Overcoming The Top 3 Fears That Keep People Stuck In Unhappy Work

Our purpose—the answer to the age-old question, “Why am I here?”—is found at the intersection of talent, passion and mission. 

Working with professionals around the world to help them get unstuck and moving towards more joyful and fulfilling work, I’ve heard virtually every reason a person can offer for why they won’t make the key changes necessary to be happier. I don’t judge this at all because for many years in my corporate life, I did the exact same thing. I made excuses for why I couldn’t shift out of my unsatisfying career (and a few toxic jobs) and take a new path that would be joyful. But these didn’t seem like “excuses” at the time. They appeared to me to be legitimate reasons for why I couldn’t just pivot or change directions. But 18 years have passed since that time, and now I see those justifications for exactly what they were: deep-seated fears, confusion and insecurity that kept me paralyzed. And I hear these same fears every day from the clients I coach.

To explore more about this topic, I recently connected with Ken Coleman on my Finding Brave podcast (that interview is due out in March) to pick his formidable brain about the top fears that keep thousands of professionals stuck in unhappy roles and careers. Coleman, a #1 national bestselling author and nationally syndicated radio host of The Ken Coleman Show, pulls from his own personal struggles, missed opportunities and career successes to help people discover what they were born to do and provides practical steps to make their dream job a reality. The Ken Coleman Show is a caller-driven career show that helps listeners who are stuck in a job they hate or searching for something more out of their career. His newly released second book is The Proximity Principle: The Proven Strategy That Will Lead To The Career You Love


Here’s what Ken shared:

Kathy Caprino: Ken, you mentioned in our podcast interview that the single most potent thing that stops professionals from doing what’s necessary to build a happier career is fear of all kinds. Can you share more about the top fears you hear every day from people?

Ken Coleman: The most common fears I see every day on my show are the fear of failure, fear of peers, and the fear of rejection.

The fear of failure is primarily related to financial ruin. What if this doesn’t work out? Will I be able to provide for my family? Will I wreck my financial future? The problem with this fear is that is assumes that a setback always includes a negative impact on our finances. Planning and taking calculated risks that are accounted for in the plan removes the risk of a financial catastrophe.

The fear of peers comes from our worry about what others will say about us if we step out and leave the safety of a “good job” or if we start something that doesn’t work the first time. We worry about what our family and friends will say. The human desire for acceptance and approval is a powerful force holding so many people back from chasing their dreams.

The fear of rejection is a result of our pride. We simply don’t like to hear the word “no.” If the employer picks someone else, that stings, and we take it personally. Rejection creates uncertainty that feeds our insecurity. Once we have felt the hurt of rejection, we are reluctant to step toward new opportunities because rejection is always possible.

We must understand that our brain is hardwired to protect us from danger, so when we focus on our fears, our brain is actively working to keep us from moving forward. 


Caprino: You’ve shared that you experienced these fears yourself in the past. What were they and how did you press through them?

 Coleman: Oh yes, I’ve been paralyzed by the fear of rejection and the fear of peers. I only began to step through these fears once I got miserable enough that I was willing to face what was on the other side of my fears more than I was willing to stay stuck in the pit of not living and working on purpose. I finally realized that rejection was part of the process of moving in the right direction. Every “no” was getting me closer to the “yes.” I realized that I had to be me, not the version of me that others thought I should be.


Caprino: You take live callers on your radio show each weekday helping them address and move through these fears and challenges. What’s your process in helping them do that?

Coleman: It is important to point out that we cannot eliminate fear, but we can overcome fear.

There are three actions anyone can take to overcome fear: 

Identify your fear: Specifically say it or write it out so it is exposed.

Deconstruct the fear: Fear is a liar. Investigate its claims and put it on trial.

Refocus your mind: Now you know the truth. Believe it and get busy.


Caprino: As a career coach myself, I’ve found that a high percentage of stuck and unhappy professionals can indeed be helped to (or find on their own) powerful new ways to reach their goals and get unstuck. But a small percentage just don’t seem to be able to, no matter what approaches are tried. What have you found is the biggest reason a person simply cannot or will not move beyond the fear of change (or success, failure, humiliation, loss, etc.)

Coleman: Those people who cannot and will not move beyond the fear of change ultimately do not have enough belief to move forward. They can be exposed to a powerful principle or method and actually believe that it works but never make it work for themselves. Why is this? I think there are two primary reasons.

The first reason is that they don’t want to do it. It is too hard; it takes too much effort. Sadly, people will stay stuck in the misery of mediocrity simply because they have adjusted to it. They know what to expect, how to cope and how to survive. They have grown quite comfortable in the rut and a better future is not worth the discomfort. 

The second reason is they don’t believe they can do it—whether it’s because they think they are not good enough, not young enough, don’t have enough time, don’t have enough money, or don’t have enough support. All of these excuses for staying put and playing it safe eventually becomes a voice in their head that tells them that change is not the smart decision. 


Caprino: For those who are ready, what would you suggest for the top three steps professionals can take this month to get moving through their fears to the other side? 

Coleman: After they have applied the three steps to overcome fear that I mentioned earlier, I recommend a reflection process using these three questions: 

  • What could be? 
  • What should be? 
  • What must be?

These questions will help you shift your focus toward positive outcomes that fire up your heart and strengthen your resolve.

What could be? This is imagination. You are identifying as many outcomes as you can think of. 

What should be? This is clarification. You are prioritizing the outcomes you want to focus on. 

What must be? This is determination. You are choosing your mission.


Caprino: You mentioned that spirituality is a core foundation to your work and outlook in life. Can you please share more about that?

Coleman: Yes, absolutely–my faith is the foundation of what I do. I don’t think we work to live—to work just to make money to then buy the basics we need to survive and, if a little is left over, buy things for pleasure. I think we live to work, to contribute to our world through our work. 

This means that I don’t think this world is an accident, the people in it are not accidents, and we aren’t here to just exist. I believe that when we are working, we are creating and that the act of creating is about regeneration, restoration and redemption. I think work is a calling, and that is why it pains me that so many people on this earth are miserable in their work and at their work. I believe it wasn’t meant to be this way, and it doesn’t have to be this way.


Caprino: Finally, let’s talk about purpose. Do you believe we all have a purpose here and in our work? If so, how can people identify more clearly their purpose, and then leverage it for a thrilling and rewarding career?

Coleman: Our purpose—the answer to the age-old question, “Why am I here?”—is found at the intersection of talent, passion and mission. 

We all were created with talent, things we do well naturally. We were also created with passion, things we love to do. We have souls, a spirit, and as we move through this life, our environment, influences and experiences shape our mission, which are the results that matter to us.  

When we use what we do best to do what we love to do to produce results that matter to us, we are in our sweet spot. Our work looks effortless, and we are operating at maximum capability. This is why when we see other people in their sweet spot we say, “You were born for this!”

So yes, I believe we all have a purpose. It is to be who we were created to be. We all have a unique role we are supposed to fill. That means we are needed, and we must fill our role. Someone in this world needs us to be us. Living and working on purpose is not about us, it is about others. We are here to give ourselves away.


For more information, visit kencoleman.com.

For help to define your most meaningful work and get moving creating it, work with Kathy Caprino in her Career Breakthrough programs and her Amazing Career Project 16-week course.

Originally published at Forbes