#3: Why Fear is a Gift
with Nancy Burger
January 19, 2023 | 52 Minutes
On "Inside-Out Career Design" this week, hosts Nicola Vetter & Peter Axtell speak with Nancy Burger
Fear is not a pleasant emotion, and most of us do our best to get rid of or suppress our fears. But what if there was a different way to handle fear? What if your fears are trying to tell you something important? To guide you to the place you want to go most in your life? Join us for our conversation with Nancy Burger, a fear expert, to learn why your fears are a gift and how to use them to move forward in your life and career.
In our conversation, we talk about…
- sleepwalking through life and spiritual wake-up calls,
- how we tend to know that things aren’t right, but we push those feelings down and ignore them,
- how fear is a gift and provides a roadmap to meaningful change,
- how avoiding fear is a mistake,
- how your thoughts can keep you stuck,
- how to get out of your own head and realize how many options you really have,
- and how to weave your passion into your life even if you can’t pursue your passion full-time.
About Nancy Burger
Nancy is a workplace communications strategist and coach who guides executives and teams to foster emotionally healthy cultures. A Marshall Goldsmith-certified leadership coach, author, and seasoned researcher, Nancy weaves together 10+ years in communications expertise and research in psychology and neuroscience to help clients understand and reframe fear-based thought patterns and limiting beliefs and to elevate workplace connections. She works with C-suite executives, heads of HR & training/recruiting, managers, business owners, and team leaders across many industries. Nancy also delivers workshops and talks to universities, leadership organizations, and networking groups, all with the aim of cultivating clear, effective, and productive communication dynamics.
- Website: https://nancyrburger.com/
- Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/nancyrburger/
- Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/nancyburgercommstrategist/
- LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/nancy-burger-commstrategist/
Connect with WhatsNext.com
- Free Workshops: https://www.whatsnext.com/workshops
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- LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/company/whatsnext-com/
- LinkedIn Career Group: https://www.linkedin.com/groups/2080874
- Twitter: https://twitter.com/WhatsNextMedia
Connect with Nicola & Peter
Books, resources, and people mentioned in this episode
- Marshall Goldsmith - https://marshallgoldsmith.com/
- Jeff Bezos - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jeff_Bezos
- Tom Brady - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tom_Brady
- EMDR - https://www.emdr.com/what-is-emdr/
- Gallup - https://www.gallup.com/topic/employee-engagement.aspx
- Wizard of Oz - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Wizard_of_Oz_(1939_film)
- Rolling Stones - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Rolling_Stones
Drop us a note
Any topics you’d like us to cover or guests you’d like to hear? Let us know at [email protected]
About the Inside-Out Career Design Podcast
This podcast is obsessed with answering a single question: Is it possible to create an authentic, meaningful, and fulfilling life you love while building a successful and rewarding career?
Join Nicola Vetter and Peter Axtell, co-founders of the WhatsNext.com Career Insights platform and creators of the groundbreaking MotivationFinder assessment, as they follow their obsession with answering this question by sharing their insights, discoveries, and life lessons and talking with career experts, leaders, spiritual guides, psychologists, data scientists, coaches -- anyone and everyone who might hold a strategy or answer to the age-old questions of “what’s next for me?” and “what should I do with my life?”
They seek to transform suffering into joy for millions of people stuck and confused in their lives and careers.
Get ready to be inspired, motivated, and above all, to connect deeply with who you are and what you are meant to do with the time you’ve been given.
Nancy Burger 00:00
The bottom line is: the beginning is getting curious. Curiosity is everything. Because if we shut ourselves down and sleepwalk through life, we're gonna get what we're gonna get. And it's not going to, you know, there won't, there won't be those sparks of light where I could do something differently and I could kind of, weave my own future. Sleepwalking, I mean, that's the worst possible thing. That feeling of regret where you wanted to try something else, but you were just too afraid because you had to pay your mortgage, and you wanted to put your kids to college, do it. But this is what I say to people. What do you want to model for the people in your life? What do you want to show? How do you want to show up? And how do you want to be remembered? Do you want to be remembered as the person who just kept checking the box? Or do you want to, you know, test the limits, test your own boundaries, get curious and try something else? Yeah, you'll have failures. But you'll also have successes.
