Many of us know what it’s like to feel stuck in our careers. We settle into a particular role and one day we look up and wonder why we’ve spent so long doing something we’re not fully invested in.
There are many reasons why this happens, but a big one is fear of failure. We know we can do this one thing, and we don’t want to risk bellyflopping if we try something else.
Ask a Sports Agent
Molly Fletcher can help us get over that. She spent decades as a sports agent representing professional athletes. ESPN called her the “female Jerry Maguire.”
Fletcher then took what she learned in sports and brought those lessons into the broader business world as a popular speaker and author. Her latest book—which I spoke with her about recently—is titled Fearless at Work.
I took away three big strategies for dealing with fear.
1. Tell Yourself the Right Story
Fletcher saw up close how some of world’s best athletes deal with fear. She was surprised to learn that they don’t “try to suffocate it.” Rather, they “recognize it, they embrace it” and they run through a mental loop about it.
Athletes say things to themselves that help. “Instead of telling themselves things like ‘Man, I’m scared. I hope I don’t do X,’ they tell themselves ‘I’m going to play the best game I’ve ever played in my life. I’m going to do everything I can to support this team and we’re walking away with a championship,’” she said.
She emphasized that’s true off the playing field as well: “As businesspeople, we may be walking into a big meeting or a big sales call or a big pitch.”
What we say to ourselves before that equivalent of the “big game” matters. We ought to be telling ourselves that we will do our best and that will lead to success, one way or another.
2. Have a Growth Mindset
Fletcher saw athletes bump up against their limitations and saw the discomfort that caused. The ones that succeeded did so because they believed that going through the discomfort could lead to better results.
They asked themselves, “What can I do inside of this moment to allow myself to grow?” And that is a very good question for all of us.
3. Take It in Small Steps
“You can’t go to bed and say, ‘Tomorrow I am going to be fearless’” and expect success, Fletcher said.
Rather, fear is best pushed back in small ways over long periods.
You have to determine to be less fear-controlled and to take practical small steps, every day, to eventually put the best version of yourself back in the driver’s seat, she said.
Success in these things isn’t measured by fear ceasing to exist. I have a horrible fear of public speaking. All of the preparation and all of the speaking that I do makes that fear more manageable, but it doesn’t go away. And it never will.
It won’t go away because fear is just a part of being human. It has its uses. We should listen to it. But letting it control us is a different thing that should be resisted.
If I can step out on that stage, you can overcome your fear of failure, too.
Question: What fears are holding you back from what you want to accomplish? What do you need to do about it?