These 5 Things Will Happen During the Course of Your Career:
Part 1 - Failure
An overwhelming majority of people harbor anxiety over the future. Not knowing what’s going to happen, uncertainty of the answers and outcomes – paralyzed by fear and indecision, they struggle to take even the tiniest step forward. I’m an obsessive over-thinker, I can own that. I like to plan and be prepared. I often approach life like a game of chess – I calculate my next move by evaluating what has happened and anticipating what will occur next. But when logic gives way to the unexpected and my frontal lobe short-circuits, I often find myself needing to pause, reflect, and analyze what’s gotten me so fraught with fretfulness before I can think about putting one foot in front of the other.
There are a few inevitable things that, if embraced with grace, can actually give you the upper hand next time you catch yourself spiraling out of control and tumbling towards that brick wall of apprehension. They won’t end your life, they won’t cause big-picture calamity, and with the certitude that you’ll survive, they might even bestow upon you that beautiful and distinctive patina which can only be developed through emotional maturity. In terms of your career, this type of growth could reverberate throughout your life and affect your professional endeavors in a beneficial way.
Accept This Handful of Things for a Head Start:
1.) You Will Fail
2.) You Will Be Offended
3.) You Will Be Underestimated
4.) You Will Be Overlooked
5.) You Will Bounce Back
In life we complete many cycles. One underlying motif which seems to permeate our existence is the cycle of endings and beginnings. If you know that every closing door leads to another door opening, and if you believe that you can always write another chapter, resilience will most certainly follow any of the other items on the list. I’m going to address each of the 5 items in order over the next few weeks, so let’s start at the beginning, shall we?
Fear of Failure
Trepidation isn’t a strong enough word to convey how I feel about failure. The notion that I might fail, the awareness of the possibility of failure, triggers full-on panic within me. My mind starts churning the same few thoughts around and around like the spin cycle on a washing machine and, as the velocity increases, my heart begins to pound in my ears until it becomes deafening and I feel as though I’m about to crawl out of my skin.
So now that you understand that, you must also grasp the degree of mystification I feel when retrospect predictably pats me on the back and says, “Told you you’d make it.” You see, I have a pretty astounding track record of emerging on the other side of failure not only alive, but able to move on. So why, then, does it still terrify me?
Define and Identify
Fear of failure, or atychiphobia, is defined as an irrational and life-restricting emotion that causes its sufferers to refrain from doing much. Research shows that in addition to being genetically predisposed to such anxiety, people with an immobilizing fear of failure may have also been conditioned since childhood. Growing up in a critical environment where love and approval are equated to performance can lead to subconscious fears that positive emotional feedback will be withdrawn if failure rears its ugly head.
Even in the absence of childhood criticism, some adults carry with them a trauma from decades ago – whether it’s the memory of bombing their first test, stuttering during an oral presentation, or even crashing a bicycle in front of an audience of snickering peers. Whatever the contributing factors, failure avoidance (much like pain avoidance) becomes a key motivator and a way of life.
Recognize the Symptoms and Triggers
Once you can identify and define a fear, you can destroy its power over you. You may doubt such a concept, but I promise you it’s true. Many people with a strong fear of failing understand that it’s more than just insecurity and lack of confidence which plague them and keep them stuck. There’s a visceral fight-or-flight type of reaction that transpires when confronted with a challenge or an opportunity which bears significance. This compels individuals to self-sabotage, exercise perfectionism, and shut down mentally.
Acknowledging the key stimuli which cause those reactions to bubble up from within will assist in the recognition and remediation of those triggers. Whether the implications of a challenge are financial, familial, or related to status and self-worth, coming to terms with the potential ramifications of failure in each of these areas will also help (and is not as terrifying as it seems).
Reframe Your Fears
Changing the way you look at something, or reframing it, will put daunting concepts into perspective and cut them down to size. Choosing to evaluate an opportunity or challenge from a positive point of view, even if just analytically, can trick your mind into seeking out the silver lining in every situation. Instead of asking yourself, “What if I fail?” and visualizing a negative aftermath, ask yourself, “What if I succeed?” and imagine the possibilities. You may end up feeling more inspired and motivated when picturing yourself in a position of power.
Harnessing that power, you can then look down on the negative outcome, reducing it to a mere possible chain of events and nothing more. This might lead you to develop a backup plan or a contingency so that your preparedness will alleviate some of your anxiety and help to carry you through the situation with confidence.
One more thing to consider is how you view success in general, not just what it would mean in the context of what you’re facing. Are you sure you’re not afraid of success and change more than you’re afraid of failing? Could failure be more comfortable for you? Are the excuses that surround avoiding a task simply a defense mechanism established to resist change? Have you adopted this misconception that you’re terrified of failure just to keep from admitting that you don’t believe you deserve or can handle success?
Traditional views of success have been challenged for centuries by some of the world’s most prosperous people. Did you know that Warren Buffet was rejected by Harvard? Michael Jordan didn’t make his high school’s varsity basketball team. Oprah was demoted from her daytime talk show to being a morning co-anchor. Richard Branson dropped out of high school because of challenges with dyslexia. Vera Wang failed to make the Olympic figure skating team before taking a job as an assistant at Vogue (she was also passed over for the Editor-in-Chief position after 15 years with the magazine). J.K. Rowling, the author of the beloved Harry Potter series, was a single mother on welfare who was rejected by publishers 12 times before the transaction that helped her emerge from financial turmoil.
So even if adversity is a possibility, you must force your mind to believe that overcoming that adversity is a probability. More on this in point # 5, sometime in September.
Fragment Your Course of Action
After all the mental flexing and deep breathing you’ll have to do, eventually you’ll be ready to take that first tiny step. No project or obstacle is as big as it looks from the ground. Break it down into pieces that you can tackle in small steps, and don’t be overly cautious. Set little, easily obtainable, goals along the way and consciously acknowledge each victory, as it will propel you towards the next and give you momentum which will lead you to the culmination of the thing you thought you couldn’t do. Once you’re standing on top of the mountain, anything that comes next won’t bear as much magnitude.
Stay Tuned Next Week for Part 2: You Will Be Offended
Join the conversation! How have you overcome failures and adversity in your career?