Peter Axtell 01:01
Welcome to Inside-Out Career Design. In this show, we're obsessed with answering a single question. Is it possible to create an authentic, meaningful, and fulfilling life you love while building a successful and rewarding career? My name is Peter Axtell, and I'm here with Nicola Vetter. We're co-founders of the WhatsNext.com CareerInsights platform, and creators of the groundbreaking MotivationFinder assessment. Join us as we seek to transform suffering into joy for millions of people stuck and confused in their lives and careers. We'll share our insights, discoveries, and life lessons and talk with career experts, leaders, spiritual guides, psychologists, data scientists, coaches, anyone who might hold a strategy or answer to the age-old questions of: "What's next for me?" and "What should I do with my life?" Get ready to be inspired, motivated, and above all, to connect deeply with who you are, and what you're meant to do with the time you've been given.
Peter Axtell 02:16
Are you trying to figure out what to do with your life, to figure out what to do with the precious time you've been given on this earth? Or to figure out what only you as a remarkable and unique individual can bring into this world? If you are, please join us for one of our live and completely free online workshops, where we cover different topics to help you figure out what to do with your life and career without wasting precious time, taking wild guesses, or risking it all. To save your spot in our next live and free workshop go to WhatsNext.com/workshops. We can't wait to see you there. Again, that's WhatsNext.com/workshops.
Nicola Vetter 03:11
Our guest today is Nancy Berger. Nancy is a sought-after Marshall Goldsmith certified leadership coach and workplace communication strategist. But the main reason we wanted to speak with Nancy is that she is an expert in fear, understanding it and dealing with it. She has weaved together a decade and communications expertise, research in psychology and neuroscience and her own life experiences to help people understand and reframe fear-based thought patterns and limiting beliefs.
Peter Axtell 03:55
If you're at a what's next moment in your life, where you need or want to make a big decision, a big change, then it can be terrifying. Especially if you're trying to make this decision, as we would say from the inside out, where you aren't just trying to find the next job that will pay you the most money, but to find meaning, satisfaction, and purpose in addition to taking care of your financial and material needs. Doing this requires you to face your fears and anxieties head on.
Nicola Vetter 04:30
That's why we were so excited to talk with Nancy, an expert on fear. And in our conversation we talk about sleepwalking through life and spiritual wake-up calls, how we tend to know that things aren't right but we push those feelings down and ignore them, how fear is a gift and provides a roadmap to meaningful change, how avoiding fear is a mistake, how your thoughts can keep you stuck, how to get out of your own head and realize how many options you really have, and how to weave your passion into your life, even if you aren't able to pursue your passion full time. Alright, it's time to listen and learn from Nancy.
Peter Axtell 05:31
Hi, Nancy, welcome. We're so happy you're here with us. One of the big questions we're trying to answer here on the Inside-Out Career Design podcast is: what's next? And what's next for my life, for my career, or even the bigger question, what should I do with my life? So we are curious about you, Nancy, what were those moments in your life and career where you really had to sit down and had no choice but to figure out what's next for you?
Nancy Burger 06:05
Well, first of all, thank you for having me. I love talking with you and Nicola, every time. Well, you know, when we talk about what's next, and sort of inflection points in our lives, I go back to one story that is particularly resonant and was a huge game changer for me. And it was when I almost got arrested for DUI. And that was not only a wake-up call for me personally, but it was a wake-up call for me spiritually. So, I think what sometimes we do is we start sleepwalking through our life, and we stuffed down whatever discontent there is, if we're not satisfied, if we're not feeling good in our skin. For me, I was in that spot. But I didn't really realize it, which isn't terribly unique. Many of us don't sort of spend a lot of time noticing our own feelings, we just feel them and then we act based on them. So, I was in a very unhappy place in my life. And I was, you know, behaving irresponsibly. And one particular night, I was pulled over, failed a field sobriety test with flying colors, and then was facing an arrest. And the officer said, asked me to sit in the patrol car and he went, and to look through my minivan that was totaled on the side of the road. And he came back, and he said, I don't think this is who you are. And I'm going to give you a ticket and drive you home. Now, this story has mixed gets mixed reviews, because, you know, and we won't go into the weeds on that, why he chose to let me go if he would have done it, if I was another person, or if I was in another geographic location, or, you know, it goes on and on. But for the purposes of our conversation, I want to share it because it was a flashpoint. It was a moment where I realized that I either made change, or I was gonna go down a rabbit hole. And in that moment, I made a significant change. And it started with figuring out what didn't feel right. And I know that sounds simplistic, but that's where it started for me. What doesn't feel right sitting with myself and saying, is this, are you happy in this marriage, life, situation, on this trajectory? Is this the right thing for you? So that was the start for me.
