At a recent alumni event, Ann (not her real name), a young alumna, and I discussed her job. Ann seemed stressed and said that it might be time for a change. A new manager had come on board at her company to grow business opportunities, so she met with him to talk about her own business development activities. Ann said she was afraid—afraid of coming up short and afraid of her own discomfort at networking.
Probing further, I asked Ann whether she thought the meeting was designed to address shortcomings or provide help. In fact, she thought the new manager was trying to be helpful. I suggested that she consider this an opportunity to grow her skill set. Instead of fearing this new manager, she should seek him out for mentoring. In this way, Ann could showcase her energy around business development and impress her managers—all while further developing her talents.
It’s no surprise that fear can hold us back professionally. The trick is to recognize your fear and take appropriate action. Here are a few steps to take to address your fear:
Ask yourself a few questions. Is your fear well-grounded? Rather than using all-or-nothing thinking, can you envision small steps you can take that provide the safety net you need?
Plan. Take the time to think through the steps necessary to reach your new goal. Are there additional skills you need? In addition to work resources, many community resources exist to help you. For instance, joining a local Toastmasters group would provide excellent training for public speaking, engaging in volunteer activities with new people might help you grow your confidence in networking, etc.
Take a step outside of your comfort zone. Take small steps by reaching just outside of your comfort zone to start. Early successes will give you the confidence to progress. Hate to network? Why not start with people who you know are likely to be responsive, such as friends of friends or family?
Find a mentor (or mentors) to help guide your journey. In Ann’s case, her new manager may become a mentor, rather than someone to be feared. Mentors may help with any aspect of your professional growth and provide nurturing and supportive relationships over the length of your career.
Celebrate your successes. Reward yourself for going where you have feared to tread! And trust that your experience will make it that much easier next time.
Carolyn Bregman 82L, is the EAA's director of Alumni Career Services. A former lawyer, her past roles at Emory include assistant dean for career services and for development and alumni relations at the School of Law. She has more than 15 years of experience in alumni advising.