Don’t Let Your Fears Prevent You From Reaching Your Career Potential

By Gerald Walsh ©

I encounter many people who are leading a “fear based career.” By this, I mean that many of their career decisions are governed by an underlying fear that prevents them from achieving what they are capable of achieving.

Here are a few examples.


A CPA, Lisa believes she is not worthy of success. Growing up in a rural community in a family that struggled with money problems and substance abuse, Lisa knew at a young age that if she didn’t break away from her family she would end up working at menial jobs throughout her life.

Lisa eventually left to attend university and went on to obtain her CPA designation. However, to this day, she still believes that her passing the CPA final exam was a fluke—that the marker made a mistake.

Because Lisa believes she is not worthy of success, she does not apply for jobs for which she is well qualified—thinking the company would never hire her anyway.

She also hesitates to ask for raises and as a result she is making less money than her peers. She’s even reluctant to ask her boss for performance feedback as she’s fearful of what she might hear.


A marine biologist, Jim has an irrational fear of being judged particularly when it comes to interviews. Everybody has some anxiety in interviews, but Jim’s fear goes far beyond the normal levels most people feel.

Even though he prepares well, his mind is so focused on all the “bad things that might happen” that he comes across as stiff and unnatural. As a result, Jim leaves a bad impression and is not getting job offers.


Jackie, a communications specialist, has always questioned whether she is smart enough to be giving advice to people who are more qualified than her. She feels this way because she lacks a formal university degree.

Her fear has grown so large that she has begun to apply for jobs well beneath her experience level because they are “safe.”


A successful business executive, Cory felt a huge loss of status when he was downsized from his $200,000 job.

Cory’s entire identity was so wrapped up in his job that he refused to apply for jobs that paid less than his former job.

Not surprisingly, Cory never found a comparable job and over two years burned through all his savings. He ended up broke and living in his parents’ basement—at age 50.


A human resources director, Jamie says she feels like an imposter when attending leadership team meetings and sometimes wonders why she is even there. She has even turned down a promotion to become VP of human resources because she didn’t feel she was “quite ready yet.”

Here’s the question I will leave with you today:

Will you let your fears prevent you from reaching your career potential?

As you contemplate your answer, I ask you to remember two things.

First, how you define career potential is totally up to you. It should not be determined by your parents, teachers, or peers. Some people want to make lots of money. Some people are happy to work for less money doing meaningful work in, say, a not-for-profit. Still others are happy holding down a regular 9-5 job. One definition is not better than the other. But you set the definition.

Second, the average life expectancy in Canada is 84 years. There is a great temptation to play it safe through life. At the end of your life, you will not regret the things you tried and failed. But you will regret the things you always wanted to do … but never did.


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Gerald Walsh is an executive recruiter, career coach, public speaker and author. He is the author of “PINNACLE: How to Land the Right Job and Find Fulfillment in Your Career. You can follow Gerry on Twitter @@Gerald_Walsh