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Top 10 Fears That Hold People Back In Their Careers

What’s holding you back from landing your dream job or advancing in your career? Are you afraid of failure? Of the stress of more responsibility? Of letting someone down?

Many times the reasons we give ourselves for not going after that new job, not asking for the raise, or not sending in a resume seem legitimate in the moment — but they actually all boil down to fears.

What they all have in common is that they masquerade as something useful: these fears pretend to be protecting you, when in reality, they are holding you back.

Fear of Failure

The fear of failure haunts many people, and holds them back from reaching their true potential. Many people have conditioned themselves not to even try anything new unless they are certain they can succeed. But what this fear won’t tell you is that failure is the only way to learn, and many of the most successful people in the world experienced failures that catapulted them ultimately onto the path of success.

Fear of Rejection

We humans are social creatures, and so one of our deepest, most ingrained fears is that of being rejected by our peers. Whether we’re afraid of asking our boss for a promotion or an acquaintance for a referral, the fear that they may say “no” often holds us back from even making the request. But if we don’t ask, the answer will always be no by default.

Fear of the Unknown

Even when things aren’t perfect, we tend to get comfortable. We convince ourselves that things are good enough, because we are afraid of what it would mean to quit the job, switch careers, go back to school — whatever the change might be. The best way to counteract this is to get out of your comfort zone.

Fear of Being Out of Your League

Especially when it comes to job searching, we often fall into the trap of needing experience to get the job, but needing the job to gain the experience. And so we fear we can’t even apply for the job without the requisite experience. But that’s not always true. If you can show how your approach, your other skills, or your other experience are relevant, you may be surprised at how often that will get you the interview.

Fear of Loss of Freedom

When it comes to your career, you may find that you don’t want to take on additional responsibility or a promotion because you fear the loss of your freedom. That promotion might include new responsibilities, different working conditions, more hours, more pressure, more stress. But it’s our nature to focus on the potential negatives rather than the positives. Try to isolate what you’ll also be gaining in exchange for what is (perhaps) a small loss of freedom.

Fear of Judgement

Applying for a job is literally applying to be judged. Are you good enough, smart enough, creative enough, experienced enough for the job you want? But if you fear being judged, you may be exaggerating how much others will be evaluating you and underestimate your own ability to tolerate negative approval. If you let this fear control you, you may shy away from social opportunities or chances to advance your career.

Fear of Something Bad Happening

What’s the worst that could happen? If you suffer from this fear, you probably have a long list. In a career context, maybe you’re afraid that your current boss or colleagues will find out you’re looking, that you’ll be fired, that you’ll be blacklisted, that you’ll be ridiculed — or even worse! Imagination is a tricky thing, but that’s all these stories are. But if you avoid advancement because you’re afraid something catastrophic will happen, you’re also avoiding the potential good things that could happen.

Fear of Being Greedy

Talking about jobs goes hand in hand with talking about money, and if you’re afraid of appearing greedy, you may be low-balling yourself when it comes to salary negotiations. Many people were taught a deep discomfort in discussing anything to do with money publicly, or you may find it difficult to put a dollar amount on your value or worth to a company. But this kind of fear doesn’t make you look humble, rather it ensures that you won’t be paid what you’re worth. Go in armed with knowledge — average salaries in your area for your expertise, for example — and let the facts do the talking.

Fear of Not Being Perfect

If you suffer from perfectionism, you may spend your time endlessly tweaking your resume or LinkedIn profile rather than actually applying for jobs. Or you may resist applying for jobs that don’t completely meet your exact wish list, or your exact skills or experience. But these are simply excuses holding you back from making progress forward.

Fear of Disappointment

It may be that you’re afraid of being disappointed. That amazing opportunity can’t possibly be as good as it seems. You got a glowing review from your superior, but now you’re paralyzed, afraid of making a mistake and letting her down. This fear is often the reason we avoid the unknown, but not taking a chance often leads to more regret than taking the chance ever could.

How to overcome these fears that are getting in your way? Well, the first step is often just recognizing them for what they are — irrational fears. Once you’ve identified what’s holding you back, you can begin to move past them.

As always, I would love to hear your views or thoughts on this topic. Please share them in the comments below.



Bernard Marr is a best-selling business author, keynote speaker and consultant in big data, analytics and enterprise performance. As the founder and CEO of the Advanced Performance Institute he is one of the world’s most highly respected thought leaders anywhere when it comes to data in business. He regularly advises companies and government organisations on how to improve their performance and gain better insights from their data.

Adèle McLay
Adèle McLay is a high performance coach and business growth coach. She helps people to achieve the success they desire in their businesses, work and lives. Adèle is also an entrepreneur, inspiring professional speaker and teacher, as well as an author.


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