As a father, we need to lead by example, and one of the areas that is important is how we personally deal with fear. We significantly influence what our children fear and how they respond to it. We also need to show them how we deal with it in our lives.
Fear isn’t all bad. It can be a positive motivator. Fear of death can lead to acting in more of a safe manner, for example wearing our seat belts and exercising regularly.
But unfounded fear can be very unhealthy. It can cause stress and anxiety which can have significant long-term negative health effects. Fear can also paralyze us into inaction, preventing us from achieving our true potential.
I have struggled with fear a lot as an adult. One major fear, that is common among men, is that I feared losing my job.
In 2006, I entered the full-time job market, and two years later, in 2008, we experienced the largest economic downturn since the Great Depression. People in industries that I worked with lost their jobs. Projects got canceled. Companies folded. And I watched many people struggle to find a job or who were significantly underemployed. In 2011, I even hired someone who was underemployed.
Right before this economic catastrophe, I also entered the two biggest commitments of my life. I got married in 2006 and we bought our first house in 2007. What happened next in the economy made me extremely fearful about job security. This led me to avoid what I perceived as taking on risk in my career. For the most part, I just put my head down and did my job. I didn’t stretch myself or make any big changes after these events unfolded for a long while. The energy and enthusiasm I carried coming out of graduate school quickly waned.
For years I plodded along, not challenging myself enough out of fear of drawing too much attention to myself. I wanted stability and I thought that this was how to go about getting it. I spent time worrying about this risk in my head and was paralyzed.
Then almost five years ago I became a father. The added responsibility of financially providing for your family added more weight to this fear. It wasn’t just me who would be impacted by losing my job. After a few of years of being a father and allowing my career to be driven fear, I had had enough. I was stressed and anxious and felt out of control.
So, about two or three years ago, through a healthy self-evaluation process, I started to change how I approached this job security fear and started doing something about it.
“Inaction breeds doubt and fear. Action breeds confidence and courage. If you want to conquer fear, do not sit home and think about it. Go out and get busy.” Dale Carnegie
I was stuck in a cyclical pattern of inaction. I was not learning a new skill. I was not pro-actively networking. I was not asking for new opportunities. I was not really doing anything pro-active to change things. And I was tired of it. I wanted change and I wanted to start doing something that was in my power to accomplish. I finally accepted that action was required. Doing nothing was just going to continue the pattern I was in.
Look for Ways to Add More Value
I should have been actively seeking ways to add more value to the company and clients I was working for. Even if that meant that I was doing something no one else was doing.
I started by looking for ways to apply the skills I already had in new areas. I started talking to my clients, co-workers, managers, and peers about what their biggest challenges and frustrations were. I learned how others performed their jobs. I looked for processes that could use improvement or added insight that I might be able to provide. And I kept at it until I found some problems to solve.
The best way to remain employable is to have a track record of solving problems for others. You’re only as good as your ability to add value to others.
Invest in Yourself
While I was attentive to finding ways to add more value I made a note of skills that were needed that I did not possess. While making note of these, I did some research on the marketability of them.
I then started a list of potential skills and certifications that I should consider learning. And I started learning new things right away. I learned more about web and mobile technologies and database design. My staff management experience grew.
I learned that it is more important to make yourself indispensable by becoming So Good They Can’t Ignore You as Cal Newport writes. So as I was finding ways to add more value to myself so that I could add more value to others.
Take Some Calculated Risks
As Seth Godin brilliantly points out in his book the The Icarus Deception, flying too low can be just as dangerous as flying too high. I was playing it too safe.
So I started taking a few risks on projects or roles. I wrote memos and emails that were not asked for but provided suggestions and opinions that I felt were needed. Then I picked up the phone and talked to people who I thought were too busy or important to engage with me. I stopped asking permission for every little thing and just started delivering good solutions, strategies, ideas, and technology.
Just like we do when we invest our money, I was looking for ways where the potential downside was big, and downside was relatively small.
What happened after that was transforming. Doors opened. New roles and responsibilities were given. More autonomy and freedom were received. I saw an opportunity for my company, used my experience and skills to form a suggested strategy, and then was given the keys to go make it happen. Over the last two years I’ve been able to hire over 20 new employees and now manage a team of 35.
Get Personal Finances in Order
My anxiety around the financial impact of losing my job has diminished since we’ve understood our finances and have cash saved for an emergency. The reality is even if we are the best at what we do, there are things in the job market beyond our control that could lead to losing our job. Being prepared for that possibility through personal finance is a good self-insurance policy.
Fear, whether real or perceived, is extremely powerful. Our media industry knows this all too well. They often prey upon people’s fears about war, economic calamity, the weather, and even traffic. They sensationalize often rather mundane news stories to elicit a bit of fear or insecurity to gather your attention. And we also know how advertising is built on triggering the fear of missing out.
The stories of economic calamity on the news probably negatively influenced my perception on my job security. Looking back, I was young, cheap, almost 100% billable to clients, and often was an out-performer. I probably had very little to worry about with respect to job security.
But unfortunately sometimes fear is based on an incorrect perception of consequence. For example, we fear that if we quit our job even though we’re unhappy that we may never find another one. We fear about losing our job, and have fear about our inability to control that. Some job markets have a lot of turnover, but many do not. But our fear paralyzes us from taking action, fear of the unknown.
So if you worry about job security like I did for a long time, evaluate that fear, and get started with these actions that you have control over today.