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How To Overcome The Fear Of Leaving Your Corporate Job For Entrepreneurship (Part 1)

Written by: Kathy Grassett, Executive Contributor

Executive Contributors at Brainz Magazine are handpicked and invited to contribute because of their knowledge and valuable insight within their area of expertise.


Are you tired of waking up with that feeling of dread in the pit of your stomach because you know what awaits you when you walk out your door each workday? Have your priorities in life changed, and the things you used to love about your career are now wearing you down, even affecting your health? Do you feel overworked but underappreciated, undervalued, and like you no longer belong in your chosen profession? Are you fed up with continuously updating your resume and applying for job postings even though you have this sinking feeling that another job doing the same thing just isn’t what you really want? Do you feel like you’re meant for something more and on your own terms? Then why can’t you leave your soul-sucking corporate job?

Woman office worker is taking a deep breath with eyes close before leaving the office.

You rationalize that you would be crazy to leave your safe, stable, well-paying job. You continue to find all the reasons why you shouldn’t leave your draining career and start your own business. You really start to believe that it’s not a good idea, that you can’t do it, or that it’s not worth it. And then you feel even worse because, in addition to feeling miserable, you feel hopeless too. It’s frustrating. You’re trying your hardest to pull yourself out of this unfavorable situation and start building a business you love, but it’s just not working.

On the surface, the solution seems so simple. Leave. Get out of that situation. Just go do something else. Start that business. But you and I know it’s not that simple. You may feel frustrated because you don’t know what else to do. You may feel so stressed and overwhelmed that you can’t think clearly enough to figure out how to change. Maybe you’re full of doubt because you think it’s too late, too hard, or you lack skills. You may think you have no time or energy to pull off such a daunting feat. Or perhaps you’re worried about giving up security or that you can’t make it on anything less than you’re making now.

But these things aren’t the real problem. Time isn’t the real problem. Nor is energy, money, age, skill level, or not knowing what to do or how to do it. The root cause of all these thoughts and perceptions – and the real reason you’re stuck in your career – is fear.

And fear shows up in your life in a variety of ways, such as procrastinating and telling yourself you’ll take the first step next week or next month, or even next year; over-analyzing every factor to the point you just can’t make a decision; perfectionism and believing that all the stars need to be aligned before you can do anything; second-guessing yourself and being overly critical of your every move; denying that there’s even a problem in the first place when you surely know there is and even feeling guilty that this problem consumes so much of your life and takes away from others’ needs that you put it on the back burner to deal with later.

It is possible to leave your corporate career, build a profitable business around your expertise, and completely reinvent your career without overwhelming, crippling self-doubt and taking gigantic risks. And you must know that it’s possible for you too. To understand how it’s first helpful to understand and appreciate the concept of fear.

Why is fear such a problem? Our earliest understanding of fear is that it is an innate human survival mechanism. It is the instinctual feeling we have upon encountering a threat that causes us to flee a situation to avoid harm and even death. Think of a caveman whose instinct is to run from the saber-tooth tiger he sees while hunting, or else he becomes that tiger’s next meal. I think we all understand and appreciate this concept of fear.

Modern research suggests that fear is a learned emotion. When we are exposed to an experience that causes some degree of physical or emotional pain, we are conditioned to be fearful of that experience. If you experience a nasty divorce, you’re probably going to be leery of getting married again. This makes sense, too, right?

But in the case of extreme career unhappiness, we’re not faced with an actual threat of harm or death. And, in most cases, we haven’t gone through with a career change to start a business yet to learn what physical or emotional pain we might encounter and, therefore, want to avoid – in fact, that’s our problem, that we can’t seem to leave.

So, what’s the deal? Well, there’s more.

Our brains can construct and reproduce fear based purely on the observation of others enduring a painful situation, whether your friends, coworkers, or even characters in TV shows or movies, and fill in any holes with our imagination. These fears are illusions created by our ego to avoid change. And they can seem as real as any real-life threat to your well-being.

This is what our ego was designed to do. We are programmed, literally hard-wired, to resist change. Because change represents something that could be uncomfortable, maybe even painful, and it wants to spare us from the discomfort and pain. Now, this comes in handy if what you’re considering will influence your survival on this planet. But our brains can’t distinguish between changes that affect our very existence and those we set out to make to improve our lives.

So, if what you’re considering is anything different than what you’re doing now, your brain will stop at nothing to keep you from pursuing it and moving out of that comfort zone. And your brain fabricates all sorts of reasons why the change you’re considering isn’t possible. These irrational fears that you create in your mind override certain brain functions to paralyze you mentally, emotionally, physically, and spiritually. They keep you stuck. Over time, a vicious cycle of negativity erupts from these useless fears that are difficult to escape from and move forward. These useless fears are the ones holding you back.

So, am I saying we can all just make up fears with no real basis? Essentially, yes. And I’m going to bet that you’ve made up a few of your own. The good news is that it’s very common and completely normal.

Well, what are you afraid of? In my work and even just general conversations with hundreds of women, nearly every reason they are stuck can be grouped into one or more of three broad fears.

Fear of the Unknown

Humans find comfort and security in what’s familiar, even if what’s familiar is miserable or harmful to their well-being. This is the reason many women stay in abusive relationships and why so many people stay put in soul-sucking jobs. At least they know what to expect. They know what tomorrow brings. They know the routine. They just know.

Conversely, we panic in unfamiliar territory with little to no information. It’s uncomfortable not knowing what’s going to happen and falling out of a routine. We worry that the alternatives could be worse, so we become paralyzed with this fear and never take a step forward.

