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Fear, The Silent Career Killer

SuperUser Account posted on April 01, 2013


I have spent much of life analyzing the behaviors and actions of others.

Even when I was young, I remember pondering the decisions of friends and family members. One example I remember is the mother of one of my childhood friends. My friend, Pat, wanted to go on a trip with my family, but his mom would often say no.

This was despite the fact that his family was poor and, I believe, his mom liked him spending time with me and my family. She would even say how much she appreciated that her son could experience different places with my family. Still, she would sometimes not give him permission to go.

Why? She never had a reason to our satisfaction as kids. She would just say "because I said so."

I now believe her insecurities would get the better of her. Did she feel her son would love her less? Did she feel he would want to leave his family for ours? Did she feel inadequate because they were poor?

I am not sure which one specifically got the better of her. It may have been a little of each.

But there is an adult lesson in all of this: Careers are often ruined out of fear and insecurity.

It's not a new concept that most decisions are more emotional than logical. And it's specifically fear that drives many decisions. Indeed, people often allow logic to fly out the window and let fear control them. (Anyone who knows me hears me say, "People make many decisions based on fear and greed." )

I spend most of my day trying to get financial advisors (my clients) to make decisions based on logic instead of emotion. I am often unsuccessful because fear is an incredibly powerful human emotion.

I recently had a client who went into great detail about how awful his firm was. He methodically listed the reasons: The technology was 15 years out of date; the product offering was weak; he had no sales assistant; operations lost his paperwork often; they switched his branches every few months; his payout was low, referrals were rare and his manager was pompous.

Sounded like someone ready to make a move. But when I secured a good offer from one of the best banks in the country, he turned it down.

He acknowledges that everything about the new bank (and offer) was better than his current situation. As a last-ditch effort to get him to make a decision based on logic, we had him speak to two of his former colleagues who had gone to the new bank months before him.

They met with him and explained how much better the new bank was. They told him in great detail how well they were doing, because of how easy it was to do business. One of them even said, "Looking back, I was a prisoner subjected to torture and now I am free."

None of this swayed him to make a logical decision. Even though he agreed that moving would be the best course of action, his mind kept thinking about the "what if" scenarios. He was thinking: "What if my clients don't move with me, or what if I get there and the referrals don't exist?"

We helped him analyze his book in great detail and determined he likely would move a large portion of his book because of his strong and lengthy client relationships. His acquaintances explained how great the referrals were. All of this logic went out the window because he allowed fear and insecurity to consume him.

Recently, I had another client who made it through his fear of the move, but when it came time to move his book over, he let fear kick in. I warned him ahead of time what to expect upon resignation. I told him he would get some rather nasty-sounding letters from the legal team at his previous employer. I went into great detail about how scary the letters would sound regarding his non-solicit. He seemed fine when I explained it, but when he received the first legal letter he freaked out. Weeks later when he received the second letter, he let fear consume him. He was so scared by the letters that he stopped trying to move his clients. His new manager and I tried to get him to resume calling his clients, but he would not.

This behavior (out of fear) made him lose clients and revenue. This was a particularly odd situation because this advisor seemed like an "alpha male." He had been successful and very confident. He had a long history of success in life, but something in those legal letters made him crawl into the fetal position-even though he had been forewarned and was prepared.

Changing firms and moving a book is a scary adventure, which I have experienced first-hand.

Before I started the Rummage Group, I changed firms and positions in the industry several times. In fact, starting my firm was one of the most stressful events of my professional life. Psychologists say some of the most stressful events in a person's life are: 1) death of a loved one; 2) moving your family; and 3) changing companies.

If you are prepared and have confidence, you can do almost anything-if you don't let fear consume you.

Having said all of that, you also should not change firms based on emotion either. Sometimes it really does make more sense to stay.

Often, instead of coaching my clients into a move, I try to convince them to stay. I have talked many of my clients out of changing firms because they were making a purely emotional decision. Hating your manager is not usually reason enough to change firms, yet thousands do every year. If there are other logical reasons, fine, but I have seen too many individuals move just to get away from a manager they didn't like. Often they end up at a company that hurts their business, but they feel justified because they now like their manager.

The most successful individuals in life are the ones who use logic instead of emotion to make decisions. I would challenge everyone to ask themselves, every time they make a decision, whether it stems from logic or emotion.

Fears cost humans dearly. Fight through your fear and the death of fear will come. As Franklin Roosevelt said, "The only thing we have to fear is fear itself — nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror, which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance."

Don't allow fear to secretly kill your career and your ability to use logic.

Rick Rummage is the founder and CEO of the Rummage Group. He can be reached at