Nicola Vetter 08:49
So, what was the unhappy place that you were in?
Nancy Burger 08:53
So, you could you know, I was a mother of young children, I was a writer, I have been a writer for nearly 30 years, I was in a marriage that was deteriorating, and not because anybody wasn't a good person or there wasn't love there. You know, life isn't like the movies. Sometimes we go down paths that slowly, you know, deteriorate for us. We're not really aware of it, because there's goodness. And we tried to look for the goodness. For me, I had to do a lot of soul searching about what I wanted my life to be, and how and my marriage was part of that. And so, I began a path of discovery for myself, I got really curious about fear, why we feel it the way we feel it, how it gets in our way, and how we can change our thinking around it. That started an almost decade long, long journey for me of understanding the neuroscience of fear and how humans are wired. And on a personal level it led me to the discovery that I needed to make change. I left a 27-year marriage, was extremely painful and difficult. And I started the next chapter of my life. And part of that next chapter was sharing the strategies that I learned that saved me, that changed my life, with other people to help them do the same, if that's what they want to do.
Peter Axtell 10:21
What was the first step you took? And then what was the sequence after that over that 10-year period?
Nancy Burger 10:26
Yeah, and I wouldn't, I wouldn't want to mislead your audience by insinuating that it was linear. It wasn't a linear journey. It was, it started with just the acceptance of my discomfort, the acceptance that I'm not comfortable in my skin, it's manifesting in all kinds of ways that are not healthy and not, you know, the right choices for me. So, let's just take a look at what doesn't feel right first, and accept that it doesn't feel right and stop judging myself about it. So, the first step was acceptance, really, for me, it's like, okay, this isn't working. This is not sustainable. What, why? And then speaking those things, of course, I had a support system of, you know, doctors, counselors, psychiatrists, like I really dug in, because I wasn't prepared to give up on myself. But so, the first step, Peter, I would say, was that just accepting that wasn't working, I wasn't comfortable, and something had to change. The next step was kind of understanding how my, what my own wiring was, like any human, you know, how am I what? Why do I have this, these running tapes in my head, this inner dialogue? And what I learned, and I don't want to oversimplify, because it's really not simple. The human brain is fantastically complex. But I had problematic inner dialogue, I judged myself, I talked to myself, in a way I wouldn't talk to my worst enemy. I mean, I, and I had to sort of metacognitive like, oh, I'm doing that thing I do. And the more I learned about how the brain is wired, and how we kind of get entrenched in fear, I started to also understand how you could reframe that thinking. And that was the next step for me, reframing my thinking. And it took a lot. That's where the time really comes in. Because it takes a long time, like learning a new skill, or a new language or anything, right? I had to learn how to reframe my thinking and I did that, and I practiced that. And it started to feel differently, I started to feel better. And, and I said, well, this really works. And so, the strategies that I created, are based on all of that work. And that's what I teach to clients and students.
Nicola Vetter 12:53
How did you land on becoming a fear expert?
