05 Dec 2016 20:15 IST

Do you suffer from career acrophobia?

A few professionals are too tough on themselves and feel guilty for not achieving enough

Of over 20-plus coaching assignments I have completed so far, the most difficult one was managing a CEO’s constant sense of inadequacy. No matter how much he delivered or achieved, he ended up feeling “not good enough.”

Childhood side effects

This sense of ‘not enough’ was not confined to himself but also to his direct reports. The net result he experienced was a revolving door, which had good people come in but leave soon after for not being appreciated and rewarded for their contribution.

The CEO himself had done MBAs from two ivy-league B-schools — and when I started to probe this, he revealed that he had two degrees because one was not enough! Deep conversations into his childhood threw light on the fact that he grew with the “not enough” message from both his parents.

Now, his parents are not around anymore but this recording stayed with him in his head, playing the same chord again and again. Even today, parents bring up their children with this “not enough” message or instil the same by constantly comparing them with others. This may be done with good intent, but has lasting “side effects.”

Self punishment

This is a bit of an anomaly in the world in which we are living. Too often, we see people who brag about their achievements all the time on social media and amidst them, we come across a few professionals who are too tough on themselves and suffer from a deep sense of guilt for not achieving enough.

This can be very punishing personally and professionally. Are you one of them? If yes, here is a term for what you suffer from: Career acrophobia! Acrophobia is the fear of heights — more to the point, the fear of falling from those heights!

Handling career acrophobia

Breaking this self-imposed limitation is key to recover from career acrophobia. The first step is to recognise and become aware of what you feel and under what circumstances you feel powerless or inadequate.

There are two elements to handling this: internal and external. Internally, you need to recognise the broken tape-recorder inside your head that keeps playing the song, “You are not good enough” over and over again. This will take a while, but it’s not impossible. A coach or a mentor can help you transition.

Externally, you need to take some steps like seeking initiative, volunteering in key projects, striving to complete assignments on time, returning phone calls and seeking help where necessary to do a good job.

Seeking help

Seeking help from your well-wishers at work and in your friends and family circle is another important step toward recovery. Reflection and action together make up the two most potent solutions for the challenge and change needed.

Keep in mind that change is not always radical. In this case, even incremental change in both mind-set (switching off the internal dialogue) and action (behaving confidently) will go a long way. It is about changing your attitude towards yourself.

When you happen to be a manager and bring this positive attitude to how you look at your colleagues’ and subordinates’ contribution, you start with improving empathy and social skills.

Learning the language of appreciation comes from practice. As my coachee CEO realised over time: it is the weakness of the heart that does not permit; otherwise which drop cannot become an ocean (Khalil Gibran’s verse translated)!