Not Allowing Fear to Dictate Your Career Decisions

By Stacy Pursell, CPC/CERS
The VET Recruiter®

Fear is a natural emotion that can impact one’s personal life and their professional life. It’s unavoidable in the same way that change and adversity are both unavoidable. As an executive recruiter for more than twenty years and as a thought leader about success, I can say with certainty that how you view and approach fear has a direct impact on how successful you are, especially regarding your career.

Fear is not a subject—nor an emotion—that is easily mastered, if a person is able to master it at all. However, one must be able to effectively manage it if they hope to reach their professional potential and grow their career the way they want to grow it.

Keys to effectively managing fear

I’ve written about the topic of fear before, and I’ve also discussed it during my presentations to professionals in the Animal Health industry and Veterinary profession. The reason I’ve addressed this topic on multiple occasions (and why I’m addressing it again now) is that I believe fear is the number-one thing that keeps people from going after what they want. In other words, it keeps some people professionally “paralyzed” and prevents them from moving forward, when moving forward could be what helps propel them to greater heights.

There are two keys to effectively managing fear:

  1. Identifying what fear is and what fear isn’t
  2. Recognizing the situations in which fear is useful and the situations in which it is not

Fear is a natural and useful emotion—when recognized accurately and managed effectively, that is. And therein often lies the problem. When you are not able to do either of those two things, fear can have an undue influence over your life and the decisions that you make regarding your life.

To put it bluntly, fear helps keep you safe. Humans have been hard-coded with this emotion for eons, allowing them to stay mostly out of harm’s way and propagate the species. At its most basic level, fear is an unpleasant emotion caused by being aware of danger. And in this context, “danger” typically means “immediate danger.” To use an extreme example, if a huge bear smashed through the front window of your employer, you would feel the unpleasant emotion caused by being aware of danger. That danger would be immediate and you would take the steps necessary to keep yourself out of harm’s way.

Now that we’ve looked at a situation that illustrates what fear is, what is fear NOT? Below are three things that may seem like fear, but in actuality, do not measure up:

  • Worry
  • Unease
  • Anxiety

If you’re worried about something, that’s not fear. If you’re uneasy about something, that’s not fear. If you’re anxious about something, that is not fear, either. You might take umbrage with these statements. You might think that these are all indications of fear. However, these emotions are not tied to anything tangible. In other words, they are not emotions tied to a real event that is happening. Instead, they are tied to the prospect of an event happening.

A bear might smash through the front window of your employer. Being worried about that happening is not fear in the strictest sense. It’s anticipation of an event, which may or may not happen, that could elicit fear if it were to happen. The problem arises when a person treats a situation which does not warrant fear with the emotion of fear. When that happens, their response to the situation is not proportionate, nor is it appropriate. Basically, when a person allows fear to influence them in an undue way, they’re more likely to make a decision that is ultimately not in their best interests.

There are two ways that a person treats a situation with fear when it does not actually warrant fear:

  1. When they feel worry, unease, or anxiety about a situation that could happen, but has not happened in the past
  2. When they feel worry, unease, or anxiety about a situation that could happen and that has happened in the past

You might think that if something has happened in the past, one would be more justified in their feelings and their desire to treat the situation with genuine fear. However, that is not the case. Once again, to use our extreme example, if a bear smashes through the window of your employer once, is it likely to happen again? (Statistically speaking, just the opposite is the case.)

Fearing the possibility of something happening is not the same as fearing the reality of something happening. The reason is simple: in the vast majority of cases, the fear of something happening is an unfounded fear. In other words, the thing that the person fears does not come to fruition . . . meaning that there was actually nothing to fear in the first place.

Important questions to ask about fear

So what does all of this mean for your career? A lot, especially considering the current state of affairs in this country and around the world. After all, there are plenty of reasons for people to fear the anticipation of bad things happening, and I’m not just talking about things related to the COVID-19 virus and pandemic. In fact, before the pandemic began, professionals in the employment marketplace allowed the fear of the anticipation of an event to keep them from moving forward and from going after the things that they want. These anticipated events included the following:

  • That their boss or employer would find out that they were exploring other employment opportunities
  • That a job with a new employer might not be as good as their current job, even if all the details regarding the new job indicate otherwise.
  • That if they take a job with a new employer and an economic downturn occurs, they’ll be the first to be laid off due to the “last one in, first one out” fallacy.

And of course, the pandemic has added a layer of uncertainty over everything, serving to further exacerbate people’s propensity for treating situations with genuine fear. The bottom line when it comes to fear, how you approach it, and how much influence you allow it to have over your decisions is the same. Specifically, you must ask yourself the following questions about any situation in which you find yourself:

  • Do I feel fear about this situation?
  • If so, is this a situation in which I am in immediate danger?
  • If I am not in immediate danger, am I experiencing worry, unease, or anxiety?
  • If I am experiencing worry, unease, or anxiety, what is the anticipated event that is causing me to experience these emotions?
  • What are the chances that this anticipated event will actually happen? Is your answer to this question based more in reality . . . or more in fear, irrational or otherwise?
  • Is my attitude toward this anticipated event preventing me from exploring opportunities and moving forward in my career?

The bottom line is that if you are not in immediate danger, then feelings of fear—especially in terms of your professional life—could be overblown. It’s natural to feel unease. It’s even natural to feel a degree of anxiety about a situation, but absent of a genuine threat or real danger, that anxiety is only tied to the anticipation of an event and not to an event that is actually happening (or is likely to happen).

This is why, while fear is a useful and valuable emotion when applied to an appropriate situation, it should not be a major factor when making decisions regarding your professional life and your career. During my career as an Executive Recruiter, fear is one of the biggest obstacles to people maximizing their potential and growing their career.

Or perhaps more specifically, their inability to identify what fear is and what fear isn’t and to recognize the situations in which fear is useful and which it is not the biggest obstacle to their career growth and development. Sometimes you must get over the fear and take risks to move forward.

If you’re looking to make a change or explore your employment options, then we want to talk with you. I encourage you to contact us or you can also create a profile and/or submit your resume for consideration.

We help support careers in one of two ways: 1. By helping Animal Health and Veterinary professionals to find the right opportunity when the time is right, and 2. By helping to recruit top talent for the critical needs of Animal Health and Veterinary organizations. If this is something that you would like to explore further, please send an email to stacy@thevetrecruiter.com.