I don’t know how you feel about the change of the season, going into fall (in the Northern Hemisphere). I see from my own life and work with my clients, that it’s a time where we can feel more unstable. It’s getting windier and colder, asking us to slow down.
But that sounds like a bad joke in a world where we are rewarded for being “on” 24/7. Many people are drained from the ongoing transitions and uncertainty in the world. They are fearful of what the future will bring. You may also worry about what might happen if you quit your job, do something different, start a new career path, etc.
When we feel insecure and unstable it is impossible to take courageous decisions for our work life. In this article, I am going to share with you the root cause of our fear. I show you what we can focus on to anchor ourselves and take courageous decisions in our work life.
Not so much of a surprise: Our primary need in life is to feel safe
I did a survey for my female clients and readers recently. I asked them: “What is your biggest fear with regards to career changes or taking steps towards a more authentic work life?“. The most common answers were about not making enough money or the fear of failing. Some worry about wasting a lot of energy on something that will not work out.
It’s normal that we are most afraid of a “financial disaster” (original quote), because we live in a world where money buys security (it pays the bills!). So to feel secure, we need to be certain that we have enough money coming in to meet our fundamental, basic needs.
Nothing is worse for our brain than taking steps towards the unknown
We are programmed for risk aversion, as for our ancestors one misstep could mean death. Our brains still have the “internal danger detector”, the amygdala. It constantly monitors our environment for potential threats. This system keeps us safe by making us feel afraid. It also gets activated more often than you may realize, especially in the stressful world of business.
If we sense that our (psychological) safety is at risk, our system goes into the flight, fight or freeze mode. The amygdala sends out stress hormones like adrenaline and cortisol through our body in order for us to be able to think and react fast. Our deliberate, slow and conscious decision making and thinking gets impaired. It doesn't matter if the threats are real or perceived ones. „What if I take this step, will it work out?“ „What happens if I fail?“ „Who am I to be successful?“ „How will my family, friends, etc. react?“. Then fear paralyzes the action we want to take. It literally shuts down our cognitive brain and ability to think clearly. If we look at it objectively, changing careers, working in new ways, or starting your own business will most likely not cause you to live under a bridge. It also most likely won't get you expelled from your tribe or get you killed.
I knew for a long time that I wanted to have more freedom in how, with whom and where I work. But every time I would read about location, independent workers, running your own business, etc. the fear would show up. My mind would immediately show me the worst case scenarios and reasons why this would not work for me. “You are not good at math”, “You don't have entrepreneurial skills”, “You are not ready”.
Those fears are universal and unfortunately, for women even more common. Over the 2014-18 period, only 34.5% of (all) women in EU Member States and 37.7% of women in the OECD countries felt that they had the knowledge and skills to start a business, compared to about half of men in the EU and OECD countries. Furthermore, women were more likely to report a fear of failure than men (49.3% vs. 40.6%). Women find more difficulties in personal barriers to entrepreneurship. For example, due to a lower level of self-confidence or difficulties in reconciling work and family life.
I find it shocking that in Germany only 6.7 % of women are self-employed, compared to 11,6 % men. In Europe, less than one in ten working women were self-employed in 2018 (9.6%). This is significantly below the share for men (16.9%).
Here, I will not write about the systemic reasons why it’s more difficult for women to take courageous career decisions and steps. I will share from my own experience and work, one aspect that might be a surprising personal root cause.
In our busy, global and digitally-connected world, we can easily become uprooted and feel out of place, “homeless”
If you feel unstable and feel obscure fears are piling up preventing you from taking action on the work life decisions that matter for you, it could be that you are not connected enough with your own roots. You can also call it the foundation of your house.
Whether you feel secure or not right now, often has to do with your experiences as a small child. My father disappeared from my life when I was very young. My own mother was uprooted from her home country, Spain, when she was 3 years old as her family decided to emigrate to Germany. The themes of my mum’s lineage are the search for feeling at home, being safe. I never felt truly at home, like I belonged in one place and at the same time I could make myself at home anywhere.
Maybe you don’t remember any drastic changes in your early years. You can still experience insecurity and instability at this moment. If you would like to be more courageous in your work life, it is important that you work on being more grounded. Like a tree, the deeper your roots, the more stable and adaptive you are to changes and strong enough to grow big branches, leaves and fruits. The deeper you are anchored in yourself, the more you will trust yourself and jump on the opportunities of your work life.
Empathic women with deep roots live their authentic, true selves
Here, I will share some tips from my coaching practise with you on how to work on your “roots” and your foundation. These are aimed at making you feel more secure even when you face challenging circumstances, decisions or changes. This can enable you to anchor yourself, become friends with your fears and help you to take action instead of staying paralyzed:
Recognize when your internal threat detector kicks in and where it comes
To what extent do the following feelings affect you: insecurity, fear of the future, lack of belonging? Take a pause and allow those feelings. What does it look like? Does it have a colour, taste, smell? Where can you locate that feeling in your body? When you try to ignore your feelings they become bigger. When you acknowledge them, they lose the power of you.
Think about where your fears come from to find strategies to address it. For example, if you fear a financial disaster if you start your own business, that could come from the relationship your parents had with money. Maybe money was the cause of conflict and pain in your family. Instead of dwelling in worst case scenarios, educate yourself and make a plan. What are the skills you need to learn (to start that career/business/role) and which concrete steps will you take to master them?
Learn to trust yourself, explore your resilience
Remember and write down a time where you had to overcome a fear. Think about some radical thing you did in the past. And now look back at it—how terrifying is it now? I remember the first time I travelled on my own to Canada when I was 14 years old. And how many times after I travelled on my own, lived abroad and tada :) - what a surprise! I survived it to an extent now that it feels much easier to me.
Think about your radical, courageous decisions and steps. How did you cope back then? What competencies were required that you possess? What strategy did you use? Who helped you?
Now, you can zoom out of your current situation and connect with what really matters to you. What are the values, dreams, gifts, and passions you are committed to fulfilling in your (work) life? Those values will help you to start and keep going. Read this article: How exploring your personal values as an empath leads to a more fulfilling work life for more insights and tips.
More practical steps on how to anchor yourself for less fear and more trust in your work life
Reflect on times in your life where you felt completely anchored in yourself. How did it feel and how can you continue to cultivate this state? For some people it is spending time outside, playing with your kids, moving your body, breathing exercises (to calm your internal threat detector make sure you exhale twice as long as you inhale), meditation, daydreaming, journaling, getting quality sleep, etc.
This may sound too simple, but if you want to anchor yourself go outside, spend more time in nature. When you're outside on grass, at the beach or even at home take your shoes off and actually feel the earth beneath your feet. The goal is to focus on the physical sensation which will help you to come to the present moment. A simple grounding exercise involves the visualisation of yourself as a tree. First, close your eyes. Next, visualise roots growing out from your feet. “Extend” these roots through the ground and go all the way down. Anchor them at the center of the earth. Stop trying to stabilize yourself through eating heavy foods, watching TV, or drinking wine. This is just a short time comfort that actually does not not ground you sustainable.
Our brain has an internal threat detector, so our system keeps us safe by making us feel afraid. In order to become more authentic and courageous in our work life we need to address our fears and reflect on where they come from. Through grounding exercises we also can reduce fear, increase trust in ourselves es and tap into our potential.
Let me know what helps you to stay grounded in those uncertain times.
I have clients who are great empaths and who changed careers or started their own businesses. They took a radical decision through working on their fears and what's holding them back from taking courageous action during our coaching journey.
If you are interested in working with me, please book a complementary call to get to know more about the programs I offer.