Promotion Anxiety Pep Talk: Overcoming Fear

Promotion Pep Talk: Overcoming Fear

How many times have you been afraid to ask for more responsibility because you didn’t feel “qualified” or ready? Maybe you’ve dreamed about moving up the ladder, but you hold yourself back from throwing your name in the ring out of fear of failure.

Good news: that little voice in your head that says you “can’t” is rarely based in reality or reflective of your actual capabilities. More often, it is sheer “promotion anxiety,” or nervousness related to change. 

Embracing a new role, or finally pursuing that project you’ve contemplated for so long, can feel pretty intimidating. But if we spend our whole lives waiting to feel “safe,” we’ll wait forever to do the things that excite us most.

How to Be More Confident at Work

In the wise words of Olivia Wilde (looking back on her first directing experience): “The first and most important ‘no’ you have to get rid of is the one that comes from yourself. […] You can’t fail in any real way if you give your heart to something.” Why? Because no matter what, you learn. 

If there’s a swarm of butterflies in your stomach that are keeping you in the same boring place with your career, think through the following and give yourself permission to overcome your fears.

Define your fears.

Define your fears: where is that promotion anxiety coming from? 

The first step to overcoming fear is knowing exactly what scares you. 

For example…

Maybe you have a fear of public speaking. What about it exactly induces anxiety?

Are you afraid of stuttering in front of colleagues? Losing their respect? Sounding uninteresting? Or maybe it’s just that big ominous possibility that you can’t quite pin a scenario to… failure. 

Imagine yourself in the situation that brings you dread and try to identify the specific elements of it that weigh on you most. In the case of public speaking, maybe you realize that you’re fine talking in small groups, but the idea of an audience is what’s holding you back. 

Create practice scenarios that build you up to facing your fears. 

Maybe you invite groups of friends over and tell stories, or attend more intimate events like readings or open mics where you can expose yourself to the situation in a more relaxed environment. 

The more you isolate your fears and become familiar with them, the more approachable they will seem, and the more confident at work you will become each time you step up to face them.

Remember: the idea of unknowns is often what scares us the most. The more we expose ourselves to our fears, the more we may come to assess them with realistic expectations. 

Keep listening.

Keep listening: overcoming fear is not an overnight 180

True fact: it’s not vital to conquer absolutely every fear in your life. If you shy away from bugs or heights, odds are, that won’t be the reason why you never apply for that management position. 

But: the fears that make you feel sick and giddy at the same time, and keep popping up in your thoughts? Those fears can clue you in to your passions and goals. Listen to them. 

Excitement can very easily masquerade as anxiety, and end up holding us back from taking risks or pursuing our dreams. 

Take some time for reflection. Is there something about that next opportunity that actually sounds dreadful, or are you just afraid of that timid but persistent voice inside saying: “It would be nice to lead X project… but I don’t think I can do it”?

The bottom line is you will never know if you can do it if you never try to do it. While you’ve probably heard that Wayne Gretzky quote way too many times, it’s true… “You miss 100% of the shots you don’t make.” Don’t let your own internal dialogue (i.e., promotion anxiety) prevent you from stepping up to the plate. 

If it gives you goosebumps just imagining it, think about how amazing it’ll feel when you actually do it. 


Make a plan: overcoming fear is a process.

Once you’ve identified your fears, strategize to confront them. 

We talk a lot about goal setting at the Forem. One of the best things you can do to advance your career is break down measurable benchmarks for your progress. 

If you can get to the root of your fear (EX: the idea of being Project Manager excites me, but I’m afraid I won’t be able to handle the extra responsibility) you can dissect the passion or goal from it, and use that as motivation. Once you have your goal in mind, break down the parts of it that intimidate you into immediately attainable tasks.

For example…

Maybe you want to create a new committee at your org that focuses on promoting sustainability practices in the office, but you’re afraid there won’t be enough interest or the execution will flop. Make a personal step-by-step to gradually taper back the “unknowns.” 

You could…

  • Send around an interest survey to your colleagues to gauge potential participation. 
  • Do some research on sustainability best-practices and discuss your findings with your peers. (Practice articulating your stance.)
  • Reach outside of your network to find others who started similar committees at their orgs for advice. 

Put all of these things on a timeline for yourself and stick to it, knowing you’re working up one day at a time to take the leap. 

Pro-tip: the more people you can involve in your plan, the better. Your peers can help hold you accountable for facing your fears, and act as a sounding board for you to articulate your anxieties. 

Sometimes all it takes is saying your fears out loud to another person for them to feel less scary. In doing so consistently, you will find you not only feel more confident at work, but in external networking situations as well (which are often the most rich with career opportunities).

Then jump

Just jump: don’t wait for promotion anxiety to go away (it might not)

You’re never going to feel 100% comfortable taking risks or big steps in your career. It will always be scary to push yourself. (That’s why it’s called a push, not a gentle caress.)

Do your best to prepare and build up your confidence, but don’t expect all of those butterflies to soar away. That little bit of remaining anxiety will always be there: it’s the voice in all of us that can’t stand the idea of failure, no matter how many times we tell ourselves that flopping is ok. 

Save that anxiety for the final boost of adrenaline you’ll need to just do the thing. On the other side of that fear is a whole treasure trove of potential and purpose waiting to be plugged into your dream career. 

And hey, even if you do meet a rejection on the other side… at least you’re now on the other side. There’s plenty of room for new goals over there.