Q: I want to advance my career, but keep avoiding opportunities to step into the spotlight. I feel like I’m holding myself back. What can I do to stop this behavior?


A: Build positive momentum to let yourself shine.

The inner game

This is a long-term process; growth opportunities will come along throughout your career, so let go of any sense that you’ve missed your last chances. Take some time to relax, breathe and move into an openness to new possibilities. Notice any negative thoughts about your abilities and future that may arise. Don’t resist them — just let them pass but be attuned to the patterns you may observe.

What are your goals? When you say you want to advance your career, what do you want? A move into management? A shift within your industry? Clarify what advancement means. Then, even more importantly, think about why you want that. It could be a matter of greater challenge or influence, it could relate to status or income, or be a combination. Try doing some mind mapping to help clarify, driving deeper until you get to your underlying motivation.

Then align the steps you’d need to take to get there against your goals. You may be avoiding opportunities because they are not appealing. Perhaps, for example, you have a chance to lead a project that you think is quite tactical and you want to be in a more strategic role. It may provide the opportunity for you to work with people who can help advance your career but you wouldn’t enjoy it. Think about if you would be successful with the project and whether the net impact is worth it.

On the other hand, some opportunities, such as being the spokesperson for a project or in a meeting, require more courage than time. If this is the type of avoidance you’re showing, consider the reasons you’re holding back. What is the worst thing that could happen? Fear of failure may be limiting you, but so may fear of success. Keep in mind that you’re entitled to perform up to the level of your ability — what does that feel like?

The outer game

Take charge by creating opportunities that suit you, rather than being reactive. When you see a need, turn that into your opportunity. If anxiety holds you back, take time to breathe and work through it so that you can move forward. Then create a plan to bring your idea forward. Try writing up your recommendation, and have some practice sessions to discuss the benefits.

Need a few other tips?

• Target leaders you’re comfortable with, especially at first.

• Play to your current strengths, not the ones you’re trying to build while establishing credibility.

• Use visualization to build your confidence, if needed.

Give yourself a timeline and goal so that you don’t let yourself slip. Intermediate steps will help you build momentum. If you pass on opportunities that speak to you, reflect on the reasons that you’re holding back. And be sure to celebrate successes.

The last word

Put yourself in the driver’s seat to find new ways to develop your career.


What challenges do you face at work? Send your questions to Liz Reyer, leadership coach and president of Reyer Coaching & Consulting in Eagan. She can be reached at liz@deliverchange.com.