Ever notice the schizophrenic messages we’re told on a regular basis:
“If you are not a little nervous, you’re not alive!” versus “Be Careful!”
“Life begins at the edge of your comfort zone!” versus “Slow down!”
“Take a chance – you only live once!” versus “Don’t make a mistake!”
So which is it?!
Are we supposed to play it slow, safe and predictable or push it to the edge? Should your belly be full of confidence or butterflies?
What about you? When was the last time you let it all hang out? More importantly, when was the last time you deliberately avoided the anxiety and played it safe?
As an organizational psychologist, I coach executives on a daily basis. In doing so, I see first hand the struggle between the desire to push/change/risk and the inner voice saying you should maintain/protect/ensure.
The yin-yang feelings make sense if you step back and look from a higher perspective.
- You have a lot to lose. At some point in your career you are likely to have a mortgage payment, at least two car payments, tuition bills and a need to more aggressively save money. That pulls us toward “play it safe and follow the rules.”
- Alternatively, you get tired of the same ol’ same ol’ routine. You feel stuck, you want something new and challenging but aren’t sure where to go or what to do about it. The life that once felt comfortable and content now feels claustrophobic or dull. You want new or different – you yearn to feel “alive” and “fresh.” This pushes you toward the outer boundaries and into unknown (aka unsafe) waters.
These “pushes” and “pulls” are common and understandable. Frankly, it’s often the same person who is frustrated with his job, life and/or career, yet doesn’t want to rock the boat, make a big change or risk a failure. The internal turmoil can make you feel crazy!
Sick of the confusion? Motivated to mix it up a bit? Read on….
All to often, the experience of fear or anxiety gets erroneously interpreted to be self-doubt or inability.
No wonder you avoid feeling anxious or afraid – to you, it means you are entering an arena with no skill or ability! Who would purposefully go there?
What is needed is a separation between the feeling of fear and the perception of ability. These should be apples and oranges.
For example, being nervous when giving a speech is normal and natural. If you mistakenly attribute the nerves as an indication of your ability – you will probably avoid speeches.
Similarly, if you are nervous about applying for a different job (e.g., you may not get it), and thus you feel you are not worthy – you’ll probably stay put (or stuck) in your current job.
The goal is to separate “anxiety” from “perceived ability.” Doing so will help accomplish several key things:
- Find the positive side of fear – the pioneer side; the side that gets introduced to new experiences, new thoughts and new skills.
- Move to the edge of your comfort zone with anticipation (not dread).
- Eventually, you increase your belief in your capacity to succeed in stressful or fearful times.
- See fear as just another emotion – not something to be avoided. Ideally you will begin to associate fear as the precursor to good things to come!
The next time you experience fear or anxiety, embrace it. Accept it as a normal emotion when trying something new or different. Simultaneously, identify the skills and abilities you posses that could be useful in this situation. It isn’t your first rodeo – you are likely to have experiences that could be useful as you jump in.
You won’t make “fear” your friend overnight. Instead, start small – embrace the anxiety – be Unapologetically Afraid!