This week, I connected with a high-level professional woman (let’s call her Karen) seeking coaching help to grow her career. She shared that she was ready to leave her current corporate role today, as the senior leader was terribly toxic – a true narcissist who beat her down (in verbally and emotionally erratic and abusive ways). He also did this to every other talented and successful individual in the organization because he was threatened by their brilliance, accomplishments and by their independent thinking. She was done with putting up with this abuse.
Karen also told me that there were two exciting opportunities in front of her that she was deciding on. Both had come to her through a series of serendipitous events (I don’t believe these are “accidents” by the way – I believe that fabulous opportunities present themselves for a good reason.) One was an opportunity for a role at her current level in another firm that would tap into and easily draw on the in-depth industry knowledge and skills she had amassed. All looked good except that there was one individual in the prospective company with whom she interviewed who was terrible – demeaning, belittling and dismissive. While Karen wouldn’t be working for this individual, she would need her as an ally, and it was clear that would not happen.
The second opportunity was an exciting stretch opportunity where she’d be working in the same field in which she’d become a true expert, but at a much higher level, running an organization and serving as its top leader. She’d be able to shape the direction, workforce, strategy and vision of this emerging organization. She admired all the people she’d be working with, and they shared an aligned view of how best to run, and grow, an organization.
In peeling the onion and looking at the pros and cons of each move, one thing became crystal clear. The only reason Karen hesitated to go for the amazing second opportunity was this: She said, “I don’t know if I can do it – lead a company.”
In my work helping professional women build exciting, rewarding careers they love, I’ve heard this one fear expressed literally more times than I can count.
It comes out in many different forms and ways, but here’s what it often sounds like:
“I’m not sure I have the skills or leadership experience to do this.”
“I don’t think I’m quite ready.”
“This big of a stretch will really stress me, I think.”
“I don’t know if I can really succeed at this.”
“I’ll need a lot of help with this and where would I get that help?”
“I have some of the required skills, but not all of them.”
Behind these fears is a nagging sense that they’re not worthy of this big opportunity, and that they’ll let other people down. I’ve seen in my work that women are often afraid to leap into a big new role where they don’t feel they have 100% of the qualifications.
The problem with that thinking is that it keeps you from pushing past your comfort zone, but if we don’t, we fail to do what’s necessary to live full out and fulfill our dreams. When you work as I do with so many professionals, recurring and self-limiting trends and patterns become clear. The pattern I’d like to eradicate is where fear yanks you back from stretching higher, and where you let your ego (which for most of us is a frail and fragile thing) stop you from jumping at an amazing opportunity that will allow you to reach a higher level of reward and impact. Yes it’s risky, without guarantees, but so is most of what helps us achieve our biggest and most compelling visions for our lives.
If you’re facing a number of opportunities in front of you and can’t decide, ask yourself these questions:
1. Who are the people I’ll be working with most closely – do I respect, admire and enjoy them, and will they teach me great things I’m excited to learn?
2. What are the core values, traits and behaviors of the senior leadership – will it be easy for me to support them?
3. What is the potential growth opportunity for me – will I learn new skills, make exciting new connections, learn to lead, manage and grow a business or endeavor in a powerful and rewarding way?
4. Will this new organization and its leadership respect me and my values – are we aligned?
5. Do I care about the outcomes this organization is working toward in the world?
6. Will I have the flexibility in this role to focus on and support the other top priorities in my life?
7. Three years down the line, will this opportunity most likely give me the chance to become the professional and the leader I long to be?
Open your eyes to why you’re hesitant to move forward. If it’s fear, uncover it, and embrace the exciting new opportunity that stretches you farther. If your hesitation is anything about “I’m not sure I can do this” I hope you’ll think again. No one is truly “ready” for the exponential growth opportunities that come their way and fall in their laps. Forget “ready.”
Go for this instead: “I’m highly skilled, capable, resourceful, and accomplished. I’m excited to stretch bigger. I’m committed to building my capabilities and making the positive impact I long to. And I’m excited to do what it takes to grow and succeed at the next level.”
Go for it – take the stretch opportunity.
Kathy Caprino, M.A. is a nationally-recognized career success coach, writer, trainer and speaker dedicated to the advancement of women in business. She is the author of Breakdown, Breakthrough:The Professional Woman’s Guide to Claiming a Life of Passion, Power and Purpose, and Founder/President of Ellia Communications, Inc. and the Amazing Career Project, focused on helping professional women build successful, rewarding careers of significance. A Forbes, Huffington Post and LinkedIn contributor and top media source on women’s career and workplace issues, she has appeared in over 100 leading newspapers and magazines and on national radio and television. For more information, visit www.kathycaprino.com and connect with Kathy on: Twitter, FB, LinkedIn.
This article originally appeared in Forbes.