How Advisors Can Avoid Fear of Failure

By Dr. Jack Singer

In a recent post I talked about how Joe Flacco avoided the temptation to feel like an imposter in the 2013 Super Bowl. Despite few pundits giving the Ravens a chance in the game, and most of the attention focusing on the 49ers and their rookie quarterback, Colin Kaepernick, Flacco overcame any concerns that he did not belong on that stage. Any hint at feeling like an “imposter” disappeared when he scored his first touchdown against the 49ers.

“Imposter Fear” occurs when self-doubt creeps into ones’ psyche and rapidly undermines self-confidence.

As an example, I worked with an NFL quarterback who complained that he deserved to start and he was frustrated with his back-up role. When he was suddenly thrust into a starters role during a game because of an injury to the starting quarterback, he panicked and began to worry about embarrassing himself, his family and ultimately his team.

Here was a man whose goal was to be a starting quarterback in the NFL, but he had never dealt with the fact that underneath the façade of confidence was a frightened athlete, worried about whether he really had what it takes to start in the NFL. This man felt like an imposter—he looked great in practice, he was in great physical condition, he looked sharp in his uniform, but he felt as if he couldn’t back up his bravado and then he fell apart when given the opportunity. Clearly, this young man fell victim to the “Imposter Fear.”

Example number two: I worked with a financial advisor who was a very successful business major in college and he came into his interview with a brokerage firm with superb confidence. He had no problem getting hired. His confidence continued to grow, as he glided through the training program. In simulated training situations, he seemed confident and ready to go. But, when his manager ultimately tasked him to make cold calls to attract new clients, he took every hang-up and “no thank you” as a personal rejection, lost his confidence and it wasn’t long before he was suffering from what is called “telephobia,” or severe sales call reluctance (a subject I will address in a future article in this magazine).

This, of course, ate away at his confidence and he feared even calling his current clients, worried about not being able to address their questions and concerns about the market and the products he had recommended. He began to question whether this was a career path in which he could thrive. He, too, became another victim of “Imposter Fear.”

Certainly, Flacco, like most premier NFL quarterbacks, must have gone through the same doubts during or after games in which his performance suffered. But, how did he stay optimistic, ward off the fear of failing, and push through mental obstacles to ultimately win the Super Bowl?

Understand the origins of your “imposter fear.” Like professional football players, most financial advisors maintain an external persona of confidence, but if advisors are honest with themselves, many insecurities –including avoiding contacting aggressive clients during market collapses, or fearing that they will look weak if they can’t think quickly on their feet when challenged by their clients—linger beneath the surface. Such doubts raise their anxiety level every time they come to the office, especially on days the market is tanking.

Like most fears, the “imposter fear” is based on false beliefs; in this case the belief that you are really not as competent as you appear. Like most fears, “imposter fear” is learned. We are not hot wired with such a fear. And, any fear that is learned, can be un-learned! The best way to eradicate any fear is to begin by understanding the distorted thinking that causes it in the first place.

Most fears are unwarranted and irrational, but the emotions surrounding them are certainly powerful.

The late Zig Ziglar, world renowned motivational speaker, captured the essence of this when he defined F.E.A.R. as “False Evidence Appearing Real.” You see, we all have experienced distorting the reality of events and situations that take place in our lives and it’s that distortion that causes our emotions–not the events themselves. The distortion comes from our perceptions of the events and those perceptions are based on the self-talk habits that we have developed over the years. So, the key to all of our emotions is our inner dialogue about events that take place in our lives each day. And…the key to mastering your emotions and overcoming fears such as the “Imposter Fear,” is having insight into your inner dialogue patterns and how to modify them. In fact, teaching clients to understand their self-talk habits and how to modify them is the essence of the most powerful form of psychotherapy in use today…Cognitive/Behavioral Therapy.

As an example, let’s say that one morning, your assistant calls you to inform you that one of your clients left a very angry message and he wants you to call him as soon as you arrive at the office. This event does not cause your resultant emotion(s). What does cause your emotion is the internal message you give to yourself about the situation. You might say something like this to yourself after speaking with your assistant: “Oh, no, he’s going to complain about that new equity I purchased for him last week because it has lost a good portion of it’s value with the way the market has tanked in the last few days. I don’t want to feel like a teenager being chastised by his father. How can I avoid this call?”

If you fill your head with such negative, fear producing self-talk, your anxiety level will elevate dramatically and a normal response to such anxiety is avoidance…avoidance of the event that you anticipate will cause more anxiety. So you avoid the call or pass it on to someone else, if possible. From this episode, you could feel very vulnerable, and from there it’s easy to develop the infamous “imposter fear.” You beat yourself up with more self-talk about how you’re probably not cut out for this line of work, it’s much too stressful and you lose your confidence and look for an escape.

But…you have choices in terms of your self-talk and resultant beliefs about any situation. For the scenario above, here is an alternative set of thoughts you could have: “This client has an irrational expectation that every product or equity he purchases must increase in value continuously. I have explained to him the risk/benefit ratio many times and he went into this purchase with his eyes open. I will use my active listening skills (another subject I will address in a future article here) to settle him down, like I have done many times before. I feel wonderful about the care I take managing my clients’ wealth and this client’s irrationality is not a reflection on me, my skills or my expertise.”

So, ultimately, it’s not economic or stock market fluctuations that determine how confident or insecure you feel in your profession. It’s not disgruntled clients that determine how anxious you feel. Regardless of the situation, it’s always your “self talk” about these issues that determines whether you will thrive or struggle during difficult times. That little voice in your head is what I call your “internal critic,” and that critic is filled with negative, pessimistic, self-defeating and distorted thoughts.

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