Beat Your Fear of Career Advancement


We are raised to push forward, aiming to reach the “top” of our chosen career path and ranks. However, for some, that goal and motivation transforms into something else: fear.

Fear of advancing in a career may confuse non-sufferers, but for many, the fear is all too real. It isn’t necessarily a fear of receiving a promotion or of becoming an executive itself – more so, it’s a fear of the side effects of this success.

For example, a lawyer may want to be successful in their practice, but fear whether they are on the right side of the fight. They may be afraid of selling out or of losing their attachment to their original cause. A doctor may want to make it through their residency, but is also afraid of the advancement in their career as getting that advancement means a new level of accountability and responsibility.

This fear carries through every career out there and is not limited by gender, age, or any other demographic; everyone is equally susceptible.

Exploring the Fear of Career Advancement

Like other “soft” fears, the fear of career advancement is often rooted in other fears or apprehensions. Some of these underlying fears might include (but are not limited to):

  • Fear of failure
  • Fear of letting someone down whose approval means a lot to you
  • Fear of taking a risk
  • Fear of not being able to meet expectations in a new role
  • Fear of not being able to handle the pressure
  • Fear of increased responsibility or accountability
  • Fear of leading others or of securing approval from team members or peers
  • Fear of getting “stuck” in a role or career path

Unlike many phobias, the fear of career advancement is typically not accompanied by physical symptoms, such as sweating, nausea, dizziness, etc. Instead, symptoms include more concrete actions. For example:

  •  Self-sabotage – people do not often do this intentionally, necessarily, but those around them can often see that they self sabotage their own success and advancement time and again
  • Lack of interest in the review process
  • Does not step up to new opportunities within the team
  • Does not express an interest in advancement or initiate discussions about career potential and next steps
  • Clings to baseline tasks and more junior-level roles willingly

Overcoming the Fear of Career Advancement

Because the fear of career advancement can manifest as a side effect of so many other fears, not everyone’s fear will show the same way. That said, while treatment and efforts to overcome the fear will likely share commonalities, not everyone’s treatment will be the same. Most sufferers will find it beneficial to engage in verbal therapy which may include behavioral therapy to address behavioral issues and concerns. Therapy will most likely include a verbal exploration of the sufferer’s feelings and self expectations to determine the causes of their fear an any underlying sub-fears. By discovering the roots of their fear of career advancement, the therapist or coach is better able to develop a specialized path forward to address the individual feelings and emotions that contribute to their overall fear.

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