Pictured from left to right, Terri Jacke, MS, Deb Franckowiak, PhD, Mandy Nycz, MA
Throughout the course of our careers, we may move through up to seven stages of character development. The third stage, Fear, is a tricky one. While it is a necessary developmental stage, it can also become a tangled web of self-protection that traps us and stalls our development. In fact, the Fear stage is where people most commonly get “stuck” on their character development journeys.

Ideally, the traits of disingenuousness and compliance (the middle ring of the Fear Circle model below), are used as tools to protect us from the “yuckiness” of others. We use these traits to keep ourselves safe during the Fear stage while we are learning to be cautious and to be thoughtful about how we interact with others in the workplace. Sometimes during this stage, we also employ functional fear-based behaviors (the outer ring of the model) to keep ourselves separate from others.
Usually, the traits and behaviors of the Fear Circle serve a purpose and help us advance to the next stage of character development, Authenticity. However, if we get stuck in the Fear stage, we lock into functional fear-based behaviors, which then become common workplace behaviors for us and undermine our success in the workplace over time. Worse yet, especially if we are not familiar with purpose of the Fear stage, our behaviors may escalate to more problematic fruitless fear-based behaviors that can significantly damage our effectiveness, relationships, and professional reputations. 

I frequently recommend that ambitious young talent ensure that they are beyond the Fear stage before assuming significant leadership roles (or starting their own businesses). Leadership roles are mighty visible stations from which to learn the character lessons of the Fear stage and, worse yet, Fear stage leaders usually create fear-based teams.

Learn more about the Fear stage of character development in chapter 3 of Is This a Lousy Job or Is It Me?.
Professional Highlights & Dilemmas

What do you do if you recognize that you are in the grips of fear-based behaviors?

  1. Put your ego aside and ask yourself what you are doing, intentionally or unintentionally, that is contributing to drama, fear, or tension in the workplace.
  2. Review the Fear Circle to determine your “go to” behaviors and be deliberate in choosing an opposite response. For instance, if you have chosen “withdrawal” or passive aggressiveness, choose active participation and evaluate prospective responses. Keep practicing and evaluating. Retain those behaviors that move you out of your fear space and discard those that keep you and those around you in a state of fear.
  3. Find a good mentor or an accountability partner that can help you to call out your fear-based behaviors. The sooner you can recognize your behaviors and choose other, more productive behaviors, the faster you can move out of this career-stalling stage.
  4. Seek open-minded and authentic people to surround yourself with. Their ability to assert individualization and their ability to be comfortable within themselves will help you to outgrow the need for the self-protection of fear-based behaviors.

While this stage of character development can be terrifying, there are many valuable lessons that we learn by moving through it. Personally, I spent too much time in the fear stage in my career. Because of this, I wasted many opportunities to grow my skills and relationships. I could have shortened my development time in this stage simply by stopping to recognize and acknowledge my fear. If I had taken the opportunity to inventory my fear-based reactions, I would have been able to identify why I was responding the way I was and, in recognition of those responses, chosen a different path. 

The good news is that after you have navigated this stage you will move into the Authenticity stage of character development, which is – in many ways - the opposite of the Fear stage. “Goodbye” to old paradigms and “Hello” to freedom, autonomy, empowerment, and joy!

If you need help in navigating this development stage – reach out to one of us! We are happy to help.

In the News
Featured Course (Virtual)
March 17th

Sometimes a job can leave you feeling fulfilled, but sometimes a job can feel just plain lousy. No matter which boat you’re in, understanding character development is the key to optimizing each stage of your career. During this 2-hour workshop, Terri Jacke, MS will walk through the seven stages of character development, help you recognize what stage you are currently in, and identify ways to maximize your great (or lousy!) job.

This is a virtual event. The zoom link will be sent to attendees the day before the event.

Featured Article

Turning Your Job into Your Personal Development Academy

Check out this article in Ms. Career Girl, by Terri Jacke to learn how to convert the sources of frustration at your job into your very own character development academy