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Promoted Out of Your Comfort Zone? Don’t Panic

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After putting in the hours, building rapport with leadership, and takin­­­­­­­g initiative on several new projects, your hard work finally pays off, and you earn a promotion. As you savor your success, proud of being recognized for your efforts, a new emotion settles in; anxiety. You wonder if you’re ready for the next step in your career. The what-ifs parade in your mind; what if you fail? What if you hate it? What if everyone thinks you’re incompetent? The excited butterflies in your stomach sink into a heavy weight of overwhelm and trepidation. The duality of triumph and self-doubt duel it out as you realize you’ll soon whisk through the succession plan, meet your new team members and peers, and set goals for the next quarter. With extra status comes extra stress. It’s normal to feel excitement and nervousness during times of transition! But you don’t need to let it hinder your career success.

Worrying doesn’t mean you’re not ready

If you’re jumping to the conclusion that you’re not prepared to take the leap into a new role, consider this; everyone feels uncertain about change, even when it’s a good thing! A rise in rank comes with extra perks like a pay bump, more influence, and a status upgrade. It also means accepting more responsibility. Now it’s up to you to tackle the difficult decisions, keep a level head during a crisis, and make judgment calls. You may feel extra apprehension if your boss or another outside influence leveraged their position to push the opportunity into your lap. Actively pursuing a promotion gives you the time to process and prepare for the moment your goal becomes a reality.

On the other hand, when it seemingly falls into your lap, the suddenness can be nerve-wracking! You’re trading a familiar role for the unknown, and in a leadership role, there’s an unspoken expectation you’ll know what to do. But just because you have cold feet doesn’t mean you should jump ship. Consider what your fear is telling you.

What is your fear telling you?

Fear is a signal that something important to you is at stake. In its most basic form, it’s intended to protect your most precious asset; your life. Think of it as a watchdog that alerts you to be careful and aware in a situation where you potentially stand to lose something vital. While a job promotion isn’t likely life-threatening, it impacts a core part of your life; your identity, income, routine, and potential future. So it’s no surprise fear makes a noisy appearance and waves the caution signal! Fear tells you that you have something worth protecting. Without it, how could you be sure you’re pursuing something worthwhile, something that matters?

When deciding whether to accept or reject the promotion, use fear as your compass

To harness fear as your compass, identify your something-worth-protecting – your vision for the future. Is your goal to be energized by and find meaning in your work? Is it the freedom and flexibility to travel or to invest more time with family, friends, or hobbies? Or perhaps it’s the financial security to purchase a new home? With your desired destination clearly defined, think about the decision before you – to accept or reject the promotion. 

Allow fear to guard what’s important to you

It’s normal to be worried about appearing incompetent or facing the unknown. But you may feel a deep push beneath the waves of surface-level concerns. Your fear is nudging you to pursue the next step and accept the offer to safeguard your dream for the future.

Or do you feel fear tugging your sleeve as if to say, “wait a minute?” Pause and consider the reason for caution. If your goal is the flexibility to spend more time with family, does a promotion laden you with a rigid schedule? If your vision is to find purpose and meaning in your career, will a promotion consume your time climbing a ladder you never cared to climb? When evaluating your goal and the trade-offs, a promotion may not align with your vision of success. 

Without a goal in place, fear is paralyzing and anxiety-inducing. But with your vision pinpointed, fear acts as vigilance and a guide to protect and pursue what’s important to you.

How to move forward (even when you don’t feel ready)

Moving forward can be intimidating even when you know you’re on the right path. Here are nine ways you can take the next step even when you don’t feel 100% ready.  

1. Talk to your mentor:

Accurately assessing your abilities probably isn’t your strong suit when you’re prone to self-doubt. What you take for granted could be a characteristic that made you stand out for promotion. Have a conversation with your boss and ask them to clarify their reasoning for offering you the role. Trust their response. You were chosen because you’re suitable for the job. Remember, your organization doesn’t have the luxury of placing an unqualified individual in that position.

2. Remember where you started:

It wasn’t long ago that you were a wide-eyed newbie who had to learn the ropes of the job you’re well-established in now. Use your experience as a reminder that you are adept and capable of learning new skills. Look at what you’ve achieved, and not just what but how. You’ve already proven that you possess the knowledge and skills to build upon your existing capabilities.

3. Don’t think big picture:

It may seem counterintuitive, but thinking about the entirety of your job will swallow you whole. While you learn the ropes, information overload will weigh you down. Keep your focus simple. Take each project and each day hour by hour. Identify your next best step and put the blinders on while you chip away. Doing the small things with care and attentiveness amounts to large projects completed well. By focusing your energy on one specific area, you prevent stretching yourself thin on multiple fronts and losing direction.

4. Reset your expectations:

Understand that you won’t immediately perform at the same level in your new job. You may feel like you made the wrong decision because you went from a place where you knew everything to one where you need to learn everything. Recognize that feeling this way doesn’t mean it’s true. Leave perfectionism at the door and trade self-doubt for curiosity. 

5. Learn about the role:

When you’re nervous about change, sitting idly and ruminating about the what-ifs and assumptions can trigger a spin cycle of worry. Instead, take action to feel prepared. Learn about the responsibilities and expectations for the new role. Ask a colleague who shared a similar position – what are the day-to-day realities? Becoming familiar with and having an idea of expectations helps you feel more ready and identify potential speedbumps you can prepare to encounter.

6. Practice humility:

With learning and progression come errors. Don’t put the pressure of pretending to know everything on yourself. Owning your mistakes improves your reputation by showing you know how to navigate rocky terrain and sets an example of accountability and responsibility. Asking questions helps you grow into your role. You may worry it undermines your authority, but the opposite is true. Research shows those who reach out when they need help are viewed as more competent because they know their limits and leverage others’ abilities rather than wasting time pretending to protect their ego. 

7. Take your thoughts to court:

Your thoughts are not the objective truth (although it can feel like it.) When self-defeating thoughts and anxieties flood your brain, avoid taking them at face value. Instead, take them to court. Use facts, examples, and evidence to prove or dismiss your thoughts. If you believe you’re incompetent for a project, provide the proof and build your case. Often, our fearful projections that cause stress are just stories we tell ourselves—separate stories from facts by taking them to court.

8. Journal:

With so many thoughts, emotions, and information swirling in your head, it can be hard to see straight! Do a brain dump by writing down everything that’s on your mind. Getting the clutter out of your head and onto paper gives you a birds-eye view where you can observe what’s going on without getting tangled up.

9. Take a break:

Jumping immediately into your new role can give you whiplash. If possible, take time off. Taking a break from work allows you to recognize and reward yourself for your hard work. Let your accomplishment sink in, and use the time to symbolically step back from your previous role and into your new one. Reorganize and recompose yourself, and you’ll be ready to approach the role energized and with new excitement.

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