08/08/2011 11:48 am ET Updated Oct 08, 2011

Andrea Tobor: Taking Action to Overcome Fear

Fear comes in many forms. Some fears are rational and healthy -- they keep us safe. Other fears are irrational -- they keep us living small. The fear of what others might think of us, the fear of failing, the fear of looking foolish or the fear of letting others down -- all these can keep us from taking chances to pursue what we really want. Andrea Tobor has known such fears, up close and personal. I asked her to tell me her story.

"The year was 1992 and I was 41 years old, working for Time Warner in Chicago," Andrea began her story. "I was the director of a new division which was growing rapidly. We were having significant success -- so much so that I was offered the job of vice president, at twice the salary I was making. A promotion is something that everyone looks forward to, and I did, too. But I was also scared to death. Moving up meant taking on a whole new level of responsibility. It meant leaving the safety and security of what I knew. It meant making a mental transition to move into a whole new league and play ball with the big boys."

"It sounds exciting, exhilarating," I said.

"Terrifying is the word I would use," Andrea replied. We both laughed.

"You see, in the corporate world, you have a public persona. You have this image that you've carefully cultivated and polished. The motto is 'Never let 'em see you sweat.' As a manager or executive, you're supposed to be cool, calm, and collected -- especially if you're a woman. No displays of feelings are allowed. So I looked together on the outside, but inside, I was in turmoil. I kept vacillating back and forth about this promotion I'd been offered. Should I? Shouldn't I?"

"Were you actually considering NOT taking the promotion?" I asked.

"Oh yes," Andrea answered. "I was scared to death. At that point in my life, I didn't know if I had what it takes to move up into executive ranks."

"So, how did you decide?"

"I turned to my inner circle of close friends and my family," Andrea replied. "I had two teen-age kids, a few trusted colleagues, and some dear friends. We had some major truth conversations."

"What's a truth conversation?"

"It's based on an ancient tradition of people sitting in a circle and telling the authentic truth to one another," Andrea answered. "In my case, the truth conversations with my friends and colleagues took place in small groups, and the truth conversations with my kids were done one at a time. I sometimes joke that my friends and family 'ganged up on me,' but it was really a very loving process. They simply weren't allowing me to escape the reality of who I was. It was almost like an 'intervention' of some sort."

"A career intervention?"

"Yes, that's a good term for it -- a career intervention," Andrea responded. "My loving friends and family would challenge my fears, doubts, and insecurities. They would tell me the truth about who I really was -- as they saw me. They changed the conversation in my head. As my son summarized it, 'Mom, it's time for you to step into your own press releases.'"

"I love that. He said it perfectly!" I nodded.

"Yes, he did," Andrea agreed. "I am so blessed to have truth-tellers in my life -- people who will remind me who I am when I forget."

"And you took the job?"

"Yes," Andrea replied. "I still had some fear, but I was able to take action in spite of my fear. I acknowledged my feelings but didn't let them control me. I took action.

"The career intervention worked. Those truth conversations allowed me to get to know myself and trust myself. And from that time on, I've never had self-doubt in the same way. Anytime fear comes up for me, I can go back in my mind to those truth sessions and tap into that loving courage again."

"What a great story, Andrea! Thank you for sharing it. I have just one more question: If you were to give advice to others who are facing fear or other negative emotions, what would you tell them?"

"It sounds like such a cliché, but it's true... Fake it 'til you make it," Andrea said. "I have a Georgia O'Keefe quote posted on the wall in my office. It's been there many years; I've referred to it innumerable times to guide my work and my life:

"I've been absolutely terrified every moment of my life ... and I've never let it keep me from doing a single thing I wanted to do."

"So ACT even if you don't fully embrace the thinking. Do not allow your fear to stop you from stepping into your life. That's the advice I'd give to others.

For more information about Andrea Tobor, visit