Ask the Marketing Career Coach: Facing Your Fears

In this series, certified coach and mono Director of Talent Julie Vessel is answering your questions about finding, keeping, and loving your dream marketing job. A career strategist and architect, Julie has more than 20 years of experience helping Fortune 500 companies find their truth, position themselves, and get their story into the world. Read her advice on starting a new job for success, rethinking your annual review, searching for work-life balance, overcoming your inner critic, taking control of your own learning, advancing your career, learning to love being a manager, how to manage work when your personal life takes priority, how to have a tough conversation with your manager, and how to stay positive in a negative work environment.

Q: I recently made the leap from a full time job into freelance/consultancy work. I love my work, but I feel like I’m constantly worried about my freelance business! I worry about not making enough money. I worry about being a failure. Am I the only one who feels this way? What can I do to worry less?

A: Change is scary. I don’t know of a single person who’s quit their job, be it for full time or freelance work, who hasn’t felt at least a little pang of fear or insecurity about what will happen next. Jumping from the known to the unknown is unavoidably scary, which is the #1 reason why so many people stay put in jobs they don’t like.

When it comes to those who take the leap to self-employment, worrying is almost a right of passage. Here are some of the top worries I’ve heard time and time again from folks who’ve jumped into the gig economy. Do any of these sound familiar? I thought so!

What if I can’t pay my bills?

What if I don’t get any clients?

What if I get too much work and can’t handle it?

What if people don’t like my work?

What if I don’t make it on my own?

What if I can’t get paid what I’m worth?

While there’s comfort knowing you’re not the only one who thinks these thoughts, ultimately you need to find a way to conquer these thoughts. Here are a few ways to overcome your fears.

Thoughts vs. Truths

As any of my coaching clients will tell you, I call these negative, self-destructive thoughts stinkin’ thinkin.’ We all experience these thoughts. In fact, these thoughts are hard-wired into our brains. Anytime we try to do something new, our minds are programmed to feed us thoughts of fear because our brains are biologically wired to protect us from being judged, shamed, or rejected. It’s part of our fight or flight programming, where change is seen as a threat.

These thoughts are not our reality. These thoughts are not our truth. These thoughts are simply that - thoughts! But because these thoughts spark fear and anxiety, we tend to run away from them so quickly that we never take time to confront or dispute them. It’s important to step back and recognize these as the ugly thoughts that they truly are. And ultimately, you get to decide what you want to do with these thoughts. Which thoughts you believe and want to act on? Which thoughts do you want to call bull@#$ on and let go of? You, and only you, have the power to choose what thoughts you believe.

Face Your Fears Head-On

We all have our worries about life and work. But the thing about worrying is that we rarely face our fears. Usually, the worry is worse than the thing that could actually happen. My advice for anyone who is feeling consumed by worrying about something? Face it head on.

The easiest way to do this is to simply ask yourself, “What is the worst thing that could happen?” Give yourself permission to really consider this. Don’t edit yourself, let your mind take you anywhere it wants to go. If you’re willing, I’d encourage you to get a piece of paper and write down anything and everything that comes to mind as you contemplate your worst case scenario.

After thinking thought “what’s the worst thing that could happen?”, here’s what most of my clients discover.

#1: It’s not so bad. The majority of my clients who’ve done this exercise find that their worst-case scenario is not so bad after all. And/or, they find that if their worst-case scenario happens, there’s a plan of action they can take. What happens if my freelance business doesn’t work? You could always go back to a traditional job. Boom. Now you have an answer when that worry creeps up.

#2: It’s pretty bad, but pretty unlikely. For some of my clients, this exercise shows them that their imaginations are in overdrive! That fear of being completely destitute and begging for money on the street corner? It’s incredibly unlikely to actually happen. It might still highlight some precautions to take (e.g. put money away in savings), but facing your fear provides relief that the fears are not as bad as originally thought.

#3: It’s likely, but preventable. In some cases, you may uncover real possibilities that you actually should be taking into consideration. You’re worried about making enough money to paying your bills? Then maybe you need to roll up your sleeves and get a concrete plan on paper outlining what you need to bring in monthly and what sort of emergency fund gives you a buffer if you need it. While your fear hasn’t gone away, identifying the fear can help you plan for that scenario.

Turn Your Thoughts Upside Down

One reason people resist change is because they focus on what they have to give up instead of what they have to gain. When negative, self-destructive thoughts come up, we tend to obsess about what could go wrong, but rarely do we spend the same amount of time thinking about all the things that could go right!

For every one time the thought "what if this doesn't work?" comes up, I want you to be saying two times "what if this does work?" Think about the upside, not just the risk. What if this does work? What if you end up making more money? What if you end up doing more work you love? What if you have more independence and flexibility in your life? Imagine what that would be like and feel like.

Visualizing success has been a common practice of athletes, entertainers, and entrepreneurs as a way to reach their goals. Muhammad Ali, Jim Carrey, and Tiger Woods are firm believers on the power of visualizing success. By being able to paint a concrete picture of what success looks like to you, it becomes less abstract and more obtainable to you. When you know what you’re looking for, your brain is programmed to be more receptive to possible opportunities that are aligned with your goal. So, turn your worry upside down by visualizing the best of what could happen instead of worrying about the worst that could happen.

So what are you afraid of? And what’s the worst thing that could happen? It’s human nature to worry. Knowing how to face your fears and thoughts is the first step to being able to move past them. While worries will inevitably arise, you get the final say in what you choose to believe, to focus on, and to imagine.

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Antenna is a leader in delivering top marketing professionals to corporations of all sizes for project-based consulting, interim leadership assignments, and contract staffing engagements. With headquarters in Minneapolis, Antenna draws from its private community of experienced marketing talent to help clients balance the flexibility and expertise modern marketing organizations demand.