Don’t Let Fear Drive Your Work Decisions

My theory is that as it relates to work, and life, fear is okay to have in the car, but it doesn’t serve you well in the driver's seat. Fear is a bit like the check-engine light in your vehicle. It lets you know that there is something you need to pay attention to, and perhaps resolve soon before it becomes a much bigger problem.


Let me share a few snapshots from my work life that I didn’t handle particularly well because I was afraid.

#1 Salary Negotiation

In my first job out of college, I ran an after-school program for 5th-9th grade students and was paid $350 monthly plus housing. I was asked if I would consider taking a full-time salaried Associate Director position that they would create for me. I had never been in a negotiation before and felt thankful that someone advocated for me. This was the same person who was handling my negotiation. I was asked to offer a salary range. I had come up with it on my own and the amount the Executive Director chose was the lowest number in the range. I quickly shook her hand and thanked her. There are so many ways that I handled this incorrectly. For example, I lacked salary comps and didn’t get a range from her. I was afraid to push her for more money. Still, I felt terrible that she picked the lowest point on my range. Fear was definitely driving that day.

#2 New Job & New City

 As I headed into the third year of the poorly paid job, I started to receive other job offers. I loved the work I was doing, but had remained upset at the salary that was offered, and wanted to make sure that the fear of having no options wouldn’t happen again. I had another opportunity available that would allow me to work with young people in a different city and offered housing while paying me three times what my current job paid. Ultimately, I stayed with my current employer because I wasn’t sure what it would be like to live in a new city further away from my family and have to make new friends. However, I did use the offer in my pocket to get a 25% raise. I don’t know that I gave it serious consideration because I didn’t really know what I wanted. Looking back, I think I let fear drive my decision, and at minimum we were both fighting for control of the vehicle.

#3 Start-Up 

I was offered the opportunity to launch a new entity. It had a significant revenue stream that I had developed, and was growing. However, when the idea was proposed I took it as a challenge to my loyalty and commitment to an existing current partnership, and quickly said no. I don’t know how my life and career might have been different had I actually given the idea greater consideration or saw myself at that time as a better leader versus trying to be a better colleague and friend. Fear created so much haze that I could see the road ahead and drive correctly.


What could I have done differently in all of these situations?

  1. In most situations you can buy yourself a bit of time with something as simple as, “That’s really interesting. Can you give me a few days to consider that possibility. I want to be sure that I make the most informed decision.” Don’t place false time constraints on yourself or put yourself in a spot to do something based on heightened emotions.
  2. In each situation I had siloed myself and not gathered opinions from the people I trusted and respected most. Perhaps I felt that I should be good at this already or that a professional just knows certain things. I have a very different perspective on this now.
  3. Have a strong sense of what your goals and priorities are. You can know what gets you to yes quickly, or what has you walking away from any deal if you can tell yourself, and share with others, what matters to you when making a decision.

When fear comes up, give yourself the chance to make choices that are aligned with your priorities, vetted by friends and made when you have the capacity to make them. That’s how you can respect the fear but overcome it and make smarter decisions.

Search for your next job now:


Back to listing

The Washington Post Jobs Newsletter

Subscribe to the latest news about DC's jobs market