Fear is Not What is Holding You Back
January 7, 2014

Fear is Not What is Holding You Back

by Brian de Haaff

Do you often wonder why you sacrifice your personal aspirations for what is comfortable? Have you always wanted to pursue an idea or start that company, but have given up before you really got started?

This time of year, when you are bound to feel guilty (or be around too many folks who do) you may make a few New Year’s resolutions that you will never keep. You might want to forget about that and start with what is really stopping you — lack of confidence.

Too many folks will tell you is that it is fear. Fear is what is holding you back, they say, but I do not think so. Confidence is the one tool you need to achieve.

If you are in tech already, you likely are wicked smart and have taken calculated risks along the way to get to where you are. We see this all the time at Aha! — the new way to create brilliant roadmaps while speaking with smart product managers and engineers who are building software that matters.

And you probably have pinned down fear at many points in your career and in your life. The reason you did is because you had confidence that you could overcome the challenges and be better for it. Or, maybe you had nothing to lose and were ready to forge ahead because you thought there was a small chance that you could actually make it happen. But for most of us, this is the exception, not our dominant mindset.

Lack of confidence is the single most powerful, self-imposed handicap that I see working in Silicon Valley.

This struck me after I spoke with an old friend and colleague yesterday who told me that she recently took a sales engineering role, even though she really was not that interested in the company and preferred a product management job. She wanted a referral because she was already pursuing a new job and I knew the VP of marketing. She had been a senior product manager at a name-brand public networking infrastructure company not that long ago. And she was darn good at it.

She took a few months off after an acquisition to teach diving in Central America and came back looking for a new challenge. The sales engineering role presented itself quickly in her job search and she took it. And six months later, she was bored out of her mind — and looking for another sales engineering role.

I told her she was crazy and that she had the chops for just about any business technology PM role she wanted. She sounded shocked and relieved. But why?

Some of the brightest folks I have worked with have been sales engineers, and she had done both jobs but preferred setting strategy and managing products. She took the SE role not because she needed or wanted to, but because she was not confident her PM skills would transfer from networking to something else.

Realizing a goal always starts with a vision (unless you are going to bet on luck). And this is where confidence helps us move forward and continue to march towards that goal. Without it, we have nothing but a dream. She had a goal to land a new PM job but not the confidence to pursue it. So, I suggested the following:

Educate yourself Build confidence by studying the markets, customers, and competitors that are fundamental to the jobs you are pursuing. By immersing yourself in a business (even as an outsider) it is possible to gain insights and perspective that allow you to speak humbly with conviction about what you see happening. You will not be an expert overnight but can build a mental framework to help you intelligently discuss a space.

Get involved Getting involved means doing actual work. And doing work typically means writing something down. While developers are often told to go work on a related open source project that interests them, aspiring product managers should write a competitive review, complete a SWOT analysis, fill in a business canvas framework, or simply craft a one-pager on the product’s positioning. They key is to immerse yourself in a product, company or market ecosystem that you are interested in. And writing will force you to do your homework and think critically.

Ask You would be surprised how many folks are willing and honored to help others achieve their own goals. Now, this assumes that you are specific in your request and committed to making the most out of the time someone spends with you. But with the inter-connected reality of the world we now live in, I guarantee that with a little effort you could connect with someone who would be willing to help you.

I think the question you should ask yourself is the following: What do I need to do to grow my confidence to achieve my goals?

We all have goals — the key is learning to achieve them. At the end of your career, it is unlikely that you will look back and think that you did not have dreams. The real question will be whether you achieved them and that will totally depend on the skills and confidence you built along the way.

If you are reading this, you have the chance to do something fantastic and be happy doing it. And I personally promise that setting ambitious goals and focusing on building your confidence will bring you great joy and make the world a better place. Sign up for the free 30-day trial of Aha! to find your mojo and start building software that matters.

Brian de Haaff

Brian de Haaff

Brian seeks business and wilderness adventure. He is the co-founder and CEO of Aha! — the world’s #1 product development software — and the author of the bestseller Lovability and The Startup Adventure newsletter. Brian writes and speaks about product and company growth and the journey of pursuing a meaningful life.

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