Business Women

Overcoming the Terror Barrier: Tips for the Ambitious Woman In the Workplace

June 13, 2017

Overcoming the Terror Barrier: Tips for the Ambitious Woman In the Workplace

By Coach Hina Khan

In a past post, I discussed how we are often held back by our subconscious, as it influences our decisions through fear. I also discussed how we make decisions based on inherited ideas, in spite of them being passed down to us from previous generations.

While the subconscious affects both men and women, today I would like to address the particular ways in which it holds women back. Institutionalized prejudice plays a major role in preventing women’s professional advancement – but it certainly isn’t the only factor.

For instance, when men see a job description with requirements they don’t fully meet, they’ll often focus on the required attributes they do have and disregard the rest. Conversely, women have a tendency to emphasize their lack of certain characteristics instead of their many strengths.  

Similarly, as Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg describes in Lean In, her most recent book, men will often jump at new career opportunities without hesitation, whereas women will often second-guess themselves because they fear that new responsibilities will impact their family lives.

In other words, men often assume that they will adjust successfully, while many women allow their self-doubt to hold them back from advancing professionally.

In Lesson 7 of Thinking Into Results, one of the many courses I teach, we identify this dilemma as “the terror barrier.”

The terror barrier is that moment of fear in which we take one of two actions: we move forward into action, or we revert into safety. Throughout this process, we allow our internal dialogue to determine our actions – and this dialogue is primarily guided by fear.

Whether we are considering applying for a promotion, raising a new round of capital, launching a new product or undertaking a rebranding campaign, important decisions can cause us discomfort and ease.

When I work with women executives and entrepreneurs who have experienced the terror barrier, my goal is to have them reconsider what to them is a “means” and what is an “ends.”

For example: is gaining a promotion the main goal or is going through the process the goal? Is raising capital our ultimate objective, or are we willing to risk failure knowing that, no  matter the final result, we’ll have learnt as much as possible?

Regardless of whether we obtained our primary objective, an important objective awaits at the other side of the terror barrier: growth.

We cannot pass through the terror barrier without growing, without learning, without becoming both better and stronger.

Embracing growth requires a radical change in our mindset, one that can only be achieved when we redefine our relationship to failure.

Failure is an inevitable part of taking risks. It is incredibly difficult to evolve and improve without cherishing our failures, recognizing the lessons they’ve taught us, and learning from them as much as possible.

In the case of women, overcoming the terror barrier must also involve shedding our devotion to always be a “people-pleaser.”

Though society is slowly changing, many women still enter the workforce with the idea that they must please everyone to succeed.

We tell ourselves not to rock the boat, not to offend, to avoid conflict, and to sacrifice our interests for the greater good.

It’s these sorts of attitudes that continue to hold us back.

Pleasing people constantly distracts us from the real issues at hand and prevents us from giving effective feedback to those around us, hurting everyone in the process. It also makes us lose track of what we genuinely want – all in an ill-fated attempt to preserve some sort of “peace.”



To overcome the terror barrier, we must first recognize when we’ve arrived at it. Only then can we begin to question the arguments of our internal dialogue.

This is when we must ask: what exactly awaits me at the other side of the terror barrier? Are the potential learning opportunities more significant than the fallout from potential failure?

Rarely do we face mistakes from which we can’t recover. Our careers are rarely defined by one or two events.

With that in mind, there’s a new question women in the workplace must ask themselves: “Am I focused on the means or the ends?” If constant growth is the ends, then we need to power through the terror-barrier, putting aside fear while embracing the unknown. Only then will we truly take control of the only thing we can control: own growth.





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