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Channel Your Inner Branson: Leveraging Fear in Career Transition

In a conversation earlier this week with a few colleagues, we talked about how we define “courage.” Most of us identified with a loose definition of it as having a fear of something but doing it anyway, much like Sir Richard Branson’s book title Screw It, Let’s Do It. I like this approach because it’s about acknowledging the fear we have and making use of it to serve us and other people well. In other words, leveraging it, instead of either denying we have it or thinking that it’s something to battle. It’s a part of us like anything else, and I find that pretty freeing.

A lifelong, overarching fear of mine is being criticized or judged harshly, stemming from a hyper-critical family life growing up. This manifested itself over the years by me taking various job roles that all really boiled down to doing the same type of work repeatedly, so I didn’t put my neck out there too much, playing it safe and not risking criticism. I finally got fed up with staying in the same roles at different organizations and got out five years ago. Now, I use this fear to help other people leverage theirs when it comes to their careers and taking steps toward the future they want to create. And while this means putting myself out there more than ever before, it’s now a risk I’m willing to take.

Many may understand what they excel at in terms of skills, talents, and what they identify as strengths, though may not have an idea of how to leverage them in new or different ways or be willing to take the risk of moving away from what they no longer want and closer to what they do. It’s no fun feeling trapped by our circumstances, whether financial, familial, or fearful. The key is to identify what’s hitching you up, including your fears, and decide what you’re willing to channel your inner Branson for to “screw it, just do it” and take some steps to get there. When is enough, enough?

A model to consider to help with this is one called SCARF from David Rock of the NeuroLeadership Institute. Though it’s used a lot for workplace communication and influencing skills, it can also apply to addressing fear in a way that’s productive. The model is an acronym that stands for:

Status: our relative importance to others;

Certainty: our ability to predict the future;

Autonomy: our sense of control over events;

Relatedness: how safe we feel with others;

Fairness: how fair we perceive things to be.

These five items activate the same threat and reward responses we use for survival that are hard wired in our brains. We can feel threatened when one of these is challenged, for example, if we leave our current work situation, we might fear we’ll lose any certainty about our future.

To use this model for leveraging fear, note which of these, whether one or more, you’re most concerned about. Then, brainstorm how you can address it if you were to take action that impacts it, for example, leaving your job. Maybe you fear you’ll lose status if you retire or work part-time or give up your comfortable status quo. Or, you could fear leaving people in the lurch, whether colleagues or customers, tied to fairness in the model. No matter which it is, what actions can you take to push through it and just do it? What’s a step you can start with, no matter how small it seems?

In my case, my fear is tied to relatedness in the sense that by putting myself out there, I could lose the safety I felt around other people, potentially, if I’m judged negatively. It’s also tied to certainty: loss of it by going independent in my work. Status and fairness weren’t big concerns, so I didn’t worry too much about those. All this said, it was a desire for greater autonomy that pushed me over the edge to take the leap of faith. After all, I’m a classic Gen Xer who loves independence and freedom in how I spend my time. Notice I’m not talking about my fear of criticism in the past tense. It’s still very much with me; now, it’s more about how to use it in a way that works and that’s energizing.

So, I’ve told you mine, now you tell me yours. What’s a fear you have and how have you already leveraged it for the better or how would you like to do so going forward? By channeling your inner Branson, and doing the thing anyway, you’ll feel empowered, ready to take on what comes your way, freeing yourself in the process.