Hold True to Your Career Ideas–Beyond the Fear of Rejection

A Newsweek article recently reported on research showing how powerful rejection by a group can be.  A mere 15 minute exercise leading to complete strangers apparently not including some people in a group led people to become more aggressive, less social, more likely to misinterpret neutral statements as negative, and have less self control (with chocolate chip cookies–hard to blame them).

This, the researchers say, is due to the evolutionary value of staying in groups and rewarding those who can stay together.

I guess I didn’t find these results terribly surprising.  We all know firsthand how painful such rejection can be, in our personal or professional lives.  The question is whether or not we’ve learned to move on and keep up our confidence in spite of this tendency.

But when it comes to careers, it’s vital we don’t just go with the group.  Groups are essential to all we do—we can’t succeed alone—but we also need to beat our evolutionary tendencies.  We need to find out what will bring out our best, what will engage our passions, what will be meaningful and rewarding to us, what satisfies our sense of values and vision. 

Here are a few things I see people do all the time that stops them or sets them on the wrong course due to fear of group rejection. These activities are fine to do, but you need to be aware that you might run the risk of triggering off a desire to conform and a fear of rejection that can get you off track.

1. Asking friends or family what is the best career for you.

That can be useful If your family and friends offer new career ideas or identify passions of yours you are ignoring in your planning.  Do ask for help, but in most cases, make sure it’s primarily about brainstorming or networking or for support.

Too often, though I hear how friends and family are saying what they think someone else should do.  For some people, that’s fine.  It’s just more useful information.  But in line with the studies and common experience, it’s clear we’ll tend to want to go along with our families and friends, at least losing some judgment.

2. Asking people online for career help in forums. 

This might seem a lot safer since you don’t have to turn to your spouse or mother and say, no I’m going in the opposite direction you suggested.  But it still can trigger off some irrational feelings of going against the group, especially if a number of people all offer the same answer, and no one disagrees.  Studies show it’s much easier to go against a group if even one other person is doing so too, but when you’re the only one, it’s very tough.  .

3. Not applying for positions.  That can be a fear of failure or a fear of rejection because you think it so unlikely you’ll be accepted at a company or in an industry–even though this is what you’d love to do and think you could do well.

So often in coaching I see people simply toss out of hand the idea of approaching someone or switching to a particular career because they assume they will get rejected.  They’ll have excuses about how it’s unrealistic or they don’t know quite how to do it, but when we examine it, they find that fear is behind it, often fear of rejection and failure.  

To overcome this tendency to conform, remember:

  • Let your passions and energy motivate you more than external opinions. 
  • Don’t avoid groups, but ask for the support you really want or need from groups  
  • Keep the big picture in mind about finding or achieving your lifework and how that’s more important than a momentary fear
  • Simply being aware of the potential problem can give you some distance from it so you can take your time and not make hasty decisions or statements.

See related post on understanding failure

© 2009 Leonard Lang.  http://choosingacareerblog.com .  Feel free to reprint this article as long as you include this entire copyright notice. 

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