Fear: A Common Theme in Private Practice

By Beth Wingert

As a career coach, I work with a wide range of clients to support their career development. Each shares his or her own unique life experiences, passions, and challenges. Still, there is a common theme from these coaching sessions: fear.

Paralyzed by Fear

One of the most striking examples of fear stunting career growth was a client I worked with that we’ll call Dee*. Dee was a woman in her mid-50s who had been working as a teacher at an elementary school for over a decade. The school was in an affluent district that was blessed with many parent volunteers willing to help out with even the most challenging of plans. It was a highly coveted position in a newly built campus with supportive leadership. However, Dee was not happy in her role; in fact, she had been unhappy throughout her career.

Dee said she preferred to spend her time making flyers, creating worksheets, and designing websites. When I asked Dee what she didn’t enjoy about her job, she had a long list of grievances. One surprising complaint was the fact that she didn’t particularly enjoy working with children. When I pressed her as to why she would want to work at an elementary school if she didn’t enjoy working with children, her reply was that she was afraid she would never find another job that was as “safe” and paid the bills.

Like Dee, many clients are afraid to step out into the unknown to find a fulfilling career that aligns more closely with their personality traits and values. There are many different types of fear that clients may be facing, such as fear of failure, fear of pain, fear of the unknown, and fear of looking foolish or making a mistake. Fear can be one of the most limiting factors in one’s career journey.

According to a recent report by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), an impressive 88 percent of employees in the United States reported satisfaction with their current job. However, a closer look reveals that 51 percent of employees were “somewhat satisfied” and 37 percent of employees were “very satisfied.” Interestingly, 45 percent of employees said they were likely or very likely to look for other jobs outside of their current organization within the next year. These employees have indicated a willingness to embark on a job search to reach a higher level of job satisfaction. But what about employees who are unhappy in their work, yet unwilling to search for another opportunity? According to SHRM, they stay in their present job despite the fact that making a career change could lead to greater job satisfaction, productivity, and happiness.

Overcoming Fear and Moving Ahead

Clients like Dee – who are paralyzed by fear – are stuck in a place of unhappiness, hopelessness, and frustration. The longer they remain in this static position, the more difficult it can be for a career coach to help them break through this immobile state and make a healthy change in their career.

I’ve met with many clients who are succumbing to fears and letting their anxiety override any action that could help improve their situation and result in a more fulfilling life. To overcome these fears, I find it is effective to first talk with them to identify their specific fear (or fears), and look at the specific obstacle(s) from different angles or points of view. As a client digs deeper into the thoughts or assumptions that are creating their anxiety, we can begin to make action plans to minimize the negative outcomes, which reduces the fear and puts the client back in the driver’s seat.

Here are some questions that I have found helpful to pose to my clients:

  • What are you afraid will happen if you make this change?
  • What should you be afraid of if you don’t make this change?
  • What is the worst thing that could happen if you make this change?
  • What can you do to reduce the likelihood that any of these negative things will occur?
  • What could your life look like on the other side of this decision, if everything were to work out the way that you wish it would?

Once identified, broken down, and managed, many clients begin to see that the fear that was once such a large barrier holding them back is not as big as they imagined it to be. To grow and learn in life, we often need to face our fears and occasionally walk through those trials that may be uncomfortable or unpleasant, but necessary if we want to arrive at a better destination.

A big part of helping Dee was improving her beliefs about herself and her own abilities. According to the Social Cognitive Career Theory (Lent, Brown, & Hackett, 1994), it is essential to consider the self-efficacy beliefs of the client because these beliefs directly contribute to performance. Also, beliefs about one’s ability determine how willing an individual may be to learn new skills, try new things, and engage in the world. By helping our clients identify times in their past where they were successful, we can improve their beliefs in their own abilities and increase their self-confidence, which may result in progress toward achieving career goals.

The Other Side of Fear

Thankfully, Dee successfully moved beyond her fears by earning a degree in Graphic Design and making a career transition. She is now happily employed at an organization that allows her to share her creative talents while doing the type of work she most enjoys.

The bottom line? Remind clients that they have the power to make a better future by initiating changes today. It is our job to lift their spirits by listing their many strengths, encouraging them to be brave, and challenging them to look beyond their fears to a hope-filled future.



Employee Job Satisfaction and Engagement: Revitalizing a Changing Workforce. (2017, September 12). Retrieved from https://www.shrm.org/hr-today/trends-and-forecasting/research-and-surveys/pages/job-satisfaction-and-engagement-report-revitalizing-changing-workforce.aspx

Lent, R. W., Brown, S. D., & Hackett, G. (1994). Toward a unifying social cognitive theory of career and academic interest, choice, and performance. Journal of Vocational Behavior, 45 (1), 79-122.


*This client’s name has been changed for anonymity.


Beth WingertBeth Wingert, GCDF-I, is a career coach and professional development instructor for Kuder, Inc. She is a certified Global Career Development Facilitator-Instructor (GCDF-I), and a member of the National Career Development Association. Beth holds a bachelor’s degree from Iowa State University and a master’s degree from the University of Texas. She can be reached at wingertb@kuder.com or https://www.linkedin.com/in/elizabeth-wingert-5321aa8b


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Jane Grogan   on Wednesday 11/01/2017 at 06:36 PM

Thank you so much for bringing this topic to light. This is the main barrier for most people Who are changing careers. The thoughts and beliefs they have about themselves and their ability to make such a change is a critical part of the process.

Belinda Wilkerson   on Thursday 11/02/2017 at 06:53 AM

Thank you for this timely article. I'm working with a client now who sounds like "Dee".

Vanessa Ryals-Cook   on Friday 11/03/2017 at 08:39 AM

This is a wonderfully written article and will be very useful for myself as well as my clients. Thanks.

Elizabeth Wingert   on Tuesday 04/17/2018 at 11:49 AM

Thank you for your kind comments! I am glad that you enjoyed the article and that it may have helped you when working with your clients.

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in the comments shown above are those of the individual comment authors and do not reflect the views or opinions of this organization.