Nancy Burger 12:59
Because I realized what a gift fear is. It's almost like having an encyclopedia of yourself in your back pocket. It tells you everything you need to know about yourself. It's like getting a roadmap handed to you for what you want to focus on. My tagline has been "find your fear, find your way." Because avoiding the fear is such a mistake. Embracing the fear, and unpacking it, understanding where it comes from, why you know, have the thoughts that you have, what your early imprinting was that led you to those thought patterns, it's a gift and once I started looking at it like a gift, and unraveling it kind of like a sweater pulling the threads, I learned so much about myself. And then I had the raw material to flip the script and to change my thinking. And I'm not talking about, you know, positive thinking, which is a horribly overused phrase, because we can't just get into positive thinking and change it. It's about understanding why you're having the thoughts you're having, and then changing the wording, flipping it around, and then telling yourself that because it's just as easy as telling yourself the other thought, but the more you fire those neurons, the more you speak those different phrases you change your inventory of language, you create new neural pathways in your brain, and the next time and the next time you're more apt to think the same way. It's science. It's not my opinion, right? So, it works. And that's how I came to this work.
Nicola Vetter 14:53
Can you give us one example, specific example, how you turned around that thinking in a fear-based situation?
Nancy Burger 15:03
Sure. So, I'll share one of the strategies that is extremely powerful with my clients and learners, participants in retreats. It's called a "fear to want" exercise. And what I do is I hand out index cards. And I say, on the front of each card, I want you to write a fear-based or limiting thought. Could be, I'm afraid that I'll be stuck in this job for the rest of my career, or I'm afraid my relationship will deteriorate for lack of connection. Whatever it is. Put the fear-based thought, the limiting thought, on the front of the card. On the back of the same card, I ask people to reword the fear into a want. Not a wish, not a hope, very different neurological experience, a lot. So, it takes people from victim mindset, defensive mindset, fixed mindset into growth mindset, into intention and purpose, into desire, it is a very different experience for your brain. And then I have them read the flip side of the card, the want, out loud. And what that does is, okay, so they found the language, and now they're speaking the words which lights up both hemispheres of the brain and the experience is powerful. When I do this with university students, when I speak with entrepreneurship students in particular, they'll sit up on their beds, they sit up a little bit, you know, they kind of like puff up a little bit. It's like, it's wonderful to watch. And this is always a favorite activity because people realize, in those moments of speaking that want, I can do this differently. I can experience this differently. And that's one of my favorite exercises.
Peter Axtell 16:57
Does the science bear out that your mind actually doesn't know the difference between truth and not truth? And is that somehow related to when you're feeding the thoughts in your mind different messages? Do you know how that works?
Nancy Burger 17:10
Well, I'm not going to speak to that, because I don't know the neurology behind truth or falsehoods. But what I will say is the brain definitely can be trained to fire differently. You know, what fires together wires together. It can be trained to fire differently based on language. And, you know, language, written language spoken, it experiences things differently based on the language you choose. And by the way, research into the brain has been vast. In the last decades it's been amazing what has been discovered. But one thing that's been discovered is that the brain when we do something new, the wiring of the brain changes. And that's logical, right? That's reasonable. But research has shown that the brain also changes if we think about doing something differently. So, if you think about BASE jumping, or you think about mountain climbing, or whatever, your brain reacts to that. So, this concept of neuroplasticity is real. And it's extremely powerful. And it extends to a lot of things that we didn't think it did. So, what I'm talking about here is kind of capitalizing on that neuroplasticity.
Peter Axtell 18:31
That is fantastic. So Nancy, the main question we're trying to answer on this podcast is, is it possible to find an authentic, meaningful, and fulfilling, satisfying life you love while paying the bills and building a rewarding career? And the way we approach this is through Inside-Out Career Design, which is the opposite of what people usually do and how they usually answer the question of what's next. They go from the outside in, they say, these are my strengths, or, or this is what other people think I'm good at. And this is what will pay me the most money. So, we ask people to do the opposite of what is usually done or considered safe. And one thing we've realized that doing this takes courage. Courage is needed when you're afraid, as I'm sure you're aware of, and you happen to be the expert on fear. What is your take on this?
