got Purpose?

Got purpose in your career? Purpose is one of three critical ingredients necessary to overcome our fear to make changes in our lives.  So what is purpose?  It’s a vastly overused but important term.  Simply put, we can define purpose as it relates to our careers as “work that provides us meaning and fulfillment in our lives.”  Who doesn’t want that?  Purpose is essential to overcoming fear because it helps give us the strength to stand up to those scary monsters under our beds (our fears) on behalf of something bigger.  So, how do you find purpose in your career?  I promise to devote an entire month to that question.  In the meantime, here is a “back of the envelope” approach you can take today:

  • It can be the “what” OR the “how” of your work. You can find purpose in your work by “what” you actually do or in the “how” of what you do.  For example, let’s say you work at a children’s hospital helping to treat cancer in kids.  That’s a great example of finding purpose in the “what”.  You help kids overcome cancer.  Pretty clear.  On the other hand, perhaps you work at a “widget” manufacturer and you don’t particularly like the “what” of your work.  You might find purpose in the “how.”  Ben was in that situation.  He was an accounting manager for a large technology company.  Ben found great meaning in his work by mentoring and developing the people that reported to him.  It was the “how” of his job (mentoring and developing others) rather than the “what” (an accounting manager for a technology company) that provided Ben meaning and purpose.  Do you find purpose in the “what” or “how” of your work?
  • What need do you want to meet in the world? Is there something that gets you mad or sad in the world?   What need do you see in the world that you want to dedicate your career to addressing?  It can be as big as changing healthcare or making the world sustainable.  Or it can be as small as “helping ordinary folks be able to afford the stuff that only rich people can buy.”  Getting clarity around the need in the world you want to meet can help you to say “no” to your fears and focus more intentionally on where you want to go.  BTW, the “helping ordinary folks…” need was Sam Walton’s (the founder of Wal-Mart).  You never know where even a seemingly small purpose might take you. 
  • What do you want inscribed on your tombstone? I met a consultant a few years ago who introduced himself to me as “the pricing specialist for the tire industry.”  The best part was how he said it to me.  He didn’t say it with excitement or passion, rather he said it with this look of confusion across his face as if he was thinking “how did this happen to me?”  Purpose is a funny thing.  If we don’t answer the question of purpose for ourselves, it doesn’t go unanswered.  Someone else will answer it for us.  In essence, we would be letting someone else inscribe our tombstone one letter at a time.  So, what do you want your tombstone to say?  Pricing specialist for the tire industry?  The answer to that question can help us to put our life in perspective and give us a reason to stand up to our fears.  We don’t want our fears dictating our purpose. 

There you have it.  Purpose in 30 seconds.  Our ability to overcome our fears and make the changes in our lives we want to make can be greatly enhanced with the addition of a clear purpose.  Having that picture of the life we always wanted and the difference we want to make in the world can put those fears in their rightful place – back under the bed.

As you ponder your purpose, I’ll leave you with this last question:

If you died today, what would your tombstone say?

Should you be afraid?

John looked at me with a half serious, half dismissive expression and said to me, “That sounds fine in theory.  And if I was younger perhaps you might be right, but I have to worry about paying for my kids’ college, my family’s health insurance, my retirement, etc…  As much as I hate my current job and see it as a dead-end, I really can’t make those changes right now.”  John’s argument sounds so logical.  In fact many of you right now are nodding your head in agreement with John.  After all, John sounds like the voice of reason.  But, would your perspective change if I told you John was 29 years old?  Or what if I told you that John has over $2 Million in savings?  That is the sneaky nature of fear.  We come up with logical arguments to defend our fears.  But if we were gut-level honest with ourselves, those logical arguments are designed to keep us from facing our fears – and to keep others from pushing us to address our fears.  After all, who wants to argue with John after he throws his family’s well-being on the table?  That’s a conversation stopper.

