Job Hunting? Ask Yourself: Are You Afraid or Uncomfortable?

Members of the Massachusetts Air National Guard’s 102nd Intelligence Wing attended the Business, Engineering & Technologies Job and Internship Fair at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth. (Air National Guard/Thomas Swanson)
Members of the Massachusetts Air National Guard’s 102nd Intelligence Wing attended the Business, Engineering & Technologies Job and Internship Fair at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth. (Thomas Swanson/U.S. National Guard photo)

When I'm coaching a client -- veteran, entrepreneur, business executive or professional -- I often hear them say, "What you're suggesting is too scary for me to take action."

I might be suggesting they network with influencers, or maybe discussing how they can ask for a raise or promotion. On the other hand, we might consider the possibilities of ending a professional relationship, going back to school or relocating their family for work reasons.

When someone says they feel "fear" or "scared," I first ask what they mean. Often, we think we're feeling alarm when, in fact, we're unsure or apprehensive. If something is to be feared, it is to be avoided at all costs; the risks are high. Apprehension, uncertainty or discomfort may not be unhealthy and could actually be signs of growth that shouldn't be circumvented.

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Here's an example: At the end of Susan's 10 years in the Marine Corps, she had built a solid career as a public affairs officer and received glowing recommendations and praise from her peers and superiors.

Upon separation, Susan dreamed of opening a dance studio and helping underprivileged youth explore movement. Her vision was clear: If she could get the funding she needed, she'd open one studio and grow it into a multi-location business.

But five years after leaving the military, Susan hadn't made any progress on her dream. She worked as a junior account manager in a public relations firm and longed for the day when she was "confident enough, secure enough and brave enough" to launch her dream into action.

Susan repeatedly told me that she was "scared" to be a business owner. She was afraid of ruining her financial credit, of starting a business when so many startups fail and of disappointing all the children who would learn to dance in her studio and could end up heartbroken if she had to close it.

Susan only focused on fear of failure, and she never took action.

Here's another example: Jeff's accounting firm was growing. His clients were attracted to his experience, gained in the Army, as an information technology specialist, as well as his years of financial services experience after retiring. His business was doing well, but he sought to grow his expertise and visibility by taking on wealthier, more high-profile clients.

One day, a prospective client interviewing Jeff met all his dream criteria: He had a high net worth and was influential in the community. The client had recently fired his accountant and was given Jeff's name from a mutual contact. Jeff was excited, yet anxious, to meet him and be interviewed. This would be a huge win if the new client chose Jeff's firm.

In describing how he was feeling, Jeff shared with me, "I know this client is bigger, and more high profile than any of my other clients. That gives me pause. But I also know that in order to grow, I have to flex new muscles, learn new skills, and he might be the right client to get me there."

What Jeff was feeling could also be described as "fear"; his heart was pumping in his chest, he was sweating through his dress shirt and he could hardly sit still. But Jeff reframed his feelings to excitement and looked forward to something positive.

And that made all the difference.

If something is dangerous, inappropriate or otherwise threatening, it is fitting to experience fear and react accordingly. But if what you are feeling is apprehension, reluctance or discomfort from being stretched or growing (emotionally, professionally or spiritually), consider breathing through the anxiety and learning what you're meant to be taught.

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