“I can’t swim in eight feet of water,” he said.
My son’s green eyes looked up at me and through his brimming tears, I saw fear. It didn’t matter that he’d been swimming in six feet of water (well over his five-year-old head) all summer.
In his mind, he couldn’t swim in eight feet. It just wasn’t where he belonged.
I recently heard the same thing from a client who was struggling to overcome her procrastination at the office.
“What keeps you from diving in on certain projects?” I asked.
“I think it’s that they are things I haven’t done before. I just feel like I don’t belong in that world. That I can’t quite keep up.”
Just like my young son, my client felt out of her depth. Just like him, she was being asked to swim in waters where she wasn’t entirely comfortable. The fact that she was bright and successful didn’t matter. The fact that the project was only slightly outside her comfort zone didn’t matter. In that small gap in her experience, she felt the same fears that two extra feet of water can bring to a young swimmer in a pool.
I might not be up for it.
It seems scary and new.
It might be too much for me.
I might drown.
We’ve probably all had those moments in our lives when we feel like we’re out of depth. It could be because we’ve gotten a new promotion that comes with increased responsibilities, or a special project that pushes us out of our comfort zone. Maybe it’s swimming into the unchartered waters of networking.
But, whatever the particular cause, the truth is that few of us will escape the uncomfortable feeling of being asked to do something we don’t feel we are up to doing. So, how can we cope?
Face the Fear Honestly.
Too often, when we find ourselves feeling a little out of our league, we don’t admit that’s what’s happening. We tell ourselves all kinds of other stories to avoid admitting that we are just plain scared.
But, fear is a natural part of the human experience, and doing something you haven’t done before or something that stretches you a little is a normal time to feel afraid. That being said, you don’t have to give in to your fear.
Instead, do your best to put it into words. Are you afraid you will fail? Are you afraid people will mock you? Are you afraid that making a mistake doing something new will hurt your pristine track record? Whatever your fear may be, name it specifically.
Remember When You Felt This Way Before.
Regardless where you are in your career, you’ve probably faced down a fear or two in the past. You’ve pushed past your previous comfort zone. You’ve mastered a skill that you thought would best you.
Yet, somehow when we’re afraid, we forget those other times we’ve tackled fear. But, remembering that we’ve dealt with fear and a feeling of inadequacy in the past can help us see that we’ve survived. We’ve been scared, we’ve felt shaky, and we’ve made it through. And we can do it again.
Recall Your Past Success.
Don’t stop with just recalling your fear, however. Instead, spend some time focusing on your wins.
Remember how you overcame adversity and achieved the goal you were seeking. Think about how it felt to work hard and surpass your own expectations. Remind yourself that the person who tackled those challenges and prevailed is the same person who faces a challenge today.
You have won in the past, and you can win again.
Nothing conquers fear like action.
For many of us, however, fear is paralyzing. When faced with a challenge we don’t feel capable of overcoming, we wait. We plan. We worry. But we don’t do. In the absence of action, however, our fear looms larger and larger.
Taking just one small action can start your momentum moving in the right direction. Doing something will remind you that you are not powerless.
Focus on Growth, Not Mastery.
Once you start taking action, remind yourself that you don’t have to master the skill the first time. Focus instead on getting better. Improvement and growth are the goal – not perfection.
This shift will keep you from falling victim to perfectionism. You’ll be able to expand what you know and are able to do without unnecessarily worrying about mistakes, and you’ll stay open to new skills and solutions.
Feeling out of your depth from time to time is part of being human, but it doesn’t have to stall your success. The next time you feel like you aren’t up to the challenge you’re facing, use these strategies. You’ll find yourself able to confidently address whatever comes your way.