These are the most common arguments I hear from clients on why they shouldn’t make the changes in their lives they so desperately want to make:

  • “I have too much responsibility in my life today to take on any significant risk or change right now”
  • “I have too many people counting on me (I don’t want to let them down)”
  • “Others would be very upset with me if I did / said that.  I’m better off not rocking the boat”
  • “I’m not ready.  I’ve got more things I need to get in order before I can make the change I want”
  • “Who am I kidding?  I couldn’t pull that off even if I wanted to”
  • “I’m too old” (my favorite)

Any of those sound familiar to you?  Oh, come on.  You know you’ve used at least one of those lines to argue why you shouldn’t make the changes you really want to make.   So what are you afraid of?  And should you be afraid?  I don’t know what keeps you up at night, but I can tell you that it’s probably not as big of a monster as you think it is.  Here’s my version of a splash of cold water to help put your fears in perspective.

“I promise you won’t die” – a mentor of mine spent his entire career helping people from all walks of life to overcome their demons and make changes in their lives.  When a client he was working with was particularly resistant, Len would lean over, look him or her in the eyes and in a matter-of-fact way, he would calmly say “I promise you won’t die.”  We think our fears are these enormous scary monsters that live under our beds.  If we peak under the bed and dare to confront them, we’ll never be seen again.  The reality is that if we turn on the lights and face our fears, we realize they won’t kill us.  So, face your fears and make that change you’ve been putting off.  I can’t promise it will be easy, but I can promise that you won’t die.

“You are going to die” – Bet you didn’t see that coming.  We all know the old saying, “the only things in life that are guaranteed are death and taxes.”  Yes, you are going to die.  When, where, how, that’s up for grabs.  But with all certainty, you are going to die at some point.  We know that.  The question before you today is simple: “is this how you want to live your life?”  What if you had only a year left to live?  Would you still choose to stay where you are?  Are your fears that strong?  I’m convinced that death in itself is not that scary – it’s a one-time event.  Don’t be afraid of death.  What is to be feared is regret.  That lingers with us like a bad roommate for years and sometimes decades.  Don’t let regret in.  Live your life like your days are numbered… because they are.

So, should you be afraid?  Not when we put our fears in this bigger context.  When we look at the reality that facing our fears won’t kill us, and the irony that our lives are short and growing shorter by the day, it can give us the dose of reality we need.   Whether it is the conversations you’ve been putting off or lingering in that awful job (or relationship) for years, make a move.  Turn on the lights, face your fears and kick them out before they start to stink up the place.

The most costly fears

We all have our own unique set of fears – everything from snakes to public speaking.  And all of those fears cost us something.  Whether it’s a refusal to visit the reptile house at zoo or an avoidance of anything resembling a microphone, we pay a price for carrying those particular fears in our mental suitcases.  However, not all fears come with the same price tag.  Some fears are much costlier than others, particularly as it relates to our careers.  The following list represents the most costly fears in our careers.  If we don’t watch it, we’ll find ourselves so stuck as a result of our fears that our own emotional well-being at work can begin to look like the federal deficit – hopelessly sunk.

