HR Management & Compliance

What Are You Afraid Of? (Childhood Taunt or Manager’s Advice?)

It sounds like a childhood taunt. “What are you afraid of?” If you close your eyes for a minute, chances are you can go back in time and recall a situation in which you were asked that exact question. Someone was trying to push you into doing something you really didn’t want to do—daring you to push beyond your comfort level.

Now ask yourself the same question, but put it in the context of your work life. What at work really scares you? What are you afraid of at work?

Are you afraid of confrontation? Looking foolish? Being wrong? Your boss? Losing your job? Taking chances? Failure? Success?

Did any of those hit a nerve? Do you have another fear that somehow limits what you achieve in the workplace? There has to be something. You might not like to admit it, but everyone is afraid of something.

How about that last one on my list of possible fears—did it grab your attention? You might wonder why anyone would be afraid of success. Believe me, it happens. People are afraid of success for many reasons. With success come expectations. With success comes responsibility. And that means your next failure will likely be bigger and more disappointing.

Yes, I said your next failure because it will come. Nobody is perfect. With risk come rewards and a chance for failure. David Packard, the founder of the company that bears his name, Hewlett-Packard, once said, “Take risks. Ask big questions. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes; if you don’t make mistakes, you’re not reaching far enough.” If you’re reaching far enough to be successful, you’re bound to make a mistake. And that knowledge might just keep you from really wanting to be successful. It’s weird how the mind works.


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Sometimes when people achieve a certain margin of success, they stop reaching. They become so enamored with their achievements that they stop reaching for more because they’re afraid they might lose what they have attained. It’s like a football team that has built a big early lead and then begins to play “prevent” defense. Instead of continuing to take the risks that helped them build the big lead, they get complacent. Instead of playing to win, they play not to lose. And often they end up doing exactly that.

To really be successful, I encourage you to address your greatest fear in the workplace. You see, if you address your fear, you’ll be much more likely to find success. Your fears hold you back. Bill Cosby advises, “Decide you want it more than you are afraid of it.”

If you’re afraid of confrontation, make a conscious effort to speak your mind. If you’re afraid of taking a chance, choose one opportunity to pursue despite your fear. Whatever is holding you back, hit it head-on, and let the chips fall where they may. You might just be surprised at the results.

At the end of the day, you might learn that the thing that is holding you back is you. Every day you’re presented with new opportunities. You can either seize those opportunities or stay afraid. You might think the fear will go away with time, but it won’t—unless you actively do something about it. Your fears will grow unless you face them.

So be honest with yourself. Admit what it is you’re really afraid of at work. And then do something about it. Once you eliminate your biggest fear at work, you’ll be surprised at how much more you can achieve.