Nancy Burger 19:35
Well, I think it's fascinating that it's called Inside-Out because my work is all inside out geared right? So, when I work with people, I say, let's go inside and figure out where the fear comes from so then we can reframe it. So that's the first thing that strikes me. But on a deeper level. Yes, these big changes in life, changing career, trying to find the path that is fulfilling for you. It does take courage. And I would say not but and it's possible. It once you like we were talking about acceptance, except that you want to change and set a path for yourself. So, I have, you know, everyone's different everyone has a unique set of circumstances, and I think we get into dangerous territory whenever we sort of deliver an axiom that everyone should follow, right? Whether it be, oh, you don't worry about it, think in an abundance mindset, and the money will come. Well, like, you know, for some people, maybe that's okay. But for some people that might be just petrifying because they really live paycheck to paycheck. So, I want to be very careful about that sort of thing. But one thing that is a truism that, I believe is a truism is where you put your energy is what you become. If you are passionate about a certain path for yourself, or certain avocation, or whatever it is, if you really want to do something, I believe that you draw that energy to you, you cross paths with people that can help you, if you approach it with curiosity and an open growth mindset, you do your homework, you know, you chip away at it, you will get there. That looks differently for different people, but I think that common denominator is understanding you're going to have setbacks, understand you're going to be afraid, understand there's going to be failures. And all of that will be gifts along the way that help you iterate. The biggest successes have had galactic failures, if you ask any of them starting with Jeff Bezos, you know. I mean, Tom Brady wasn't the first pick the first time. There are so many stories of galactic failures and how they were just a step toward the next the next chapter or success. So, I know I'm meandering a lot here. But I think it's really important that people understand that setting your intention, and then chipping away at it, finding out how you are wired, and how you deal with adversity, and reframing your fear-based and limiting thoughts is a really good step to help you on that journey. And then don't expect that everything happens overnight. And just go one step at a time, keep your mind open, keep your heart open, and you'll draw the energy toward you. That may sound a little woo-woo for some people, but I went on this journey myself and I discovered that at the beginning, I had a plan. And once I accepted that the plan would iterate, everything changed. So, you know what I mean, you can't get stuck on that one plan, you need to be open to the iterations. Because that shows you your way.
Peter Axtell 23:05
And I disagree with you that this sounds woo-woo. Because what you're talking about is feeding your brain the right kinds of language but taking action. You're not just clicking your heels, magical thinking, I'm gonna go to Italy, and it's gonna all work out. You're talking about taking action, because without any action, there's gonna be no results. So it isn't, woo-woo, I think you said that very, very well. Good. I'm glad we're on the same page.
Nicola Vetter 23:38
And now the other thing that happens often, that we see in our practice, is that people just like to cling on to what they have, they like to stick with their known misery because it's a known path. And yet, of course, they limit themselves and can't really move out of that. How do you deal with people - I see you nod - how do you deal with people that are just afraid to move into the unknown?
Nancy Burger 24:19
Right, they're stuck. It depends on the person. And sometimes, to be perfectly frank with you, sometimes in some cases, when someone is terribly stuck it could be a trauma response. In some cases, it ends up being a trauma response that that person has when we dig in, go inside. Sometimes we learn, I learned with clients that they have had trauma in their past. And in those cases, I will refer them out you know, I'm not a mental health professional but I am a mental health consumer. I have been in therapy myself for 30 plus years. I am a trauma survivor. I understand how trauma lives in the nervous system. And sometimes the best thing I can do for someone is to refer them to someone that can do trauma work with them. Because in those cases, and they aren't all those cases, Nicola, but in those cases, the trauma that's embedded in the nervous system cannot rise to the level of cognition. So, what I mean by that is, someone can go into therapy and have cognitive behavioral talk therapy for 100 years, if they are suffering from trauma that's deeply rooted in the nervous system, talk therapy will not access that or heal that. So, in some cases, I refer people out so that they can do either EMDR or different modalities that can access and heal their trauma, and then they can become unstuck. Now, that's one population. For others who are stuck, a lot of it goes back to their inner dialogue, self-limiting beliefs, you know, this is all there is for me, I don't really deserve anything else. I mean, this is problematic dialogue, right? So, it's in those cases, I will sort of tried to crack them open either through journaling, doing some sort of free writing exercise, I sometimes have clients write a letter to themselves and just say, what feels right and what doesn't feel right. Sometimes it's as simple as that to get us started. But there has to be an awareness, and I do different things to raise that awareness.
