Have you ever stopped to think about your level of fear in your job? Do you find the same frustrations repeating despite changing employers? If you do sense fear surrounding your career, can you imagine what it would look and feel like to walk into the office every day feeling secure and excited, emanating calm confidence?
Although career fear can affect both sexes, in my practice I've found it more common among women. Typically women are socialized to be fixers and bridge-builders, and are valued for being kind and generous. If a woman is assertive at work, she is more likely to be labeled as difficult and bitchy, as opposed to a man, who might be thought of as effective, strong, and powerful. A woman may wring her hands about the way she will be perceived by her peers and subordinates in a way that many men may not. This is a double standard that has existed for many years and neither sex is completely to blame; both play their part.
Women are guilty of perpetuating this stereotype by continually not asserting themselves in the workplace. Women are less likely to negotiate salary when accepting a job offer, ask for a raise, or apply for higher-level positions.
Why do women assert themselves less? One major reason is FEAR: fear of rejection, not fitting in, and being outcast. Some women fear being seen as "unfeminine." In many fields, women are still trying to prove themselves and their worth.
These fears bundle together and can make you fall prey to "the disease to please" (a phrase I love, from the book The Disease To Please: Curing the People-Pleasing Syndrome, by Harriet B. Braiker).
If you answer yes to any of the following questions, you might be suffering from the "disease to please":
- Do you say yes when you really want to say no?
- Do you apologize often? When you are actually not sorry? When you are angry, as a way to defuse and/or end an argument?
- Do you avoid confrontation at all costs?
- Do you put everyone else's needs above your own?
- Do you need everyone's approval? Do you spend ample energy and time trying to convince others your decisions are right? Do you feel compelled to defend your actions?
- Do you sit quietly in the wings, hoping someone will acknowledge your talents?
These patterns of behavior can sabotage your career growth. When you try to be what you think others want you to be, you hide yourself and your talents from the world AND your boss.
Oftentimes with the disease to please, unresolved issues from the past continue to play out in the present, which may also negatively impact your career. I had a client who had an emotionally abusive relationship with her sister. In every job that this client held, there was one woman in the office with whom she had heated conflicts. When we finally drilled down to the fact that she was drawing these women and experiences to her because of the unresolved abuse issue, a shift happened. After honoring, processing, and releasing her long-held resentment of her childhood experience, this workplace drama never reappeared.
I am offering a simple mindfulness exercise, which might just be the prescription!
For the next 48 hours, every time you commit any of the actions on the disease-to-please list above, write it down. What was the scenario? Why did you respond the way you did? This requires you to be not only very aware of your words and actions, but also to be honest about your intentions. Did someone ask a favor? What was it, and did you agree to do it because you genuinely wanted to or because you felt guilty saying no? Did you have a solution to an issue but not speak up, maybe because speaking your mind was discouraged in your childhood home? Did you make a decision and need to defend yourself?
If you find yourself in the same frustrating situation in your career over and over, ask yourself, Where have I felt like this before? Who does this person remind me of? And write that down as well.
Are you discovering any patterns to your behavior?
This is your chance to take a fearless inventory at work and discover if unresolved past experiences are negatively impacting your desired professional path. What do you want more and less of in your career? What is your ideal work environment?
When you do a deed out of guilt or avoid an uncomfortable situation even though it needs to be addressed, you are being inauthentic. Masking your truth leads to resentment and moves you further away from being truly fearless at work.
You will not be able to step into your full potential if fear inspires you to play small and do what you think others expect of you. When you authentically share your gifts at work with confidence, you have nothing to prove because you know you are doing the right thing. You are mindful, use precise language, know there's enough for everyone, and show characteristics of being clear, vital, strong, and balanced.
Your truth will change and evolve as you do. When I stopped fearing my father's rejection, I discovered a career path that resonated with me and took the next right action to get myself there, not needing his approval of my choice. I learned the value of speaking my truth and the skill of drawing clear boundaries. I learned that I am the only one responsible for my decisions and for creating the career of my dreams.
I hope this inspires you to get honest about how fearful you are in the workplace and how you can channel that into becoming more fearless. You will undoubtedly see yourself moving up the ladder with joy in your heart!
As always, I want to hear your thoughts on the disease to please, especially as it relates to workplace issues. Use this as an opportunity to start a rich dialogue.
Aren't you looking forward to Monday now with your newfound workplace fearlessness? Whooot!
Love love love,
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