Do Fears Prevent You From Reaching Your Career Potential?

I encounter many people who lead a “fear-based career.” By this, I mean that some underlying fear influences their career decisions and prevents them from achieving their full potential.

Here are a few examples.


A marine biologist, Jim has an irrational fear of being judged, particularly for interviews. Of course, 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 appears stiff and unnatural. As a result, Jim leaves a wrong impression and is not getting job offers.


Jackie, a communications specialist, has always questioned whether she is “smart enough” to be advising 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 dismissed 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 has not found a comparable job and burned through his savings in two years. He’s now 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.”

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

In answering, I ask you to remember two things.

First, how you define “career potential” is up to you. Some people will define it by how much money they make or their job titles. Other people will measure it by how much they help others. Still others are content to hold down a steady 9-5 job. One definition is not better than the other and it should not be influenced by your parents, teachers, friends, or peers.

Second, at the end of their lives, most people will not regret things they tried and failed. But they will regret things they always wanted to do but never did. There is a great temptation to play it safe through life, but in the end, you don’t want to have regrets.