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presentation nerves

Career fears

presentation nervesAt a recent presentation training course, run by the brilliant David Josephs, we briefly discussed our fears about presenting. After all, if we’re so nervous, we must be afraid of something!

The discussion got me thinking about fears in general. Fear can be a great motivator, if you know how to identify and overcome it. But what if you don’t know what your career fears are? We all have them – but can we all spot them?

There are a few different general fears that I’ve noticed come up time and again for many professionals. They’re usually driven by similar things. I’ll cover a few of them now, but if I’ve missed anything out, feel free to comment.

  1. Fear of not being good enough professionally. Many people will be familiar with that feeling of dread when we’re asked to write that difficult article, take on the difficult project or make that vital presentation. A fear of work being sub-standard is prevalent amongst many professionals.
  2. A fear of not fitting in. In an age where cultural fit is a crucial element of the recruitment process, it can be pretty daunting entering a new workplace. Your success is not just dependent on how well you do your work, it’s also important to be able to interact well with your colleagues. For someone with social anxieties this can cause major stress.
  3. A fear of speaking up! Whether presenting, disagreeing or just putting forward that idea that’s been going round in your head the whole meeting, the prospect of opening your mouth fills you with terror. What if you’re wrong?
  4. A fear of success. Now that one sounds made up, right? Wrong. Some people subconsciously sabotage themselves for fear of becoming too successful. Won’t others be jealous? Will there be a bigger workload? Can I cope with the pressure? Believe it or not, success can be just as scary as failure.

So how do you conquer those fears? It’s easier when you identify the root of the problem, which is, universally, a feeling of inadequacy. I don’t deserve the promotion, my ideas aren’t worth people’s time. However, if you’re employed in this market, the likelihood is that your employers think highly of you. In most fields, there are still more candidates than there are jobs and employers have the pick of the bunch. Would they have hired somebody they thought would fail?

Your fear doesn’t only hold you back, it can deprive the company of that breakthrough idea you were too scared to voice, that piece of work you threw in the bin that could have been excellent, getting to know a great human being and robbing the business of a top manager.

Once you get to know your fear, it can be your greatest motivator. All you have to do is look it in the eye and let it dare you to go even further. So what’s your career fear?

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3 thoughts on “Career fears”

  1. I think fear, or apprehension as I prefer to call it when related to business, is a good thing. I remember as an ad agency account handler some days having so much work on the go that I thought I would never get it all done. I always did, had to as it was all tight deadline driven stuff, but it never stopped me doubting at some point or other whether I would or not.

    Also, presenting. Used to feel sick to the pit of my stomach sometimes. Thought I’d never be able to do it, particularly the day I had to stand on a lecturn and give a talk to 100 head teachers! But, again, I did it and it went well.

    I think the worry is the day you stop getting that feeling of dread or self doubt, however brief. Even now when i write something, particularly for a new client, I put myself through agony if I am left waiting for feedback. I convince myself they don’t like it, that I must have got the message or the tone wrong. And of course 99.9 times out of a 100 it is absolutely fine. As I say, an element of self doubt, apprehension, fear, call it what you will, is good. It shows you care and aren’t so full of yourself to assume that you can do no wrong. it probably makes you do an even better job too.

  2. Thanks for the comment! I think apprehension is a great word for the positive way that we use fear, but it’s a fine line between apprehension and anxiety – and subsequently stress.

    As you said, you put yourself through agony. I think this can be both a positive and a negative. If you put yourself through agony over feedback, it can motivate you to work harder.

    Conversely, I think the more one fixates on said agony, a need to “fix” or “justify” can take over and that generally makes a situation that wasn’t bad in the first place into one that needs to be worried about.

    I was reading a piece on how embracing stress makes you a better leader http://www.businessspectator.com.au/bs.nsf/Article/Stress-a-friend-pd20110316-EYU6V?opendocument&src=rss and I think the same goes for anxiety. I think understanding the root of your own anxiety is the key. Using it to motivate you to do better, but not letting it consume you to the point where you sabotage yourself 🙂

    What do you think?

  3. The funny thing is that I am not at all stressed generally in life. In fact I’ve been told I am so laid back I am almost horizontal. I think it’s just a creative angst that I get, a need to know that the work I have done hits the nail on the head. And, even though I have written literally thousands of pieces of copy I still refuse to convince myself that my latest offering is spot on and will be well received. Bizarre really, but true. The motto in life I try to adhere to is ‘never settle for second best’. Maybe that’s got something to do with it. Anyway, I am as chilled as a chilled thing in a chiller cabinet most of the time. Stress is a stranger to me other than me beating myself up with my silly concerns about my work being good enough and that’s just fleeting.

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