Having a decent, stable job feels comfy and safe—but if you want to learn new skills and push yourself toward bigger goals, you’ll probably have to break out of your comfort zone and do things that scares you. Are you nervous about speaking up in important meetings? Scared of taking on new projects that involve more responsibility? Scared your ideas will be laughed at? Fears are a normal part of life. You probably can’t get rid of them altogether, but if you face your fears, deal with them, and learn from them, they might actually help you succeed.
I’m sort of an expert on being afraid of things, and even I refuse to let my fears hold me back. At different points in my career, I’ve found that facing my fears helped me accomplish my goals. I’ve listed several common fears below, and I explain how I’ve learned to deal with them. I hope reading about my experiences makes it easier for you to face your own fears, even if they aren’t the ones listed here. Note: This article focuses on facing your work-related fears. I doubt I’ll ever overcome my fear of snakes, but so far, it hasn’t affected my career (and I really, really hope it never will).
Fear of Talking to Strangers
You know that old saying, “A stranger is just a friend you haven’t met”? It’s OK if it makes you cringe. I’m polite to strangers, but in general, I prefer to keep my distance. Every time I let a new person into my life, I worry they’re going to end up being mean to me—but like that saying implies, they sometimes turn out to be wonderful people. Several years ago, I went to a media conference where Dixie Laite (who was then a stranger, and is now a fellow Like a Boss Girls writer), gave a talk. As she spoke, I thought, “I’d love to work with this amazing, creative woman.” Afterward, a crowd of people gathered around her, but I felt overwhelmed and was too shy to approach. When I got home, I regretted not speaking to her, so I did a little Internet stalking, found her email address, and sent her a message. Even emailing a talented stranger made me nervous, but I’m glad I reached out. After Dixie and I met up in person, we ended up working together for many years, and she has become one of my favorite people.
Fear of Taking on a Leadership Role
When I first heard of WriteGirl, a nonprofit organization that matches professional women writers with teenage girls for creative writing mentoring, I wanted to get involved. At the time, I was a relatively new writer, and I didn’t feel qualified to mentor a girl (or several girls at once), so I offered to help out by taking photos at the writing workshops. Then one day, they asked me to help a girl with her writing, because they were short on volunteers, and to my surprise, there wasn’t anything scary about it. Mentoring a girl turned out to be beneficial for both of us. She got some writing advice, and I got help overcoming my impostor syndrome.
Fear of Rejection
To me, the scariest thing about being a writer is putting my creative ideas out there for other people to judge. A few years ago, I wanted to submit a few of my short stories for publication, but I was worried they weren’t good enough. I’d heard about other writers (sensitive people like me) who had one story rejected and took it so personally that they never submitted anything ever again. To prevent that from happening, I submitted a bunch of stories to different literary journals all at once. When one story got rejected, I worked on it more and then sent it to the next journal on my list. I made sure I was always waiting to hear back about a few different stories, so that when I got a rejection, it would only sting a little. I kept writing new stories, editing old ones, and I kept submitting them. Eventually, my stories started getting accepted. I was SO PROUD of myself for not giving up after the first few rejections—and I still am.
The other thing I learned from getting all of those rejection emails? They didn’t mean I was a bad writer. Most of the messages said simple, straightforward things like, “This story isn’t right for us.” They weren’t being mean; it was the truth. Sometimes a story that had been rejected several times would be accepted by the next place I sent it, not because I had changed anything, but because different editors are drawn to different things. If I had taken the rejections personally, those stories would never have been published.
Even if you’re not a writer, I think learning to deal with rejection is essential in every career. Not all job interviews will result in a job offer, but if you avoid taking those rejections personally and keep trying, you’ll eventually find a job where your skills and personality are the right fit. (By the way, if I ever figure out how to handle romantic rejections without taking them personally, I’ll write a separate article. Those still destroy me every time.)
Fear of Being Laid Off
Of course, I would’ve preferred to avoid facing this particular fear. When I got the phone call that my main freelance job was ending, I felt like a total failure, and like my life was falling apart. Now I know that being let go is just another form of rejection. In my case, the company’s needs changed, and I was no longer the best person for the job. It was scary and painful to lose my main source of income, but by going through it, I’ve discovered that I’m stronger and more flexible than I thought I was. That experience also taught me that as a freelancer, it’s important to have several sources of income. That way, if one company decides they don’t need me anymore, or if I realize I no longer want to work with them, it’s easier for us to part ways and move on. I’m not putting all my freelance eggs in one basket.
Fear of Failure
This is sort of like the fear of rejection, but on a bigger level. I’ve always wanted to write a YA novel, and I finally have one that’s almost complete. A few months ago, I realized that while I’m happy with how the story turned out, I was scared to start sending it to agents. My inner critic would whisper, “What if it sucks?” I still haven’t sent it to an agent, but I gave it to one of my smartest, funniest friends and asked for his feedback. He loved it and had some helpful suggestions, which I’ve been using to make the story even stronger. Sending it to a friend wasn’t scary, even though I respect his opinion, so I’m no longer nervous about sending it to agents. They’re just people looking for books to represent, right? If the first agent doesn’t want to work with me, I’ll send it to someone else. Somewhere in this world, I know there’s an agent who will see what I see, and what my friend sees. (And if there’s not? I’ll just have to face my fears about self-publishing.)
Maybe in a year or so, I’ll be facing a bunch of exciting new fears, like the fear that nobody will come to my book launch party, or that nobody will buy my book, or that they’ll all give it a low rating on Goodreads. Bring it on, world—because so far, facing my fears is working for me.
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