Whether it is a new project manager or an experienced project manager encountering an unknown situation, taking a leap is the only way to overcoming fear. But that’s not always easy. Here’s how you can overcome fear — take the leap.
“Many a false step was made by standing still.” – Fortune cookie
“Action may not always bring happiness, but there is no happiness without action.” – Benjamin Disraeli, former British Prime Minister
In presenting this thought experiment, I want to help those frozen by fear. An industry change can be a scary thing. Going from construction to health care to IT is a possible transition for a project manager. At each step, fear of the unknown can inhibit someone.
Instead of pursuing opportunities, one becomes comfortable with the status quo. You have a handle on how your team and organization communicate. You know what is expected of you. You have solidified your role. Any change to that is fear-inducing. Let us start to crack the code of fear.
“If you are nervous about making the jump or simply putting it off out of fear of the unknown, here is your antidote. Write down your answers, and keep in mind that thinking a lot will not prove as fruitful or as prolific as simply brain vomiting on the page. Write and do not edit – aim for volume. Spend a few minutes on each answer” (Ferriss, 2016)
To help you overcome fear, I am going to present to you my personal experience of a recent job change.
1. “Define your nightmare, the absolute worst that could happen if you did what you are considering.”
The new boss and team do not respond well to my working style, and I am out of a job before it gets started. I leave a comfortable position with a defined role for something that gives me more input and creative control.
This personal responsibility is something new. There are no set guidelines for how work is to be performed other than getting the job done. The communication channels went from a few to fifty. A few stakeholders and owners are very manageable. Tens of stakeholders and owners can be overwhelming. One wrong step early feels like certain termination.
2. What steps could be taken to fix the damage or get things back on track (long-term or temporarily)?
Job loss would not be the first and probably not the last, which can make overcoming fear feel more daunting. Having an updated resume and cover letter helps to begin a job search immediately if necessary. Reaching out to the old employer is an option considering I left that job on good terms.
The immediate steps would be to communicate with the owners and stakeholders and attempting to gain the confidence back as not to be terminated. Being as open and honest as possible with them about concerns I have and working with them to right any wrongs.
3. What are the long-term and short-term outcomes or benefits of more probable scenarios?
A more probable scenario is the learning curve at the new position is steep and takes a few months to get into a rhythm. Once the rhythm is achieved, it becomes smooth sailing for the most part. I develop a relationship with owners and stakeholders through face-to-face, verbal, and electronic communication.
No one gets fired. No one’s house collapses. The benefits of the new position are endless. More freedom and autonomy are atop the list. Financial benefits are greater. A split of office and fieldwork is available to keep things interesting.
4. How would you get your finances under control if you lost your job today?
Financial control is not a concern in the immediate future. If desperate times called for desperate measures, retail stores and burger joints are always an option.
5. What are you procrastinating on due to fear?
So far, fear has not stopped me from progressing in my career. I am always looking for opportunities to grow and say ‘yes’ to everything. From writing to presenting to managing, I do not turn down experiences.
While some have led to great future opportunities, many of them were one and done. In writing, guest posting on websites was an early goal of mine. I would reach out to subject matter experts who had websites and try to write a piece of content for them. Once it was published, that would be the end. Not much follow up, discussion, or attraction afterward.
In my project management career, I ended up working for three different divisions of a company. Many of those tasks were paper-pushing, box-checking type work that did not lead to any big promotions or financial rewards. In saying ‘yes’ to many opportunities, I learned to push fear aside knowing the obstacle that it can be, and consciously decided not to let it stop me.
6. What is it costing you to postpone action, financially, emotionally, and physically?
What-if scenarios come to mind. I try to limit regrets. The emotional toll regrets take on an individual last a lifetime. Woulda, coulda, shoulda is not a thought experiment I enjoy. This does not mean I do not have them. By saying ‘yes’ to many things, the action taken does not allow regret to creep in.
In some cases, I have taken a one-step-back for two-steps forward approach. Some would call it a stop-gap position. When the transition to a different industry or position is not smooth, a temporary position is necessary. One could say that is costing me financially, but the reward comes down the road when the two steps forward are taken.
7. What are you waiting for?
I do find that lack of experience to be stunting to my progress. While I feel I have done many things, companies and organizations find me lacking in experience. The wait is always difficult. I have crossed many things off of my career to-do list yet feel those checkmarks lead to five new things I want to do.
Like the great philosopher Tom Petty once sang, “The waiting is the hardest part.”
Overcoming fears can sometimes be more difficult than others, but taking the leap is sometimes the only way to move forward. The previous answers have been an honest discussion with myself and the audience. I want to show you my answers to these questions and open the discussion of fear holding people back. Fear will always be a part of progress.
Is this something I want to do? Do I need to do this to advance or grow? What if I am terrible at it? Will this end my career? All of these questions may seem rational but not if they are holding you back from advancement.
I would like each of you reading this to answer these questions honestly. Even better is posting your answers in the comment section. Seeing how fear is prevalent in change, I hope many of you benefit from this thought exercise.