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Business, psychology

Touch That Snake! –for a better career, life, whatever!

  • How Mastering Fear Advances Your Career

  • Why Grabbing Snakes Does You Good

All Hail Fear!

Fear is the underlying drive to everything that you do in life.

It’s your emotional brake and accelerator.

It stops you (mostly) from doing stupid, dangerous things and it’s why you’re on top of the food chain.  Fear keeps you alive.  So let’s all hail fear!

Even so, mastering fear — which is not the same as denying it— is a key to your success in life.

If you want to progress in anything in life— business, sport, music, relationships — you’ll have to overcome some fears and anxieties.

Your career is no exception.


With every rung up the career ladder, every promotion, every increase in remuneration comes the added responsibility of performing at a higher, more demanding level than before.

Whether new grad or a new CEO, professional development entails mastering some fears in order to do well on the job.

Take snakes for example.

Literally, I mean, take snakes.


Prof. David Kelley  wrote of his meeting with Albert Bandura, one of the great psychologists (only Freud, Skinner and Piaget are cited more). 

“One day we met on campus and got to talking about this methodology he’d developed to cure phobias, called ‘guided mastery.’  I mean, Bandura’s methodology didn’t just cure people with a lifelong fear of snakes; it affected other parts of their lives.”

David Kelley

Prof. David Kelley: How to Build Your Creative Confidence (TED talk)

Bandura’s ‘guided mastery‘ was developed to cure people with phobias, such as a lifelong fear of snakes. But the remarkable thing was that it enhanced their lives (the people not the snakes) in other wide-ranging ways.

It works like this:

  • Bandura says to the person who is afraid of snakes, “There’s a snake in the next room and we’re going in there.”

  • Hell no!” is the usual reply.

  • So the fearful person stands in front of a two-way mirror looking into a room where a friend is holding a snake and gradually the fearful person feels more comfortable.

  • Many small steps later (eg, standing in the same room as a snake, donning leather gloves, preparing to actually touch it, etc.) the fearful person progresses to actually touching the snake.

Here’s the best part:  as soon as they overcame their fear and actually touched a snake, they were not just unafraid of snakes, they had less anxiety in general and experienced more success elsewhere in their lives.

They tried harder, persevered longer, displayed resilience in the face of failure and had more confidence.  In short, they lived fuller lives.  All because they overcame a fear through a go-at-your-own-pace desensitization process.

So if a person who is phobically afraid of snakes can overcome a compulsive fear that is hardwired into the human brain, and thereby gain new faith in their ability to accomplish things in life, just imagine what you could do if you confronted some of your mild workplace fears and constraints.

So go ahead, rub a reptile.  It’ll do you good.

Samuel L. Jackson touched the snake and it didn’t hurt his career.

Bottom line:  Working through whatever fears you have, gradually, patiently, systematically, frees you for success on many fronts in your life and career.

Dr. Duff Watkins, a former psychotherapist, is Director of ExecSearch International Australia [www.execsearch.com.au]

Other articles:

Why Top Performers Get Axed
4 Ways To Avoid the Axe
How The Job Market Really Works
Idiot-proof Your Résumé
5 Fictions About Recruiters
Predict Performance: how to win your bets on people
The Only Career Advice You’ll Ever Need
She Got a Job in Sydney 4 Days Without Speaking English

About Dr. Duff Watkins [www.execsearch.com.au]

international executive search consultant / author-- dispensing career advice about how the job market really works


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Dr. Duff Watkins

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