Overcoming The Fear Of Change

“Come to the edge,” he said.>

They said, “We are afraid.”

“Come to the edge,” he said.

They came. He pushed them…and they flew.

— Guillaume Apollinaire

The thief that steals your unrealized potential away in the dead of night is your fear of change. You aren’t even aware of all the priceless things that are missing, though, for everything seems to be in exactly the same place that it was, including you. This often paralyzing fear of change robs you of stretching beyond your comfort zone, stunts your future growth and development, places limitations on the contributions you will make, and restricts your ability to experience the full variety of wonderful experiences and adventures in this journey called life.

I can remember a time many years ago, for example, when I thought of beginning a new career in Cincinnati, Ohio. But I was afraid to go. The prospect of starting a new job, moving to a new city where I didn’t know a soul, and having to find a new place to live was terrifying. How could I leave everything that was familiar to me for that which was totally unfamiliar? What if I failed to be a success in my new career? What if I found out too late that I had made a mistake? How could I take such huge risks? Disturbed and anxious about my fear and indecision, I sought the advice of my father whose wisdom always seemed to cut through to and capture the heart of the matter. After I talked for approximately twenty minutes, my father looked me straight in the eye and simply said, “Go.”

That was all the validation I needed to take my leap of faith into the dark abyss. Shortly after that conversation, I began several of the best years of my life living and working in Cincinnati. Soon after my arrival, I met my future wife Melissa, and we now have three beautiful boys and a very nice life. Looking back, it was the best decision I have made in my entire life. If only I had known at the time what secrets the future held for me! Fear almost held me back and would have changed the entire course of our lives.

We are extremely fortunate to live in a country with unlimited opportunities. Besides being able to select from an unlimited endless number of occupations, we also have the right to pursue complete happiness and fulfillment in our daily work. The fact that we live in a free society gives you the privilege to determine your own fate. If you are not completely satisfied that your present situation is a perfect fit with your personal values, talents & skills, and career goals, then ask yourself; “How much effort am I willing to put forth to make the desired improvements in my life?”

Unfortunately, it is also human nature to want to stay in your current position unless your work life is completely miserable. Career changes can be difficult enough and the anxieties of leaving a comfortable job, friends, and environment for an unknown opportunity are enough to cloud anyone’s judgment. Moving from one company to another involves risk and uncertainty, and so the easiest thing to do is simply doing nothing at all. At best, this career strategy is an attempt to play it safe; in reality it is simply allowing fear and complacency to control you.

So how do you know if you are holding yourself back? Start by being completely honest with yourself. Why were you looking for another job to begin with? If an employee is completely happy with their current position, employer, and compensation, they are usually not out there interviewing in the first place. Try to remove your emotions completely from the decision making process and focus instead on making a well-thought out, analytical decision. Look at your current job and the new position as if you were unemployed, and then make your decision based on which position holds the real potential. It is probably the new position or you wouldn’t have gotten to this stage of the interviewing process in the first place. Write out an objective and complete list of both opportunities with the Pro’s and Con’s of each position. This visual, written reference will help you evaluate and process your decision from the proper perspective. You should then choose the position with the most Pro’s and fewest Con’s with confidence and conviction that you have made the best possible choice for your future.

In my experience, employees generally fall into two different categories. Those that proactively manage their careers through a well thought out progression and those that make career choices by default because they choose not to make a choice. The first group will leave a position where they are both happy and successful to move on to something that is clearly a step up. The second group tends to remain through the good times and bad, enduring unhappiness, fighting issues, challenges, stress, and turmoil until things are almost unbearable (that’s when the phone rings and I learn how desperate they are to get out; that is, until next week when things are ‘starting to get better’ once again). The reality is, once you decide to pass on a better career opportunity the first time, then next time it becomes much easier to say no and soon after you will quit looking altogether. For the vast majority of employees, this magic window of opportunity is roughly from 3 to 7 years on the job. After just 3 years, the average person has learned more than 90% of what they will ever learn in that same position. After 7 years, chances are that person will remain exactly where they are, almost regardless of the how bad the situation gets.

If only these individuals had more faith in themselves! Don’t allow those lingering doubts and negative thoughts to paralyze you from making positive changes in your life! If you allow fear of change to take over, you risk the greatest failure of all, which is not even trying. You will stand still and stagnate rather than embrace new experiences. Remember, the skills and attributes that have made you successful to this point belong to you, and yes, they are portable. Congratulations! You have chosen to give yourself the gift of a promising new position with new challenges, jump starting your professional development, expanding your personal & professional network, and have opened the door to many new experiences. Now move forward with renewed courage, anticipation, enthusiasm, and determination!

Life is simply too precious and short not to continually seek out positive changes, for this is truly how we develop and grow toward our unrealized potential. So for the most important question of all; “How do you plan to spend the rest of your life?”

It takes a lot of courage to release the familiar & seemingly secure, to embrace the new. But there is no real security in what is no longer meaningful. There is more security in the adventurous & exciting, for in movement there is life & in change there is power.

— Alan Cohen