  • Fear of Disappointing Others – This is a common fear that can impact us at various points throughout our careers.  Whether we are new college graduates seeking our parent’s approval or a  CEO that carries the burden of other’s expectations, this is a heavy and costly fear to carry.  Raj suffered from this fear.  What was unique about Raj was that he had an unmatched passion for hotels.  He loved everything about them – from the linens on the beds to the idiosyncrasies of positioning a hotel brand.  However, Raj’s parents didn’t share that same passion.  They wanted Raj to honor the family by pursuing investment banking in New York City.  Raj despised finance but he didn’t want to disappoint his parents.  Raj ultimately decided to head off to Manhattan to pursue a career he felt was his duty.  The fear of disappointing others results in us burying our passions deep down and replacing them with the expectations and dreams of others.  The danger is that if we bury our desires too deep and for too long, we may never be able to retrieve them again.  Cost of this fear:  Ourselves
  • Fear of Change – Who doesn’t fear change?  But this fear is not about the fear of the unknown.  This fear is about fighting change with every fiber in our bodies – head on.  Susan was like that.  Every time change was thrust upon her, from a new e-mail system at work to new managers to role adjustments, she put on the brakes.  She did everything she could to derail change.  As a result, Susan stayed in the same role for nearly 20 years.  Unfortunately, Susan was unable to see the writing on the wall that her role was nearing extinction in her industry.  In the end, she was let go as her industry changed and she was left with little hope of finding a similar job.  Cost of this fear: Obsolescence
  • Fear of Financial Insecurity – I love this fear because of the utter absurdity of the actions people take to counter the fear.  Those of us suffering from this fear act as though taking a salaried position = financial security.  Tom epitomizes this all-too-common fear.  Tom told me that he would love to one day have his own company advising restaurant owners on how to better run their businesses.  He’s been in the restaurant world all of his career and loves the industry.  He has all the contacts he would need to be on his own and could pull the trigger tomorrow.  The problem?  Tom has a fear that he won’t be financially secure.  He sees his salary and benefits as a solid security blanket that can keep him warm at night.  Last month, Tom was laid off.  Cost of this fear: Inability to take action when opportunity arises (and sometimes, financial security itself)
  • Fear of Failure – This fear is more than just failing to try something new or difficult.  When this fear rears its ugly head it prevents us from going after what we really want in life.  It convinces us that there is a high probability that we can’t reach the potential we envision for ourselves.  Thus, the only way to keep the dream alive is to keep it a dream.  Regina has struggled with this fear her whole life.  She graduated top of her class from an elite college and went off to pursue a doctorate.  All of her classmates and professors voted her most likely to succeed.  She was a rising star.  Since that time, Regina dropped out her graduate program with only one semester left.  She settled for the first job that came her way at an obscure, middle-of-the-pack insurance company and has been there nearly ten years.  She has not only settled in her career but also in every other aspect of her life – from her home to her  relationships.  This fear pushes us to settle for what’s easy rather than go for what we could become or what we really want.  Because, ultimately, the fear of not getting what we really want in life is simply too much to bear.  Cost of this fear: Unmet Potential & Happiness

Any of these fears ring a bell?  Look closely at those costs.  I don’t know about you, but I’m not willing to pay any of those prices.  Talk about high.  I don’t think I have enough credit to afford those.

Fear is sneaky, sinister and contagious.  The first step for any of us is identifying our particular fears and getting clear on what those fears might be costing us in our careers and lives.  The next step is to begin the process of overcoming those fears little by little.  Next week we’ll start down that path.  Stay tuned!

“I’m afraid to make the changes I need to make in my career and life”

Fear.  Who can’t relate to this common dysfunction?  Whether it’s a fear of failure, a fear of financial insecurity, or even a fear of disappointing others, we all have our fears.  And those fears, while likely grounded in some truth, cost us a pretty penny.  How often have you stayed in a situation that you knew was not healthy?  How often have you sacrificed you because of your fears?  Fears are nasty insidious creatures.  They infiltrate our minds and hijack our hearts.  They can cost us our very souls if we aren’t careful.

This month, we will tackle this dysfunction: “I’m afraid to make the changes I need to make in my career and life.”  Throughout the month we’ll cover, amongst other things:

  • What are the fears that hold me back?
  • Should I be afraid?
  • How do I overcome my fears?
  • What can I start doing tomorrow to make the changes I want to make?

Every Monday, I’ll kick off our conversation for the week by addressing one of these big questions.  Throughout the week I’ll collect and share stories, examples and other opinions as we dig in.  By the end of the month, if we haven’t cured this dysfunction, we’ll do a darn good job treating it!

Write to me with your stories, examples or opinions on the subject.  I promise to protect the innocent (and guilty!).

So, “What are you afraid of and what is that fear costing you?”