What Role Does Fear Play in Your Career Decisions?

I was speaking with someone I’ve known for a long time – let’s call him Stephan – and he told me a terrific job offer story. He’d been contacted by someone he once worked with who respected him greatly, but in describing the job to him, she painted a pretty unflattering picture of some of the people at the company – people he’d have to work with directly.

Now Stephan is an incredibly talented person with much to offer any employer. And he really wants to get back to work. But even though he’s been out of work for a while and money is extremely tight, the more he spoke with this woman the less he wanted the job. She even brought up some of his work styles, counseling him to hold back on certain things when he met with them. In other words…I think you’re fantastic, Stephan, but don’t be yourself. (Looks like her own fears were at play here.) Added to that, the money was a lot less than he was used to earning. (Not that taking less can’t in fact be a smart career move at times.)

When Your Gut talks, Listen!

Anyway…all kinds of bells and whistles went off for him. His gut was telling him not to even bother, but his checkbook was crying “Please feed me!” And then the thought hit him “If I say yes, I’m acting out of fear.” And he stopped to really think about what he wants to create for himself. And he moved from fear to thoughtful analysis and reason…and trusting his gut.

So he went back to the woman and told her, although grateful for her help, he had thought long and hard about it and under the circumstances described he just couldn’t in good faith apply for the job. He went on to tell her he thinks he has a lot to offer, but he wants to approach it from strength, showing the company who he really is and what he brings to the table. And, figuring he had nothing to lose at this point since he was sure he’d presented an offer they would refuse, he even mentioned that the salary was too low.

Stephan felt good about his decision. He had done the right thing as far as he was concerned, and assumed that would be the end of the story. He and his hungry checkbook were prepared to live with it. But lo and behold…the company was even more interested than before and he wound up getting the job – at least mostly on his terms.

So Should Everyone Follow Stephan’s Lead?

I’m NOT suggesting this is going to happen for everyone. All we can conclude for sure is it happened for Stephan under a specific set of circumstances, including his willingness to walk away from the deal if needed – one of the strongest negotiating stances available. But the happy result came when he trusted his gut and decided not to let fear guide his career. Or at least when he decided to to put himself back on stronger footing as he contemplated a job that, as presented, sure didn’t seem to offer terms he could live with for long.

For Stephan, the choice became easy. But that doesn’t mean it would be the right choice for everyone. We each need to look to our own inner voices and needs.

Fear and Career

This got me thinking about the frequent role fear plays in career choices. In my own life, especially when I was younger, I’ve certainly taken less-than-ideal jobs when money was tight and fear of not being able to pay my bills nudged me along. And I made the best of them. No way to know if fear clouded me to other possibilities I just wasn’t seeing.  Also no way to know if fear actually pushed me into something that wound up being better for unforeseen reasons.  Some things we can never know for sure.

I guess in the end, whatever we choose, the best approach to life and career is to simply be yourself, commit fully, and give it your all each and every time – while still keeping alert to ways to turn any situation into something even better.

Have you ever made a career decision based on fear? How did it turn out?  Can you relate to what Stephan did? Please share your thoughts on this topic. I’m really curious what advice you’d give job seekers in a similar situation.


About the author…

Ronnie Ann, founder of Work Coach Cafe, bases her real-world advice on her many years as an organizational consultant where she helped interview and hire people, added to a certificate from NYU in Career Planning & Development and her own adventures as a serial job seeker. She can also be found on her new blog, and on Google+.


  1. I once took another job partly out of fear my employer was going to get rid of me in a staff reorganization (a fear I thought was well-founded). The new job worked out fine for the short run, but not the long run. Less than two years later, I left – but for something much better.

  2. Thanks for adding so nicely to the conversation, Rick! Sometimes a short run job is exactly what’s needed, no matter what motivates us to take it. 😉

    • I was actually the opposite. I stayed at a job because of fear. I stayed b/c I worked in organized labor in a southern state. I orgnized teachers and student teachers in a non collective bargaining area. This also meant that I my pay and workoad were not the best (my national office did not pay the non CB states much at all and they only allowed one staff person for the area I worked). It was a crappy job after a while BUT since I was told that nobody would hire me after working for the union (and several rejection letters) I just remained. When I finally did leave the company I went to closed down and laid me off, then the next job didn’t fair well either (the new VP, not the one that hired me, was anti union and judged me of my background not my current contributions). So now I am back looking BUT I refuse to let fear make me go back to the dead end job I left. I say just pray and be true to who you are. NEVER go backwards

  3. Great advice Nikki! Thanks for the work you do and for adding your voice to the conversation. Best of luck! ~ Ronnie Ann

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