So, if you can’t figure out what you want to do next, or if you don’t know what to do or how you would pull off such a big change, or if you think the economy or other environmental consideration is just not where it should be to make a jump, or if you automatically rule out a career change because you’d lose the benefits associated with your job or assume that a salary reduction is not possible, you’re likely afraid of the unknown.

Well, the strategy to overcome the fear of the unknown is to obtain clarity. The unknown represents the absence of information. So, to resolve the absence of information, we must seek, study, discover, reflect, research, and reveal the information we need to make the unknown known. And when we know what we’re dealing with, good or bad, we can take action. Clarity gives you purpose, motivation, and direction.

Fear of Failure

Fear of failure is caused by low self-esteem. Let that one sink in. If you have an experience in which you perceive your effort to be unsuccessful or sub-par, your self-esteem takes a hit. And with a decreased value placed on yourself and your abilities, you’re hesitant about and less likely to attempt that experience, or ones like it, again.

Now, if you’re thinking to yourself, “I’ve not attempted to leave corporate and start a business, so this doesn’t really apply.” Well, the other side of this coin is the fear of success. This fear applies when you view the effort to achieve success again after ‘starting over’ as too difficult and you worry that trying to match the success you once had will be overwhelming, time-consuming, and painful. Either way, if you have a high-paying, corporate career with tons of benefits, ‘starting over’ in your own business may feel like you fell a few rungs on the career ladder at first with fewer perks and less success than you once enjoyed. Your self-esteem could take a hit even if the change was by choice.

So, if you’re doubting yourself and your abilities, or you say you don’t have enough support, or you think you’re too old or that you don’t have the right skill set, or that it’s pointless to try to acquire new skills, or you worry what other people are going to think of you, you’re probably afraid of failure.

The strategy to overcome failure fears is to build confidence. If the fear of failure is attributed to low self-esteem, then it stands to reason that raising self-esteem is in order. Having confidence during a big change is essential to keeping the momentum going despite obstacles and setbacks. You need to believe that you are capable, that you are safe, and that you are worthy. And this not only applies to your belief in yourself but also to taking care of yourself physically, mentally, and spiritually. Because when you feel your best personally, you perform your best professionally. Confidence empowers you and you become unstoppable.

Fear of Loss of Self-Dominance

This third fear is lesser known, but the fear of loss of self-dominance is when you feel you’ve lost all control over significant events and your life’s circumstances. It’s when external factors take over your life and you don’t feel you can influence its direction. This is more common with people with an addiction or who’ve been diagnosed with cancer. But there is relevance here.

In your current situation, however undesirable, you have some control over what happens. At the very least, you know what to expect, so you have control over the way you manage your routine and how you deal with the unpleasantness.

Pursuing major change is a lot of work. It can become a whirlwind of activity on top of everything else that keeps you busy, and it can feel a bit unruly and unmanageable...or hard to control. Your sense of normal can be uprooted and it can be difficult to know how to adapt. Additionally, when venturing into the unknown, you don’t know what to expect. You can’t control what you can’t see. How in the world will you tackle everything that needs to be done to get you where you want to go and respond to any surprises?

So, if you worry about not having enough time or energy to make a career change, or say there’s just too much going on, too much on your plate to commit to this, or if you get overwhelmed thinking about how much work is involved, feel lost, or think there’s no way you can afford this adventure, you’re afraid of the loss of self-dominance.

Well, it should come as no surprise that if the fear of loss of self-dominance is about feeling like you’ve lost control over your career, then the strategy to overcome it is to implement control strategies that let you grab the bull by the horns and power through your journey on your terms. The feeling of a loss of control is alleviated by establishing that control, monitoring your progress, and course-correcting as you go. Control allows you to proactively take responsibility for your journey, influence its direction, and do what needs to be done rather than let life direct you.

If you can see yourself in any of the descriptions above, know that you’re not alone. And the first thing you must do is acknowledge the specific fears holding you back from leaving corporate and building your business. They’re different for everyone. Find out where they’re coming from. Understand what triggers them. Appreciate them for their intention to keep you safe and protect you from harm. And even celebrate them because if you’re feeling fear and the resistance it brings, it means you’re on the verge of breaking out of your comfort zone and doing the new and exciting things that are needed to achieve your goals. That is, after all, why they surface. Everything you desire is outside of your comfort zone.

Next, question those fears. Poke holes in them. Truly see that they aren’t based on factual evidence and are, instead, completely illogical and useless because it makes it a lot harder to succumb to the resistance that fear brings when you understand its baseless foundation. CEOs don’t lead based on fear.

In part two of this article, I will discuss strategies for obtaining clarity to overcome the fear of the unknown, building confidence to overcome the fear of failure, and establishing control to overcome the fear of loss of self-dominance so you can finally take steps to leave your soul-sucking corporate job and start the business of your dreams.

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Kathy Grassett, Executive Contributor Brainz Magazine

Kathy Grassett is a business coach, speaker, and leader specializing in career reinvention, business growth, and money mastery after a life in corporate. After a successful 20-year corporate career in IT, she had trouble adjusting to life as an entrepreneur and realized her lingering corporate identity was limiting her potential. Kathy now teaches clients her strategies for shedding the corporate layers that are holding them back and creating a simple but lucrative business model that will power them into exciting new levels of impact & income. Kathy’s mission is to help her clients surpass their corporate success by making a lot more money with a lot less effort in a way that is powerfully authentic to them.



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