If You Tell Yourself These 4 Things, It’s a Sign That Fear is Holding You Back in Your Career

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Becca Carnahan1.11k
Career Coach & Mom of 2
July 17, 2024 at 7:30PM UTC

Sandra looks at her calendar for the week and sees marketing team meetings, soccer games, dentist appointments and deadlines. Then she looks over at her to-do list and sees “Reach out to Rachel at Dream Company for an informational interview.” This is the to-do list item that keeps getting pushed down Sandra’s list because if she’s this busy, Rachel must be even busier. Sandra doesn’t want to bother her.

Meanwhile, Rachel is busy, but she’s busy because her marketing manager just gave his notice and she doesn’t know who will fill this critical role. If only the perfect candidate would appear in her email inbox. That would make everything easier!

Have you ever been Sandra in this situation? Afraid of what someone else might be thinking, doing or saying and allowing that to dictate your actions? If so, you may be projecting your fears onto other people — and that is holding you back in your career. 

Here are some key signs that you’re projecting your fears, and how you can take action and make a change to stop that fear in its tracks.

1. “I’m not qualified for that job.”

If you’ve ever looked at a job posting, noticed that you don’t meet 100% of the qualifications, and then decided not to apply, you’re projecting your fear of being not being “enough” onto the prospective employer.

A 2019 LinkedIn study based on data from 610 million users, found that women apply to 20% fewer jobs than men and were 16% less likely to apply after viewing a job posting. Being targeted in your job search is a good thing and a focused approach can help you gain traction. However, when you underapply because of a fear of rejection, you’re counting yourself out before giving yourself, and the employer, a chance for you to shine. 

What to do instead

Take a second look at that job posting to see if you meet 70% of the stated qualifications and could see how your transferable skills align. If there’s a match, submit the application.

2. “They couldn’t afford to pay me that much money.”

If you’ve ever found yourself saying “I can’t ask for that much money. There’s no way the company could afford it,” you could be projecting a money fear.

What data are you basing your money fear on? If you know the salary of each employee and the company’s financial situation down to the last nickel, then your decision not to ask for more is based on fact. If you don’t have that information, then you are projecting a fear of not having enough money onto the company when they may not share that fear at all. Doing so holds you back from asking for the salary or pay increase that will benefit you and your family.

What to do instead

Do your research on Glassdoor to understand pay ranges for your industry, role, and geography. Arming yourself with data can be a helpful way to decrease fear and increase confidence.

3. “If I stand up for myself, she won’t like me anymore.”

If you identify as someone who likes to maintain harmony in a group, you may have found yourself projecting the “they won’t like me” fear.

Whether you’re nervous about standing up for yourself to take credit for a project, or you’re worried about asking for a promotion, you may be projecting a fear that isn’t real.

For example, your boss may wish that her team was more vocal about their accomplishments so she had more behind-the-scenes insight. Or your manager may not know that you want a promotion because you’ve never asked but she would be excited for you to grow within the company. In both of these scenarios, “not liking you anymore” doesn’t even cross the other person’s mind.

What to do instead

If you’re projecting a fear that advocating for yourself will make you unlikeable, look around for models of people who have advocated for themselves. Do you like them any less? Or perhaps do you admire them more because of the confidence they project that inspires others? Draw inspiration from the models of people and try to ask for what you want, just like they would.

4. “She is too busy to talk to me.”

In our very first example with Sandra and Rachel, we found Sandra projecting her fear of being too busy onto Rachel. On the other side of the table, we had a stressed-out Rachel hoping for an email from Sandra.

What may seem like Sandra being respectful of Rachel’s time is actually a very common fear projection based on time and worth.

What to do instead

Put yourself in Rachel’s shoes and think about all the reasons Rachel might want to hear from you. As we discussed, Rachel could be hiring right now. She could also be craving the opportunity to do more coaching and mentoring in her career. Or Rachel could be wondering if now is the right time for her to find a new job and would love to hear about your company.

When you brainstorm reasons why talking to you is a great use of Rachel’s time, you’re more willing to hit send.

Stop Projecting and Start Making Moves

Notice that not once in this article did I say you need to be fearless. We all have fears, whether they are real, imagined, or projected. 

However, here’s my invitation to you. Start using the strategies above to manage your fear so that your fear doesn’t manage you. You’re in the driver's seat, and it’s time for you to start making some big moves. 


This article reflects the views of the author and not necessarily those of Fairygodboss.

Becca Carnahan is a career coach, author, and mom from Massachusetts. As the founder and CEO of Next Chapter Careers, LLC, she specializes in helping women and moms make big career changes to find more joy and fulfillment at work. Signup for her weekly newsletter and access free career resources at beccacarnahan.com.

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