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Advice / Succeeding at Work / Changing Jobs

How to Get Over Your Fear of Failing at a New Job

nervous person
Jose Luis Pelaez Inc/Getty Images

Walking into a new job can be scarier than a creepy clown with a sack full of spiders.

You don’t know who to talk to. You don’t know who’s got your back or who’s gunning for you. You don’t know the way things are “normally done.” And you don’t know how—or if—things will work out.

It’s this uncertainty that makes you second-guess what you’re doing and doubt whether you’re good enough to do a fantastic job. So yes, the fear of failing in a new job is real.

Fortunately, though, it’s eminently fixable. Here’s how.

Remember Why They Hired You

You went through the interview process (which likely wasn’t a cake walk), and you landed the job. But now that you’ve got the job and you’re faced with the reality of doing it, it’s easy to forget why you got the job. So let me remind you.

You were hired because you’re the best. Your skills, your experience, your strengths, your talents, and your character make you the very best person to nail this. The proof is still very much in the pudding, of course, but the fact that your new employer selected you as the best person for the job counts for something.

It means you’re as good as you sometimes hope you are and better than you sometimes think you are.

Get Out of the Narrative

I’m going to screw this up. I can’t figure this out. I’m not up to it. Everyone’s going to see me fail. It’s only a matter of time before this blows up in my face.

Just a handful of the thoughts that might whiz through your mind when you find yourself in a new job. Other thoughts you might have include: I really like peas. Shoes are nifty. The sunshine feels great on my face. I’m looking forward to Saturday. Mmm, coffee.

My somewhat facetious point is that your brain will manufacture thoughts all day long. That’s its job. These thoughts and narratives are just thought events, and no more represent your truth than the thought I really like peas makes you a jolly green giant.

When you gently notice the thoughts you have about failing or screwing up, you have the opportunity to see them as just thoughts, not reality. And that gives you the opportunity to say “Oh hey, it’s you, thanks for stopping by. You know what, though? I’m capable of so much more, and I’m going to be just fine.” (Want to explore this idea a bit further? Here's a three-step process to adjust your mindset in any situation.)

Engage, Don’t Resist

Fear of failure drives you to do two things. First, it makes you want to increase your odds of not screwing up. So you work to ensure that what you deliver will be what people expect. You work to ensure the right boxes are ticked. And you work to ensure your own safety as a priority.

Second, it makes you hold back—even just a little bit—so that if things do go pear-shaped you can justify it to yourself and devolve yourself of responsibility. So you don’t voice your opinion in case it gets you noticed. You resist going all in, because it’s safer to keep things at arms length. And you build walls so you know just how far you can safely go.

These things, by the way, are exactly what stifles creativity and innovation, turns work into struggle, and prevents you from doing truly great work. You’re more likely to fail by resisting than you are by engaging.

Know Failure Is Not the Enemy

Let’s get down to brass tacks. There’s no way of knowing how things will turn out ahead of time, and it’s entirely possible that you might screw up and experience failure. So what? You’ve screwed up before, and you’re still here. You’ve failed before, and you learned from it. You’ve been there when the brown stuff hit the fan, and you got through it.

Failure is just something that happens from time to time, like a rain shower, indigestion, or a Netflix binge. It’s no more an indicator of how good you are, how capable you are, or how valuable you are than a hole in your sock is an indicator that you can’t be trusted to wear clothes.

So perhaps failure isn’t what you should be fearing after all. In fact, even scarier is not being willing to fail in the first place.

Reading this before you start a new position? Here’s a free checklist of everything to do the night before your first day.