A couple of months ago, I was contacted to participate in creating a public video about my work. The request came by email and I ignored it. When I eventually prodded myself into responding, I was reluctant. "Ok, maybe, but can you give me more information?" That led to emails with a production company that I also delayed in responding to.
Eventually, I agreed to interview with them, giving them little time and a tight schedule to work with. I slowly came around and the project went forward. It culminated with a full day of filming at the end of November that was one of the best professional experiences I've had yet. The video will be published early next year, and I am thrilled. But why was I so reluctant for this fantastic opportunity to grow my career and expand my professional reach?
1. I'm not really good enough
I hear stories like this from my advising clients a lot, usually when they're thinking about making contact with other professionals. "I can't reach out to him, he doesn't have time for me," a student will say.
The implication here is that we believe that we are not good enough to deserve the attention. I can certainly identify with this; it's one of the feelings that kept me from jumping at the chance to showcase my professional skills.
There's a funny paradox at play in a lot of our careers: the fear of being recognized as inadequate. The belief that you may not good enough to take professional steps forward towards success leads to actually avoiding those steps forward. More often than not, my lack of action is tantamount to saying, "You are the only one standing in your way of this opportunity."
2. I don't have time
Another thing we often are afraid of when confronting professional growth opportunities is that success will require sacrifice or compromise.
What if the increase in business means that I can't spend as much time at home?
What if this business opportunity works out and I have to choose between doing that and my day job?
What if my professional success eats into my personal time and relationships and other goals?
Telling yourself you don't have time to pursue an amazing opportunity is another way of holding yourself back. But really, your time is yours and we make choices about how to spend it every day. It's a case of values and priorities, and there is room if you choose to make it and build your life around what is important to you. So what do you want?
3. I don't know what will happen
Fear of the unknown is big for a lot of us, and certainly is for me. It is human nature to choose certainty over uncertainty, and so often that leads to not doing what we could to take us forward in our careers, simply because we're a bit scared of just what might happen. I mean, what if something bad happens?
But here's the thing, we NEVER know what will happen in life. Turning down or not pursuing an opportunity just because you're not sure where it's going to lead is not a way to even ensure that things will continue to go the way they have for you, because the world is constantly changing. The better you are at growing and adapting, the better you'll be at handling the curveballs that life and the economy will throw at you. So do yourself a favor and try something – exactly because you don't know what will happen next!
4. Anonymous is more comfortable
Another interesting barrier to success is the vulnerability that comes with being known to others. When you encounter success professionally, people may ask more questions about you, or write about you in the news, or share information about you to others. And to some of us, that is terrifying, because it opens up information about ourselves to others in a way that is beyond our control.
When I was considering this video project, a friend said to me, "Wait, you're going to let a group of strangers into your house?" To expose my home and my photos and my choice in furniture to a production team and to potentially thousands of viewers could make me very vulnerable. I felt exposed in a way I never quite have before. But I also know that that exposure will lead to others connecting with me, and to more opportunities in the future. We can't have connection without some vulnerability, and we will have limited success in life let alone in our profession if we don't connect with others.
Navigating the excuses and fears you may have requires getting clear on your values, dreams and goals for your life. When you do that, you'll become your own worthy adversary for these doubts and fears and excuses. There are a lot of other reasons that people aren't successful: lack of motivation, skills, knowledge, or relationship capital. But becoming aware of when you tell yourself "No" or "I can't", what excuses you use, and what fears exist behind those excuses will help you break free of those shackles for good.