Experts POol


I remember the first time I had to ask for a vacation day. I was in my first job out of college, and had a good reason to ask for the day off. I checked the schedule and nothing urgent seemed to be happening on that date. I was prepared to ask well in advance and...I was scared to death.

Even with all my reasonable preparation, something about walking into the office and asking for a day off was frightening to me.

I later learned I was making a lot of decisions (or lack thereof) out of fear and I needed to overcome it. When it comes to the example of asking for vacation days, I now know I wasn’t alone.

A Boston Globe article indicates an Expedia study estimated that 500 million vacation days a year are lost by employees who let them wither away. Another study by Oxford Economics found that Americans are throwing away $52.4 billion in earned vacation benefits each year.

Fear seems to crop up everywhere we look.

I work with high school students nationwide. Studies have shown that when entering high school, one of the prevailing fears of students is not knowing who they will sit with at lunch.

I work in entrepreneurial communities where fear seems to flip on-and-off like a light switch. Founders find confidence when they leave their jobs to start a new venture, then let fear creep in when customers don’t respond as fast as they’d like.

Whether we like it or not, fear is an element of the human experience – it’s everywhere, and it isn’t going away.

The issue with fear is this: It’s not helpful anymore. Fear used to be helpful. It was a necessary component of day-to-day life when humans lived in caves and could die at any moment from bear attacks. The fight or flight response was developed for a reason - it helped us survive.

In the 2017 American workplace, being attacked by a bear is extremely unlikely. Being in any sort of real danger in the workplace is becoming less and less common. Sure, there are jobs with higher risks than others, but I’m talking about the doctors, lawyers, accountants, marketers, engineers, dentists, advertising executives, and non-profit founders who come out of Marquette.

Unnecessary fear can be paralyzing in a professional setting. It can keep us from speaking our mind, delay an important decision or make us anxious and overwhelmed. Think for a moment. What are you afraid of? Speaking in front of your coworkers? Asking for a raise? Leaving your job for a different opportunity? Something else? Fear is everywhere.

So how do we overcome unnecessary fear? Here are three ways:

1. Become more mindful
Mindfulness and self-awareness allow us to actively work against unhealthy feelings and emotions. Some ways to do this are through breathing exercises, quiet time to de-escalate thoughts and actively working to shift the mindset to positive.

Studies in neuroscience have also suggested that, quite often, even simply naming a feeling and emotion can help reduce or eliminate it, such as I feel stressed or I feel angry.

For deeper insights on mindfulness training, I’d recommend reading The Mindfulness Edgeby my good friend and award-winning author, Matt Tenney. You may also want to check out my book, The Thinking Dilemma.

2. Develop a deeper self-confidence
I know. This is a tough one because the presence of fear naturally indicates the absence of confidence. However, I’m talking about a deeper self-confidence. I’m not talking about self-confidence in the sense of standing up straight and looking people in the eye. What I’m talking about is the deeper self-confidence that whispers in your ear: “Even if the worst-case scenario becomes a reality, you’re going to be okay.” When you know this to be true, the fear of the worst-case scenario tends to be mitigated.

This is also where faith comes in. The presence of fear not only indicates an absence of confidence, it indicates an absence of faith. If we believe God has a plan for us - plans to prosper us and not to harm us, plans to give us hope and a future - it is insulting to God to live every day in constant fear. When we live in fear, we place trust in ourselves and remove trust from the only place ultimate trust should be given. If we trust God, we have no reason to fear.

3. Get the support you need
Like much of life, I don’t believe we need to do this on our own. The idea of being a lone wolf simply doesn’t work. Running your fears by trusted friends, colleagues, mentors, parents, or siblings allows others to be involved in your success. When doing this, I’d recommend still working number 1 on this list into the mix and presenting your fears in a mindful way. If you’re the friend who is always over-anxious, you may not always get the support you’re looking for.

If I hadn’t overcome my fear of asking for a vacation day, I would have missed a friend’s wedding. It would have led to unhappiness and potentially even resentment in the workplace.

Years later, having authored two books, started two successful companies, run six marathons, and spoken in front of large crowds in 45 states, I know fear doesn’t have to ruin our lives. I know we’ll always feel fear - we’re human - but the best part is: The more we overcome our current fears, the better able we’ll be to overcome the fears of tomorrow.  

Kyle WillkomKyle Willkom, Bus Ad '12, is a keynote speaker and the founder of Action Packed Leadership, a life skills and leadership company with the purpose of helping young people become the best version of themselves. Reach him or subscribe to his newsletter at





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