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Fearless: Free Yourself From What's Holding You Back
What would you do if you weren't afraid?
There comes a point in your life when you realize you have more to gain and less to lose. That is the exact moment you are able to reach your full potential.
Often we hold ourselves back from taking the next step to achieve our goals. Maybe we are anxious about bad reviews or poor feedback from our peers. We wonder what people will think and we worry about doing the wrong thing. Those fears bring us down and discourage us from thriving.
You are at your most powerful when you shed your fears and step out into the unknown. This allows you to stop looking backward at what could go wrong and start looking forward to what possibilities await you in the future.
Here are four ways I found to conquer my fear and embrace the unknown.
Find a place where you feel safe. Google did a two-year study in which they looked at what made a team high-performing. The thing that great teams had in common was that they provided a sense of psychological safety. People do their best work when they can make mistakes and learn from feedback without the fear of serious consequences. When your team and your manager have your back, you are able to take more risks knowing that there is a safety net of people who will be there for you if you fall.
Have nothing to lose. I once was struggling with coaching someone who walked into each conversation timid and tentative. Their fear was palpable, and it was clearly holding them back. I asked my friend Joel Jones, VP of Sales Planning and Operations at Facebook, for advice. He said, “You know, it is intimidating when you join Facebook. Those who succeed the fastest are the ones who have a 'f*** it’ moment. That happens when you realize you have nothing to lose, and you push forward and start to really get things done. I had that moment when I was at Yahoo. Early during my time there, I wanted to leave, but decided that if I was going to go, it would be better to be fired standing up for what I believed than to just resign and disappear. The year that followed [that realization] was one of the best of my career there.”
Joel was right. Fear is an internal inhibitor, and freeing yourself from it will open your mind up to new possibilities. I went back to the person I was coaching and asked, “What would you recommend if you weren’t worried about what others thought or how you were judged?” And he had great suggestions and ideas on how to improve our processes. No one had ever given him permission to speak them aloud until that moment.
Seek opportunities instead of avoiding loss. It is human nature to be subject to loss aversion. The risk of losing $10 has more power over us than the potential joy of gaining $10. The problem is that we often see our careers the same way. When I left eBay, I was running the End-to-End Buyer Experience Product team with nearly twenty PMs. I was slated to become Senior Director during the next promotion cycle, but I decided to take a role equivalent to being a level 6 individual contributor PM at Facebook — not even a manager position. Most people wondered why I was willing to give up so much for a much smaller role, but in the end, trying something new propelled my career forward in a way I never could have imagined.
Ask yourself, “What is the worst that can happen?” Think about the worst thing that could happen if you screwed up at work. Would you receive a bad review? Be yelled at? Get fired? Each time I started something new at Facebook, I told myself one thing: “If it doesn't work out, I can always find another job.”
When I took my next step outside of Facebook, it was both an exhilarating and terrifying moment. I was leaving behind everything I had known for over a decade. However, I loved the Ancestry product and mission. The worst thing that could happen was missing out on the opportunity of a lifetime, but the best thing that could happen was being open to the possibilities ahead. This changed my way of thinking and ultimately led me to take the job.
For much of my life, I second-guessed myself. I avoided doing anything that would draw attention (more on that topic in this piece) and worried endlessly about making a misstep. Eventually, however, I decided to shed those fears and push forward on a new path.
Each year, at my leadership offsites, we had an exercise where we would pick a word to carry with us. This is my word from a couple of years ago when I decided to stop being afraid and open myself to all of the opportunities ahead of me.