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How to Get Ahead: Scare Yourself Regularly


Image: PongsakornJun/iStock

Two of my favorite people, twins, a boy and a girl, graduated from college this spring. Lauren is graduating from Michigan State and Andrew from Indiana. I had no idea what to get them as graduation gifts. After a lot of thought, I settled on books. As I reread the blurb of a book I chose for Lauren, Noelle Hancock’s My Year With Eleanor, the quote from Eleanor Roosevelt on which the book revolves resonated:

“Do one thing every day that scares you.”

Think about that regarding your career and your future. Especially if you’re starting a new job. Whether it’s your first job or you are switching positions, everything is scary until you learn the job’s rhythms and routines. Even figuring out what to wear on your first day can bring on anxiety.

Scare yourself by being yourself

One of the things you may be thinking about is how you’ll be perceived. Introverted? You may worry that others will think you’re aloof or disinterested even though that’s not at all the case. Extroverted? You may be concerned that others will think of you as too brash or a know-it-all.

It can all be scary and overwhelming. So maybe you tackle your new position one “fear” at a time. What to wear? Look at the career section of the firm’s/company’s website. If there are actual photos rather than stock art, you can get an idea of whether you’ll be at a suit-and-tie firm or a laid-back wear-what-meets-the-day’s-agenda company.

Scare yourself by asking questions

If you’re worried about how you’ll be perceived, step back a bit at the beginning. Talk to one person at a time until you feel more comfortable. Look around and assess whether this is a company that encourages people to ask questions and speak up or one that expects conformity. Then, either way, conquer your fear, raise your hand and say what’s on your mind. Chances are others had the same question or a similar suggestion. It’s quite freeing. And it helps you create a positive personal brand that others will recognize.

Scare yourself by being vulnerable

Concerned you’re working too slowly? It may be that you’re having a hard time grasping a particular concept, but it’s equally possible that the person teaching you isn’t connecting with the way you learn. Sometimes, using different words to explain the same thing is enough. Talk to yourself. Restate what you’re doing in your own words. Say it out loud. That may be enough to help you to discover where you’re going wrong. If not, tell your supervisor (aka your teacher) the steps you’re following. Conquer your fear of looking stupid in front of others. Everyone has times where they struggle to understand something.

The one caveat here is this: be tactful and thoughtful. Don’t get defensive and confrontational. It’s your career and your future.