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5 Internal Narratives That Keep You From a Fulfilling Career

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Do you have a brilliant business idea and want to strike out on your own, but feel you simply can’t—there’s too much holding you back?

Every day, we hear stories about people who are trapped and miserable in cubicles and corporate life. More often than not, we aren’t held back by circumstance or by indecision or even by our financial situation. We’re held back by that annoying voice in our head that’s absolutely sure we can’t do it.

Here’s what that voice tries to tell us—and how to tell it to quiet down:

“You don’t want to end up living in a van by the river.”

One of Chris Farley’s unforgettable Saturday Night Live characters was Matt Foley, the divorced 35-year-old motivational speaker who lived in a van down by the river.

What made this character so funny was how accurately he captured our preoccupation with social status, family and money, and how terrified we are when we perceive threats to these things. These are lizard fears, visceral fears about self-preservation that we inherited from our reptile ancestors.

Lizard fears aren’t all bad—some help alert us to danger and protect us from unnecessary risks—but if you let them dictate all of your choices, they’ll paralyze you. When you feel that swell of panic telling you that leaving your cubicle behind will end in financial ruin or starvation, take time to consider that fear critically. Chances are you’ll be able to drown out the lizard with logic and reason.

“Everyone will think I’m crazy.”

Even if you’re excited about your business idea, it’s easy to get bogged down in fears about what “everyone” will think about your decision to strike out on your own as an entrepreneur. We don’t want to be seen as ungrateful or foolish for leaving “stable” corporate work in an uncertain economy.

It’s good to respect the opinions of your family, friends and mentors, but you may encounter advice that’s overly discouraging. When this happens to me, I return to this mantra: I am the only one who lives in my skin. I trust my instincts.

“I can’t start over.”

If you’ve been in the corporate world for a while, you’ve probably developed valuable skills and some respect from peers. Leaving this behind for a new venture puts you back at the beginner’s stage—but that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

Instead of seeing this career change as a step backward, try thinking of it as step forward into the mindset that comes with a new beginning. It sounds easier said than done, but cultivating a beginner’s mind will increase the depth and pace of your learning and make the process more fun and exciting. Starting over gives you the opportunity to move forward without preconceived expectations or residual cynicism. It’s refreshing.

“It’s no better out there.”

It’s hard not to feel like corporate life might be as good as it gets. The idea of financial security and job stability is undeniably appealing (even if those are more of an idea than a reality in our current economy).

Working as an independent entrepreneur likely will be better. You’ll find freedom and relief in doing work you care deeply about on your own terms. But the best way to find out if you’re really cut out for self-employment is to spend some time doing it. If you’re unhappy, you don’t have to continue pursuing it. It’s not an all or nothing decision, and you can always go back if you want to.

“Don’t bother trying; you will fail.”

Fear of failure is nature’s way of telling us that there’s some risk involved in a situation. It’s an inevitable part of moving into a career as an entrepreneur, but trying to work against fear of failure can be exhausting.

It’s a better use of your time to find ways to work with the fear instead. When you feel panicked about the prospect of failure, ask yourself if there’s truth in the fear. A fear of failure might be legitimate if you’ve failed to plan for your transition into entrepreneurship, but you can address that fear with preparation. Research, connect with mentors and develop concrete strategies (and concrete backup strategies!).

If you’ve done everything you reasonably can to address a fear, move forward. Mitigate your risk by taking it slow and watching your results carefully. You’ll make mistakes, and that’s okay; think of them as opportunities to grow.

Pam Slim is an award-winning author, speaker and leader in the new world of work. To learn more about how to live a fulfilled life of self-employment, check out Pam’s creativeLIVE workshop, Escape From Cubicle Nation.

Brazen powers real-time, online events for leading organizations around the world. Our lifestyle and career blog, Brazen Life, offers fun and edgy ideas for ambitious professionals navigating the changing world of work.