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7 Common Career Fears and How to Move Forward

7 Common Career Fears and How to Move Forward

If you want to advance in your career, you need to exude confidence, not fear, anxiety, or worry. Invest some time to identify the fears you might have for your career, and address them. Do you find yourself thinking any of these seven fearful thoughts?

1) This is as good as it’ll get.

You fear that you will never advance, you’re topped out at your job, with nowhere else to go. Your boss isn’t going anywhere so you won’t move up, and there aren’t other departments to transfer to. You’re not afraid of losing your job, but you’re afraid that it will be more of the same forever.

First of all, make sure that there isn’t a way to add more variety to your role even without a promotion or transfer. For example, you can work on a cross-functional team. Or, you can switch clients or assignments within your own group.

Secondly, professional development and fulfillment doesn’t only happen on the job. One of my clients started teaching and writing about his expertise and expanded his career that way, rather than moving upward within the company.

[Related: Are You a Multiplier or a Diminisher?]

2) I’m settling.

There might be something better out there, and the fact that you’re not going after it scares you. Does it reflect negatively on your courage, confidence, or ambition?

Confirm whether it really is that you want something more or just that you think you should want something more. Is there a prodding friend or family member who reminds you to be further up the ladder or make more money?

Decide for yourself if you want to raise your hand for a promotion, raise, or challenging assignment. If it’s meaningful to you, then by all means, budget time and effort to do something about it. Otherwise, drop it – there are worse problems to have than being content on the job.

3) I’m never getting promoted.

You feel like you’ve done everything you can to move ahead but are getting nowhere. Are you in the wrong company? Are you doing the wrong things? Is it you personally?

Getting a promotion is more than just doing a great job. Make sure you understand exactly how the decisions are made – who makes them (it’s not just your boss), when they’re made, what the criteria are. Take an honest look at what you contribute – skills, expertise, results, intangibles (e.g., fit, presence). This is one fear where direct, concerted action is the best cure.

4) I’m underpaid.

You fear you’re making less than your peers, and you don’t see any relief.

Similar to getting a promotion, you want to understand the compensation process – decision-makers, timing, criteria. Check market data at,, or other salary sites. Audit your own performance and value to ensure that you merit a raise. Create your arguments and practice your negotiation skills.

[Related: Interview Preparation: Micro and Macro Stories]

5) I’m stuck here.

You want to leave but are unsure how to get your next job. You have tried to leave but aren’t successful in landing anything else.

First of all, check your job search technique. You might think you’ve conducted an exhaustive search, but you might not have put out enough inquiries or applied in the right way.

Secondly, job search is about timing. There might have been companies who would have been interested in you but weren’t hiring. Business conditions change, so your results from months ago don’t necessarily predict the success of a job search you launch today.

6) It’s too late.

You may feel confident about finding another similar job, but advancing your career is what you want. Now you’re afraid that the leap is too big and you’ve waited too long to switch.

Let’s be honest: There are certain careers with very specific timetables (e.g., prima ballerina). But specific expiration dates are actually rare, so it’s probably not too late in the literal sense. You will have to overcome the years you spent at the same level or in a title that doesn’t accurately reflect what you do. But with good research, a rebranding of your marketing, and enough preparation, you can make late-stage career advances.

7) I’m in over my head.

You actually did not settle or get stuck, and you got the promotion, the raise, or the title you were seeking. Now you actually have to deliver, and you’re afraid you might not deliver as expected. You might look foolish or fail.

Get support:

  • Your boss can give you more direction, more information, or more resources, so don’t be afraid to ask for what you need.
  • HR will know if there are training resources for skills or expertise you lack. Your mentor can give insight or at least encouragement.
  • Your friends can offer emotional support.

Finally, a big part of the fear of being in over your head is fear of the unknown, and a lot of your role is unknown because it’s new. Start working with what you do know, itemize what you still need to know, and chip away at the fear one step at a time.

[Related: Career Wanderlust or Pivot?]


Caroline Ceniza-Levine is a longtime Ellevate member. Her mission is helping experienced professionals in tech, media, financial services, and other industries find work they love, earn more doing it, and achieve FI (financial independence). Visit the Dream Career Club to learn more.

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