In Pursuit of Profession: Courage under fire


When I first got out of college, the world wasn’t exactly beating down my door with employment offers. I was from Houston, attended Bucknell University in Pennsylvania, but then yearned to be back down in the Lone Star State after graduation. What I didn’t realize is that while I was back home in the state I loved, I lost my entire network. Most of the contacts I had made at school stayed on the East Coast and went to work in New York, Philadelphia and Washington, D.C. They moved to areas where there was a strong network of alumni who could help them find jobs.

While I was living in a rent house in south Arlington with four other guys and three dogs and rent was only $175 a month, I was a bit nervous. I was burning through the money I had saved up for just such a predicament. But what if I couldn’t start my career soon? What if I couldn’t even get a job? How was I going to eat? Or pay rent? Or go out to the bars and meet women?

At one point or another – or maybe it’s something you experience on a daily basis – fear drives our decisions when it comes to our work lives. We don’t go after another job because we fear that we won’t be able to handle it or we won’t be the right fit for the organization. We keep working in a job we hate because we’ve got responsibilities – a mortgage, children, bills – and we fear leaving the steady paycheck and benefits. But is that any way to live? If fear is dominating your work life, there is a way to change things. There is a way be more courageous at work. The first thing we have to do is understand our desires.

“It’s easy to go on autopilot at work. But you’ve got to know what you actually want,” said author and speaker Margie Warrell. “What is it costing you not to be brave? Why is it worth it? No one will be willing to have more courage at work until they answer those questions.”

Fear on the rise at work

Let’s face it, being the primary source of income for most of us, our jobs have always had a bit of fear attached to them. If we don’t have a job, we don’t get paid. If we don’t get paid, well, then there goes the house, the car and everything else. It’s natural to be a bit scared about losing a job because having one is pretty darn important. But for Warrell, fear seems to be on the rise in today’s workplace. “Uncertainty at the moment, has dialed up a little. This uncertainty ratchets up anxiety, and that breeds resistance to change and the existence of the status quo,” Warrell said. And if groups are resistant to change, then they could run in to some serious problems.

One of the biggest groups to face uncertainty concerning their future work lives is men. According to a recent article by Thomas Edsall in The New York Times, lower-income men “of all races and ethnicities are dropping out of the work force, abusing opioids and falling behind women in both college attendance and graduation rates.” But it’s not just lower-income men that could face a dire future in terms of work. According to a recent article in Business Insider, “Former US Treasury Secretary Larry Summers says the unrelenting rise in the proportion of men without work since the 1970s will continue and by 2050 he estimates that around one-third of all men in the United States will be without work.”

As the father of two young boys, statements like those certainly make me concerned about their future work lives. But when we read things like this in the news, Warrell reminds us that we need to take it with a grain of salt. “People, especially women, tend to underestimate their abilities and exaggerate the consequences. I call it “catastrophizing” the future,” said Warrell. Fortunately there are ways to fight the fear. And it might just start with the thing we might fear the most: our bosses.

Courage to fail

“Management needs to cultivate a culture of safety and to allow people to try things and to fail,” Warrell said. “Leaders need to be supportive to help employees to not just think outside the box, but find a whole new box. They need to be encouraging people to get out and try things.” But it’s not just our managers and leaders who need to make changes when it comes to courage in the workplace. We are ultimately responsible for our own courage. It’s like a muscle, the more we use it, the stronger it gets. But beware, just like with a muscle, you can go too hard too fast and injure your courage, which could set you back. “If you haven’t been to the gym in a while, you don’t go in and lift 100 pounds. If you’ve never presented in front of someone, you don’t volunteer to present at the company’s annual conference,” Warrell said. “Start small, build courage in increments. Present to a couple colleagues, then your team, then maybe to the whole office.” It’s also important to give yourself permission to try…and fail. “Treat things like an experiment. You don’t need all the answers and you don’t need to know every aspect. You can learn as you go. Have a risk-ready mindset versus risk-averse mindset,” said Warrell. “It’s the exposure effect - don’t stretch so far out of your comfort zone, but rather do something small every day. Challenge yourself at work in different ways and never stop doing it.”

The job hunting game

Perhaps the most interesting advice Warrell had concerns one of the most fear-inducing part of our work lives: searching for a job. Her take on being a courageous job hunter? Treat it like a game. “Send out 30 resumes and then spend a few hours a day reviewing your prospects. It’s like dating; you’ll meet some funny characters, but be willing to accept rejection. It comes down to math, the more you put yourself out there, the more often you’ll get the job you’ll want. Reaching out can be uncomfortable, but it’s necessary. Tenacious people tend to have more luck, but it’s because they are out there and are more likely to get the job,” said Warrell.

For more information on Margie Warrell and her new book, Make Your Mark, a Guidebook for the Brave Hearted, visit