Think Before You Act: 4 Strategies To Combat the Fear That’s Holding Your Career Back


Portrait of a contemplative African businesswoman with hand on chin, looking through office window.

It’s not a figment of your imagination, the backlash against diversity in corporate America is real. The aim, by some critics, to undermine, discredit, and ultimately dismantle Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) programs is intentional and strategic.

The tactics, at this point, are textbook: It starts with accusing these initiatives of “reverse discrimination.” Then exploiting that fear to stoke resentments, pushing vulnerable groups further into the margins, and ultimately upholding the status quo — sustained privilege for the privileged at the cost of inclusion. Rinse, wash, repeat.

Meanwhile, Black women continue to show up. Even as the value of our presence is contested across business, academia, and politics, Black women are clocking in, delivering reports, leading meetings, and executing goals. In corporate environments where the makeup of executive suites and boardrooms rarely reflects us, we continue the work. Whether or not it’s fair isn’t the question; fairness and facts aren’t always congruent. 

Corporate America is a reflection of America, and with that comes some historical truths. If Black women waited for an invitation of inclusion, we’d be perpetually relegated to the sidelines. And that’s  just not what we do. 

For those aiming to stay the corporate course, who are seeking direction to navigate the sometimes difficult path, ESSENCE tapped Dr. Patricia Anderson, a professor at the Forbes School of Business & Technology. Based on  over two decades in executive leadership and extensive behavioral research, the leadership expert and author offers four tailored strategies to confront fear, enhance confidence, and tread the path to career progression — despite external barriers.

Addressing the Confidence Gap

Efforts to undermine diversity and inclusion initiatives can create uncertainty and doubt for its intended beneficiaries. When initiatives advocating  equity (not equality, equity) are labeled reverse discriminatory, it amplifies exclusion and raises concerns about the value perception of those affected. These dynamics, along with added stresses imposed on Black women intersecting racism and gender discrimination, can erode confidence and lead to burnout. 

“It can break you. I’ve witnessed smart women, capable women, Ivy League-educated women give up,” Dr. Anderson said. To avoid burnout she says acknowledging them is an important first step, “Ignoring or downplaying these subtle yet harmful behaviors only allows them to persist and accumulate.” 

Repairing the long term damage of workplace trauma isn’t easy, but it is possible. And according to Dr. Anderson, it’s critically important. Seeking therapy is a beneficial first step. Using company benefits to engage a counselor is a wise investment in your career and mental wellbeing.

Identifying and Overcoming Imposter Syndrome

When external perceptions of inadequacy coincide with internal feelings of not being good enough, the impact on individuals’ confidence can be debilitating, and imposter syndrome often results. 

It’s something Black women frequently contend with amid persistent pressures to prove themselves. Dr. Anderson advises, “If you have imposter syndrome, it’s important to identify what’s influencing it.” Acknowledging personal value, despite external opinions, she says, is crucial to overcome it. “You have to know that you’re good enough. You have to say, ‘It doesn’t matter if they say I’m not good enough. I know who I am and what I contribute. Even on my worst days, I’m good enough,’” she said.

Again, seeking support from a therapist can play a pivotal role in understanding one’s worth and changing that internal self-talk. A mentor or coach can also help you uncover the underlying dynamics designed to instill self-doubt. 

Facing the Fear of Success

Being placed in an elevated position where your every move is scrutinized, and opinions – both positive and negative, are unavoidable, can be intimidating. And understandably so.

“Stepping into the spotlight puts you on front street. Now people will see you. Now they will critique you. Now you have to act in certain ways,” Dr. Anderson said. The fear of accountability and responsibility that accompanies success has profound personal and professional implications. 

Moreover, Dr. Anderson says it’s often internally rooted. “Sometimes it’s based on external factors, but sometimes the fear comes from  knowing you’re not quite there; your character hasn’t caught up with the demands of the position or title,” she said. In cases like this, self awareness is your ally.

Overcoming the fear of success requires a twofold approach. On the external front, it involves recognizing and challenging societal expectations and understanding that perfection is unattainable and critiques are inevitable. Internal fear, on the other hand, is a signal to prepare yourself and engage in continuous and intentional personal growth. Conquering fear means embracing the discomfort of accountability and responsibility and acknowledging that growth is an ongoing process.

Confronting the Silent Saboteur Fear and self-doubt have the potential to induce self-sabotage, a subtle yet detrimental force undermining professional success. While imposter syndrome takes various forms, self-sabotage often manifests as procrastination and avoidance.

Dr. Anderson emphasizes, “It goes back to the fear of success. If you’re not meeting your own expectations, you must confront that. If you’re undermining your own performance, ask yourself: ‘Why am I doing this? Why am I showing up late? Why am I giving less than my best?’”

Self-sabotage is not confined to work; it often extends to other areas of life. Exploring these behaviors beyond the office is crucial. Dr. Anderson notes, “You may find that the behavior isn’t confined just to work. If you look around at other areas of your life, you may see where you’re sabotaging yourself outside the office.” To break the vicious cycle, targeted therapy proves effective in getting to the core of self sabotaging and dismantling it from the root.

Corporate culture is what it is. It can be a viable source of knowledge, growth, and economic mobility but not validation. In fact, for Black women, workplace experiences can be derisively invalidating. So, while it may not be possible to change your environment, examining how you operate within it is a fortifying endeavor.


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