What causes career fears? What’s the best way to overcome the fear of failure or shame at work?
According to Seth Godin, becoming a “linchpin”—an indispensable employee—leads to a fulfilling and successful career. However, Godin claims that very few people pursue the path of a linchpin due to career fears, worrying they may fail or become overwhelmed in a leadership position.
Read on to learn how to face your career fears and overcome them, according to Godin’s advice.
Facing Your Career Fears
In Linchpin, Seth Godin explains that “linchpins” are employees who enjoy the most fulfillment in what they do and, ultimately, the most career success. Linchpins are people who see the work they do as a gift to others, follow their own directions rather than anyone else’s, and commit to being their authentic selves. But, if being a linchpin is so fulfilling, why do so few people act like linchpins? According to Godin, embodying the linchpin mindset and acting accordingly is terrifying, causing many to abandon this path due to career fears, including the fear of failure, stress, or shame.
When you see your work as a gift and genuinely care about its impact, failing to make that impact and letting down the people you want to help is painful. When you commit to following your own rules rather than someone else’s directions, you must take responsibility for your failures and mistakes. When you choose to be your honest, authentic self, you become vulnerable to the judgment and mockery of others. Godin asserts that the most primitive parts of your brain perceive this failure and social disapproval as life-threatening dangers, and they urge you to avoid these risks at all costs.
These fears in a career cause most people to seek comfortable jobs where they can follow directions and avoid the scrutiny of others altogether. However, obeying this fear in the short term causes you to suffer in the long term, as you miss out on the fulfillment and security of being a linchpin.
|Resolve Career Fear by Conquering Shame|
You may find it easier to overcome these fears in a career if you examine them through the lens of shame. In The Gifts of Imperfection, Brené Brown explains that the main thing holding you back from a joyful, authentic life is shame—the feeling you get when you believe that you’re not “good enough” to deserve love.
In all of the painful situations Godin describes, you feel shame for failing to live up to a specific ideal: You feel shame when you fail to help others, when it’s your fault that things go wrong, and when you act authentically and are judged negatively by those around you. These situations force you to confront the fact that you’re not a perfect person, making you feel like you don’t deserve the love of others.
If you regularly remind yourself that you deserve love even if you’re imperfect, Brown argues that it will give you the inner strength you need to act in the face of these fears. You don’t need to live up to the standards set by the people around you or the culture at large—you’re a valuable human being, worthy of love, no matter what you do.
Like Godin, Brown acknowledges that the human brain is wired to need social acceptance, which is why rejection and failure feel so dangerous. However, she asserts that refusing to be your authentic self further disconnects you from the people around you, intensifying your feelings of shame and making it harder to fill this psychological need. You can’t just “play it safe,” hide yourself, and expect to feel connected to others, as those seeking faceless non-linchpin jobs try to do—connection requires showing others your flaws and risking rejection.
Godin offers a couple of tips for how to overcome your career fears and act in spite of them.
Tip #1: Accept Fear Instead of Trying to Soothe It
Godin explains that many people react to fear by trying desperately to make it go away. They obey their fearful impulses and do anything they can think of to protect themselves from future pain. However, these efforts inevitably end up making things worse, in a couple of ways.
First, actions you take while gripped by fear are often irrational and ineffective, and they make your problems worse. For example, imagine you’ve agreed to go on a skiing trip with friends, but you’re terrified of getting hurt while skiing. You let that fear dictate your actions by staying up the night before your trip watching skiing tutorials to learn how to keep yourself safe. The next day, sleep deprivation makes you less alert while skiing and more likely to injure yourself.
Second, Godin argues that if you start instinctively reacting to your fears, you’ll never stop—such actions typically do nothing to reduce the fear you feel. This is because trying to soothe your fears reinforces your belief that you need to soothe your fear. Instead, if you allow yourself to feel afraid without taking action to reduce that anxiety, the feeling eventually goes away on its own. Every time you refrain from reacting to fear and notice that something bad doesn’t come to pass, you’ll believe a little more that you can safely ignore the fear you feel.
|Unlike Fear, Acting to Soothe Stress Helps|
While seeking to take action to resolve fear is often self-defeating, this isn’t necessarily the case for all negative emotions. Unlike fear, stress typically doesn’t just go away if we fail to act on it.
In Burnout, Amelia and Emily Nagoski explain that when our ancient ancestors experienced stress—for example, when they encountered a deadly predator—they would take intense physical action: running and screaming. They would also tap into their social bonds in response to stress: They would intensify their bonds with others with emotional and physical intimacy.
Our brains are still wired to de-stress when we take these actions. However, when we experience stress in the modern world, we usually neglect to take the actions necessary to resolve it. Returning to the strategies of our ancestors can help us resolve stress: When you’re feeling stressed, release that energy through exercise, or through intense, solitary emotional outbursts. Additionally, share affection with loved ones through friendly conversation or physical touch. Unlike actions you take while gripped by fear, such strategies will clear your mind and better equip you to solve problems in the future.
Tip #2: See Fear as a Guide
Beyond simply accepting fear as a necessary discomfort, Godin advises that you embrace fear as a guide in your career pointing you toward your most valuable opportunities. Even if you’ve embraced the linchpin mindset, it can be difficult to discern what career choices would be the most generous and authentic. In these cases, the choice you’re most afraid of making is likely the one that you need to pursue.
For example, imagine you’re an entrepreneur who’s torn on whether to sell your startup. If the idea of continuing to lead the business scares you more than selling, it’s likely a sign that you think your company’s mission is important, and you should probably stay in control. However, if you’re more afraid of the idea of living up to your potential without this business taking up your time, it’s probably a sign to sell and move on to your next venture.
(Shortform note: If you’re having trouble intuiting the purpose you should be working toward by listening to your fear, you may find it helpful to try a more logical method of identifying your next career move. Mark Manson, author of The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck, argues on his blog that if you feel lost or indecisive in life, you can find direction by clarifying your personal values. By thinking deeply about what you believe a meaningful life looks like, you can come up with a list of the specific things you care about. Then, you can make life decisions based on whatever gets you closer to what you value.)