Making it to partner involves building a new skill set AND changing our role and responsibilities over time. I don’t think that there is any accountant, lawyer or consultant in practice who I have met who hasn’t felt the fear of needing to win their own clients and build up their own practice. What you are unlikely to hear is anyone talking about overcoming psychological barriers to making partner. After all, isn’t that what you have been working towards the whole of your professional career? This article explains why our biggest barrier to career profession is down to our brain and way of acting, and what you can easily do to remove this barrier.

Overcoming psychological barriers to progressing your career to partner

I was staring down at a steep rocky and dusty slope. Every part of my brain was telling me that NOW was the time to get off my mountain bike and push it down this section of the trail. As I shifted my right hand slightly on my handlebars it ached, and I was reminded of why it ached. And the pain and trauma I had experienced after my last bike crash Sarah, our guide and mountain bike coach, asked me what it was I was afraid of. And I instantly snapped back, steep slopes. It was at this point she pointed out to me that at the end of each of the short steep slopes on the ride there was an uphill which would rapidly reduce my speed and keep me in control. She mentioned I had not only had a helmet on but knee pads AND elbow/arm pads. Short of a full face helmet and full body armour, the normal culprits would be well protected if I did fall off. On the next steep slope I started to relax. And then I started to enjoy myself as my abject terror was slowly but surely being converted into an adrenaline buzz.

Fear is our brain’s way of keeping us safe

Fear is your brain’s way of protecting you. It’s an emotional response which comes from the old reptilian part of your brain. It’s this part of the brain and response which has been responsible for the human race’s incredible ability to survive over the last few millions of years. Fear is there to keep you safe and in your comfort zone. Unfortunately when it comes to progressing your career to partner you will need to come out of your comfort zone. You will need to learn to be comfortable with learning new skills, changing your role and responsibility over time, creating and executing a business plan… Every time you move out of business as usual, fear will try and push you back into your comfort zone. The thing is, you can’t develop or move your career forwards if you are stuck in your comfort zone. If you are going to move forwards to partner you HAVE to be able to overcome these psychological barriers. The biggest saboteur to your success is not your colleagues, partners or competitors… it’s the person who looks back at you in the mirror.

How to overcome your fear

So what’s the solution here? Was feeling my fear helping me to do it anyway? Far from it, it was paralysing me. I needed to overcome my psychological barrier very rapidly or risk not enjoying a large portion of my ride. Admittedly you are not facing a ‘fall off the bike situation which will really hurt’ with what you do in your role, but worrying about a potentially-career limiting move can almost be just as bad. The solution is to do as Sarah did to me at the top of that slope. And no, she didn’t push me down the next slope either! She asked me what I was worried about. She asked me to engage my ‘new’ brain, the thinking brain. And one-by-one she made the fears I was worried about seem less scary and seemingly trivial. It’s the same with you and your career. If you are going to get over yourself, you need to think, analyse and rationalise the fear and do it anyway.

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