People ask me all the time how to get ahead at work. They want to take that next leap, rise above the crowd and get the attention of the powers that be to make that next career move. They crave success.
I was once asked at a speaking event if there was some silver bullet to my success over the years.
My answer? Fear.
One of the key pieces of advice I always try to give those who come to me for career help is that they have to embrace their fear. Whether it’s the fear of failure, fear of judgment from your peers, fear of letting someone down or just the fear of looking dumb, fear isn’t an obstacle. It’s an opportunity.
Here are three ways that fear is actually one of your strongest allies, and why embracing it can propel your career skyward:
Fear keeps you from getting complacent.
If you’re looking to take the next step in your career, the worst thing you can become is complacent. We find ourselves in an intensely competitive market today. Whether you’re an entrepreneur running a business or an employee within a larger organization, you can never allow yourself to get comfortable, lest a new business venture or tenacious employee come along with their eyes on your prize.
The fear that keeps us looking over our shoulder—not paranoia, mind you, but something more akin to reconnaissance—helps us stay at the top of our game. Without any sort of pressure to excel, you can find yourself stuck in a rut, which is another way that your career can stagnate.
Fear motivates you.
The fact that you’re already driven to take that next career move means your motivation is in a healthy place. But did you ever stop and think about what the source of your motivation actually is? You might find the answer surprising.
For example, growing up as one of seven kids, I was constantly challenged by my successful siblings (and parents, for that matter). A lot of the ambition that has driven my career can be traced back to those days around the dinner table where we all shared what we’d learned or accomplished that day. The fear of being overshadowed and the drive to stand out sparked my competitive spirit and always pushed me to better myself and to learn new skills.
The source of your motivation may be similarly fear-driven. Regardless of its origin—of not making enough money, of letting your family or friends down, of disappointing your coworkers or superiors—fear can be a healthy catalyst for work motivation.
Fear can focus you on the bigger picture.
Transforming yourself from a tactical thinker into a strategic one is a key moment in anyone’s career development. Being able to see and act on the bigger picture, the long-term plan rather than the day-to-day, is one of the most important differentiators the higher you climb the career ladder.
Leveraging fear can be an integral part of any strategic decision-making. You have to be able to predict the things that could go wrong, and prepare yourself, your team or your project to adapt to them as they arise. Let that fear be your compass, and use it to help yourself plan for every eventuality and edge case.
Who Does Fear Work For?
In reality, the answer is not to be fearless. None of us is; we’re not superheroes.
Instead, it’s about turning fear into an ally, creating an environment for yourself where fear works for you, rather than you living your life ruled by that fear.
Ultimately, I truly believe that fear, drive, ambition and passion are all interconnected ideas. How can fear be a negative if it’s what drives you to greatness?
Fear can be your best friend, but only if you let it.