Few things are worse than becoming your own obstacle. That’s why I always work hard to keep my fears in check, or else they quickly become my undoing. I’m sure you can relate. There’s always that one great big fear holding you back from progress, from achieving the greatness you know you’re capable of. In order to tackle this, I’ve tried to confront and sometimes beat up on anything that has stopped me from moving forward. However, I’ve started to realize that the most effective method in dealing with fear is not by pushing back, but by embracing it instead.
I know. It sounds crazy! Why would you willingly embrace fear? Think on this little nugget: if you can conquer yourself, who’s left to challenge you?
I’ve even found that, just out of reach of our conventional understanding, those fears can sometimes reveal hidden strengths. It’s true. Directly as a result of fear and perceived weaknesses, you can end up flourishing.
For me, one of the great big fears I’ve faced recently has been switching careers. I lost my job suddenly as a furniture project manager without having been given a concrete reason as to why. In the months that followed, I was faced with a lot of questions. Questions not only about my career, but about who I was. Who I am. Who I want to be.
Crossing the divide from a more or less creative track in architecture and interior design to helping manage projects for a fully fledged telecommunications company specializing in fiber optics is no easy task. Many things about this crossing make me a little unsteady. To begin with — it’s just a weird thing to do. I’ve spent the last 8 years learning and developing a skill set custom tailored to producing top-notch project management for corporate interiors. I’ve been spending my time cultivating contacts and completing furniture projects for the likes of Luxury Residential Towers, ‘Google’s, and ‘YouTube’s. But, I’m quickly finding that the things I initially thought of as strengths, became at best weaknesses or at worst simply irrelevant. I mean I had custom reclaimed live-edge tables down, but what’s that got to do with telecommunications and IT?
Let me get this out the way: it’s very easy to feel like an outsider in tech. Especially if you are not a developer or a math genius, or dream in “</code>”. This led to my feeling that perhaps a background in furniture and interiors wasn’t the most conducive in helping run a tech company. I’ve had many conversations about this with my family and friends, my working peers. Its extremely tough going from a discipline where you have honed years of experience to then suddenly switching to another to serve the same ambition. Many fall at this early hurdle, opting instead to stick to what they know and feel comfortable with. Advice comes in droves too. I remember a conversation in which someone flat out told me this was a bad idea and that I should just continue on the path I was on. It’s not like I had to change, as my established contacts and reputation in the industry were going well, so why do it now? The same person told me that I should just ‘wait it out’ to fix the problem, that I would figure it out, eventually.
Well, that didn’t sit well with me. At all. Luckily, my best friend/boyfriend and conscience both felt the same way.
In the end I managed to shake that shit off. Fear is for the walkers, and you know what’s harder? Actually shifting gears and helping run a company. Yeah. That’s what I’ve decided to spend time focusing on. I am learning to learn again, and dive in. It takes a great deal of humility, being open to advice, politely leaving the rest at the door, and adapting. I will need to build new relationships and networks, gain a new set of skills. But what I’m learning is that the things that make me weird, all the stuff that I used to worry about, are actually the things driving me forward… Embracing my diverse background has powered everything I’ve been able to do thus far. And you know what? I’m proud of that.
Ben Horowitz says it best in his book The Hard Thing About Hard Things. On the last paragraph of the last page (sorrry!) he says:
When I was a CEO, I genuinely thought that I was the only one struggling. Whenever I spoke to other CEO’s they all seemed like they had everything under control. Their business were always going fantastic and their experience was inevitably amazing. I thought the maybe growing up in Berkley with Communist grandparents might not have been the best background for running a company. But as I watched my peers fantastic, amazing businesses go bankrupt and sell for cheap I realized that I was probably not the only one struggling. As I got further into it I realized that embracing the unusual parts of my background would be the key to making it through. It would be those things that would give me unique perspectives and approaches to the business. The things that I would bring to the table that nobody else had.
He goes on to say:
When I work with entrepreneurs today this is the main thing that I try to convey: embrace your weirdness, your background, your instinct. If the keys are not there, they do not exist.
As far as I’m concerned it is exactly my background that has instilled in me a weird kind of fearlessness. And it is now a character trait that I can call upon at will. That’s part of my weirdness. So no, forgive me for not being intimidated anymore.
But look, it doesn’t matter what I did before I got here. There is definitely going to be something in your own background that you’ll be able to add that no-one else can. So what’s weird? Here on this blog, in other realms, and at my new job, it’s my weirdness that’s actually what has helped me most, day to day.
I think we can all agree that most industries needs more diversity in kind and in experience. A proverbial ‘shaking up’ if you will. So if there is anyone out there on the fringes thinking of switching careers remember why you’re weird. Learn to adapt. Struggle better. But most of all, fear less.