Did You Just Drop the F-Bomb?!?!

Fear by Vic is licensed under CC by 2.0

Did You Just Drop the F-Bomb?!?!

No, not THAT f-bomb, the other one. Fear. Twice in two days I have heard or read something that refers to fear and the description has varied from fear being an effective tool for achieving an outcome, to fear being an oppressive feeling that fuels self-doubt. Indeed, fear is a key driver in many of our actions. I have a fear of heights (or at least of falling from heights), have been fearful of losing my job, and have been afraid to ask someone out on a date. I have used fear (not proud, more an admission) to try and get my way or drive things the way I wanted them to go. The list is pretty endless on both sides and some fears will always be there. However, the fears around my abilities, my value, my competence, and especially about a job are gone. That loss of fear is enabling me to achieve what I didn’t think was possible. Here’s what has changed for me.  


I have found that most of my fears are tied to the unknown--and this is where I lose control. To help mitigate this fear, I have developed a technique to remove my fear of the unknown. I think through the worst-case and best-case outcomes of any action, starting with worst-case and then considering the best case. I assume I’ll land somewhere in the middle, and if I know the worst and best that can happen, it really isn’t unknown anymore. For instance, if I ask someone out on a date, the worst-case would be they say no and the best case is they would say yes, we go out, and then live happily ever after. For losing the job, the worst case for me would be losing the love of my life, my home, my way of living, my self-confidence and self-esteem, my career, and my passion. The best case is I find an even better job that enables me to follow my passion and speed up success.  

Once I know what the worst is I can think about each portion of the worst case and 1) remove them from the equation as not probable; or 2) I can mitigate. For instance, in my case, if I lost my job I would not lose the love of my life so I would set that fear aside. I might lose my home and way of living, and my career may veer the wrong way. I can put a plan in place to help with losing my home and way of living in advance of any potential loss of job. I can plan to live under my means (spend less than what I make) and make sure I have some cushion so I can survive a month or two without income. That is easy to say and can be tough to do, especially for those that are early in their career and are not quite making the big bucks. The time when you are squeaking by is (somewhat) short and transitional. If, as you start growing your salary you continue to live a humble lifestyle, the problem goes away and you have (some) financial and career freedom. To mitigate the loss of self-confidence, self-esteem and career, I maintain my network, keep an eye on the job market and go through the occasional interview loop, typically for something I want to do but may not be completely qualified for. By always looking, I know what the job market is and stay comfortable with the job search and interview process. Interviewing also helps me glimpse my skills and value through the eyes of the interviewer. Together, I maintain the ability to manage my career or quickly recover from an unfortunate event.  


Believe it or not, this one is a bit tougher. Whether we like it or not, almost all of us use fear as a tool to achieve our goal or to feel better about our choices. For instance, as a manager, I might use the fear of not giving a good bonus or review evaluation to make an employee do what I want them to do. I might use fear to disable a friend or partner from achieving their potential, or to undermine their self-esteem and self-worth. I may or may not do this intentionally, but either way, the impact is negative to the other person. I take a third person perspective and use empathy to try and limit my use of fear to manipulate others.  

First, I try moving myself to third person (narrative style) so I look at a situation, my action, and the outcome from a neutral position. Doing this helps me have an unbiased opinion so I can focus on the problem and solution. Second, I try and put myself in the shoes of the person or people that will be impacted by my action. If I were on the receiving end, would I feel threatened or like I really didn’t have a choice without repercussions? From there, I try to think of other ways to accomplish the same thing without causing that feeling of fear.


Today’s workforce and work environment show teams that have the power to take the approach they feel best yields the greater happiness, quality, and productivity. As a team member or member of leadership, there is an expectation that you are strong enough to act without having fear and that you manage others using tactics other than fear to drive teams. That takes practice and some effort. But, new skills mean new opportunities!                

Andy Ruth

SEI  Mentor

Apprenticeship Program