What are you scared of?
It’s a question I pose to all of my clients when they know what they want to do but can’t seem to take the first step.
It’s a simple enough inquiry, but for some clients, answering it is tougher than solving a Rubik’s Cube.
A year ago, I worked with a client, Bill, who was having incredible success in sales. However, as his success grew, his contentment plummeted. He had trouble sleeping and would lay awake at night, terrified that everything he’d worked so hard for could just disappear. This fear is not uncommon. In fact, studies show that a vast majority of millionaires feel as though they’re stuck on a treadmill, believing that one misstep could cost them everything. Instead of enjoying the fruits of their labor, they’re too busy stressing out about producing more and maintaining the status quo. Bill constantly projected himself into the future, imagining how awful it would feel to fall from the height he’d achieved and wondering how he would pay his bills if he lost income.
Then there was “Mary.” I mentored her as she was starting her business as a health coach. Her instincts were dead on and her coaching method was flawless, but she was scared. She questioned her choices endlessly, wondering if she should pursue a more “stable” line of work.
In service to their growth, I needed to help both clients uncover what they were truly scared of, and it was no surprise that the root of their fears was the same: their childhoods.
Bill had grown up with a dad whose career was a complete roller coaster. Some days he had money. Some days he didn’t. Mary was raised by a single mom who struggled to make ends meet, and she frequently spoke of the importance of stability and practicality.
Psychologists argue that most people’s patterns and beliefs about success and money are largely set by age seven. Nonetheless, most people don’t think much about setting their own definitions for success. I encourage them to analyze their own lives and upbringings: What was the conversation like in your house about careers? Did your parents struggle with money? Did they have lots of it? And, more importantly, what beliefs did your 7-year-old self buy into? Are they still driving you today?
Asking myself those questions is what led me to my life’s work of being a career coach, but it took some trial and error.
1. What was the conversation like in your house about careers?
My parents, and most of their friends, were entrepreneurs. One month they were buying fancy sports cars; the next month, they were selling them… Feast or famine! I’ll never forget my dad’s words as I grew up: “Ashley, you have two choices in your career… You can ride a carousel or a roller coaster.” What he meant at the time was the dichotomy between working for the man or working for yourself—but my 7-year7old self didn’t grasp that.
2. What beliefs did your 7-year-old self buy into?
Even as a child, I thought: “I don’t want to hop on a rollercoaster.” I equated it with chaos and uncertainty—and with selling our cars. Later in life, I initially decided a carousel ride would be fine for me: at least I’d be able to afford the payments on my practical sedan. For the longest time, I bought into this belief system. Not surprisingly, the quest for predictability and security totally ran my life. From an early age, I set my sights on government work. Not just any government work, though: I wanted to be an operative in the CIA. I did everything I needed to do to get there and by the time I was 23 years old, while most of my peers were still “paying their dues” in their first post-college jobs, I was making roughly six figures and getting the kind of experience most people wait years for. If success was all about achieving the goals we set for ourselves, I’d achieved mine… So why was I so unhappy? Because, much like Bill and Mary, the “success” I had was inspired by fear, not passion. I’d never really stopped to ask myself if this was meant to be. All I knew was what wasn’t meant to be… the roller coaster ride.What fuels you? Is it fear or inspiration? Considering what fuel you put in your tank is powerful.
3. Are those ideas still driving you today?
That realization was a powerful moment for me, because I had to accept that my career up to that point a few years ago was in reaction to fear of failure. What I didn’t want to see, but what was happening all along, was that the career I was meant to have was the very one I feared the most: Entrepreneur. Friends told me, with increasing regularity, “You should be a career coach.” That sounds like poverty, I thought to myself. The whole notion was unpredictable and foolhardy. Subconsciously, I was living in reaction to my childhood experiences, and it was time for me to reprogram my beliefs… Specifically, the ones I held to be true about money, entrepreneurship and success.
In realizing I wanted to become a career coach—helping people find their purpose, land more job offers, and launch their dream business—I decided to stop accommodating what I thought the world wanted me to be.
As renowned author Wayne Dyer says: “don’t die with your music still in you.” In order for you to achieve the success you know that’s inside of you, evaluate and challenge everything that you adopted as true in childhood.
To the little girl who believed that a roller coaster meant chaos, to the aspiring coaches who think coaching means poverty, to the employees who believe they need to bend their careers to accommodate the workforce, it’s really up to you.
Is it okay to still have fear?
Yes, it’s expected. The most successful people are constantly leaning into the edge of their fears. What makes them special is that they act anyway.
This article first appeared on Forbes.