Regardless of intelligence, success or competency, we all have professional fears and moments of doubt when we worry that we’re not rising to the occasion or lack the necessary skills to deliver and could face career derailment.
However, how you deal with these professional fears is what can differentiate yourself from your peers and shape your career path.
According to the executive director for the Center for Emotional Health of Greater Philadelphia, psychologist Marla Deibler, job performance and career anxiety is healthy to a certain extent. These professional fears help us stay motivated and caution us when our workplace choices are driving us toward professionally harmful territory.
But these professional fears can also hold us back. When self-doubt dictates all our professional decisions, it can derail aspirations and cause us to underperform. In turn, these can hinder professional development and damage our workplace relationships.
Resolve to overcome these professional fears this coming year with some simple strategies. Here are four common professional fears and ways you can do away with them in 2019.
1. Fear of Job Loss
According to workplace dysfunction therapist Brandon Smith, older workers are generally the most concerned about losing their jobs due to disruption or displacement from a younger generation of workers hitting the scene and newer technology like artificial intelligence (AI).
“People fear change. They get a routine and rhythm going for a number of years and worry they won’t be successful in a new one,” Smith said. “People can feel disposable, no longer valued.”
If you are experiencing general anxiety regarding job loss, reflect on your contributions to the workplace – both in your job function and overall company culture. And, remember that employers don’t generally fire workers who produce quality work, get along with coworkers and proactively address issues.
If your professional fears are related to actual potential layoffs or new technology taking over job roles, focusing on preparation can help keep you calm and centered. Update your resume and LinkedIn profile. Also, be active in professional organizations, contact recruiters, and build an emergency fund reserve. Consequently, should the worst-case scenario come to pass, you’re ahead on the job hunt front and have financial security until you find a new prime career opportunity.
However, if your field is evolving to include additional skill sets, it’s probably time to invest in upskilling and additional job training. You can also reposition your current skill set and knowledge to pivot your role at the company. For examples, effective team management takes maturity and years to master, and few younger workers are up to the task.
2. Fear of Professional Stagnation
The flip side of fearing job loss is the fear of being trapped in your current role and company. It could be that you accepted the first job you found straight out of college or have discovered your dream job isn’t living up to expectations. Regardless of the rationale or reasons, you just know that your current job is not the one for you.
More common among younger workers, this feeling of professional unfulfillment can negatively affect job performance. It can rob you of motivation to do your job well and lead to a bad attitude. This frustration can result in confrontational behavior and even quitting your job without a game plan, stalling career advancement at your current job and blocking other potential opportunities.
Smith says that this fear relates to agency and being in control of your professional options. If you want a new job, role advancement, or a different career altogether, it’s essential to create a plan to get there.
“Fear can lead us to unproductive choices. I see people feeling this way who end up waiting to be rescued or for the role to change for them,” Smith said. “But the antidote is to come up with your own measured plan to achieve what you want.”
Prepare yourself to do what it takes regardless if it’s going back to school or upskilling and obtaining certification to qualify for the job you want. You also could start a website or blog that demonstrates knowledge and abilities that don’t shine in your current role. And, you can get active in professional development and networking organizations and activities to get on other companies’ radar.
You may also consider talking to your manager about how you can improve job performance and to outline specific steps you need to take to advance.
3. Fear of Incompetency
Impostor syndrome affects many workers when they first enter into leadership roles.
“People can begin to doubt their own abilities and accomplishments,” Smith said. “They think they aren’t experienced or good enough to perform the job and feel that others will find this out about them, learn that they are a fraud.”
Furthermore, feelings of incompetency can actually make you the poor leader or manager you think you are.
New roles and job functions come with inherent challenges to learn new processes, adapt to different professional cultural norms and develop new relationships.
“You won’t hit the ground running on day one. But communication is key. New jobs come with unfamiliar tasks,” Deibler said. “Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Talk with colleagues or supervisors if there is something you’re not getting.”
If you’re still feeling like an impostor after the first few months, build your confidence by actively filling any skill or knowledge gaps you may have. Take online job development and training courses or earn certification in additional areas. You can also sign up for managerial courses through your company or request a special development session to master new technological tools.
However, the single most important thing you can do to fight impostor syndrome and feelings of inadequacy is to find a mentor.
“Having someone whose opinion you trust say ‘You’re really good. You’re ready for this. I believe in you.’ can remind you that you’re right where you are meant to be and that you can figure it out,” Smith said.
4. Fear of Falling Short
Fear of not meeting goals is common for those who set unrealistically high standards. According to Deibler, failure to achieve these impossible goals makes us feel inadequate and replaceable.
This perfectionism can stop us from ever feeling fulfilled and accomplished. Furthermore, fixating on every minute detail can cause us to miss deadlines and isolate us from coworkers who do not want to work on projects under the pressure of impossible expectations.
No one wants to deliver subpar work with clear mistakes. However, we can also turn simple obstacles into insurmountable ones with a negative mindset.
“We all have an inner narrator that is constantly analyzing and judging,” Deibler said. “It’s meant to help us, but that voice is often more negative than positive in its feedback.
“It’s easy to get caught up in all the negative, especially if we’re already worried about something, but just because our mind is telling us something doesn’t mean it is true,” she continued.
Consequently, it’s imperative to think critically about your inner dialogue and choose your battles carefully. If your teammates aren’t concerned about a detail, consider if nitpicking will actually improve outcomes.
Also, keep in mind that if you’re receiving workplace praise and positive evaluations, then you are probably a solid worker who is delivering work that meets or exceeds expectations.