What Can Stop Your Career From Ever Starting

Aurelio Asiain / Flickr
Aurelio Asiain / Flickr

Today’s guest post is by Emily Latham. Emily has been one of my students this past academic year at the University of Cincinnati and will graduate soon. In response to Jonathan Fields’ new release, Uncertainty, she wrote the following. The honesty was so remarkable that I asked her if she’d allow me to share her thoughts here.

I wasn’t sure if I should laugh, cry, slap myself on the forehead, or just nod erratically in agreement to this book. I relate to the fear of uncertainty, worry of judgment, and the suppression of creativity—and to the overall inclination to just play it safe.

I also couldn’t help but notice (not judge) that a lot of my peers act the same way in the face of uncertainty and judgment.

“I feel the fear of uncertainty stinging clear.” Those are lyrics to one of my favorite songs, “Drive” by Incubus. I don’t think that I’ve ever thought about how much uncertainty plays a role in how I make decisions. The dark unknown is something that humans are not very comfortable with, and sadly I am not exempt. We are constantly searching to define the unknown. Not many people are complacent with not knowing.

What makes uncertainty hard for me is the possibility of failure. Not to succeed is a very hard reality to deal with. Will I be able to rebound if I do fail? Do I need to change my life goals if I do not succeed? Does failure mean I am doomed?

Those questions then lead to: If I do fail, how am I going to deal with telling people I failed? What are friends, family, coworkers going to think? What kind of judgments will people be passing on me? The fear of uncertainty certainly stings clear in my mind when thinking about the future.

I commonly deal with this fear of uncertainty and public scrutiny in two ways:

  1. Try with minimal effort.
  2. Don’t tell anyone until you succeed.

The age-old minimal effort deal is something that I have perfected. My peers also employ this method. It looks something like this:

I only studied for 30 minutes for the test.

I wrote this response right before class.

This class is stupid.

These are things I hear a lot from my peers, and I find myself doing it too. Studying a week for a test, or actually working on papers in advance, or admitting that classes are not stupid is probably the first step to recovery on this one. I tend to put in minimal effort to minimize the fear of failure. If you only try a little bit, then the failure isn’t so great. Furthermore, you make it known to everyone that you aren’t trying, so when your C- or B is handed back to you, it was because you didn’t try—not because you weren’t good enough.

The fear of trying your hardest and being rejected is ego crumbling. But how can I really improve if I don’t put myself out there?

The real mantra should be: “I don’t know the outcome, but I’m going to use whatever outcome there is to make it better.”

With the other tactic I employ—don’t tell anyone until you succeed—no one has to know I have failed, and better yet no one can judge me for it. But, as Fields discusses, I don’t have a certainty anchor. With no one to rely on, or without input, I might as well fail before I even try. It’s important put the ego and fear aside to learn to lean on people.

I don’t have all the answers—and clearly, after writing this, I should be thinking that I don’t need all the answers. My anchors won’t have all the answers either, but without support, facing the fear of uncertainty is a lot harder.

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