Peter Axtell 26:34
Nancy, from your point of view, then what are some of the biggest obstacles you see people have, that you are able to help them overcome?
Nancy Burger 26:44
The biggest obstacle I see is believing your thoughts. It's, it's my mantra, it's Don't believe everything you think, it's crazy.
Peter Axtell 26:55
Oh, that's great, don't believe, everything you think.
Nancy Burger 26:57
Your thoughts are choices you make all day, every day, feelings are feelings, you have them, you cannot control them. And I would never tell someone how to feel. Your thoughts are choices you make all day, every day, and you can choose different thoughts that serve you better. But if you believe all your thoughts, just because they're flying through your brain, and then you behave based on those thoughts, you can be getting yourself into, you know, not only unhealthy dynamics with other people, but unhealthy dynamics with yourself. And I know this because I did it, I did that very thing. Once I changed the inner dialogue, and I stopped believing my thoughts and started noticing them I learned a lot about myself and was able to make a lot of change. And so, I think that's a key component of this whole process. Just don't believe your thoughts.
Peter Axtell 27:47
Yeah, I want to be clear that I don't think you can actually, you can't really control your thoughts. They just arise. But I think what you're saying is you can control how you react to your thoughts and how you believe your thoughts, because thoughts just come up, you can't really say okay, I want to control how my thoughts are coming through.
Nancy Burger 28:06
Well, there's schools of thought on that, Peter.
Peter Axtell 28:09
Oh, let's hear about that.
Nancy Burger 28:10
Yeah, so feelings are really accepted, widely accepted as out of our control, they really do they just rise up. And, you know, we experience them. Thoughts are, again, going back to these neural pathways, you know, and, and it’s sort of the words in your head, the inventory of language in your head, what you were modeled as a child, how you were imprinted in early relationships, and first jobs in school. There's so much research about this. So, there are those who believe that we choose our thoughts. And it may be because they bubble up, as you say, you know, we don't actually sit and say, I'm going to choose a that, I'm going to choose an and, I'm going to, you know, but they are experiences our life experiences predispose us to certain thoughts, right. So, in that way, that's what we're referring to. And, again, you know, I have an infographic I use that looks like a road map, and the road signs on the road are where I have people fill in early life experiences, you know. The calamity of high school audition for a musical that now you weren't wondering why you can't get up and give a presentation at work. Or you know, the family member who told you, you would never be a good, blank, whatever it is, and then you're sure enough, you're having trouble being that thing. So that kind of information is on your hard drive. And it leads to the thoughts that you end up choosing. So, it all works beautifully together when we start out at the beginning. Right?
Peter Axtell 29:49
I totally agree when you said it's all on our hard drive, that tape has been running since we were born. I totally agree. What do you think about fear contributing to the cause of people's dissatisfaction at work and their careers? It's, of course, it's well known, you know, the Gallup thing, 70% of people hate their job and all that. But what is your take as a fear expert? How does that contribute to people saying, I hate my job? I'd love to know your thoughts on that.
Nancy Burger 30:19
I really believe it's because they think they don't have any choices. I believe that people get stuck in fear-based thinking because they really believe that's all there is. And in large part, it may be because they just don't have context. They don't know what else there is. You know, a lot of times, the first step is just getting out of your own head and expanding your horizons a little bit, casting a wider net, going to networking events, going to meet new people, studying other industries. I mean, frankly, when I talked to my grown children, as they graduated college, I was astounded by how little they knew of what was available to them. You know, like going to school and getting a degree? Well, that's great. But then what? What's next? You have to have some content, you have to have some, like idea of what's out there. And for people who are in their careers, particularly in the middle of their career, they may just feel well, I've spent all this time. I'm you know, what else? What else? What, what am I going to do now? How am I going to change now. But my goodness, there's just so many opportunities that they may be unaware of, they may be able to consult in the industry that they've gotten this far in, and then have some freedom to explore other things. The bottom line is: the beginning is getting curious. Curiosity is everything. Because if we shut ourselves down and sleepwalk through life, we're gonna get what we're gonna get. And there won't be those sparks of light where I could do something differently. And I could kind of like, weave my own future. Sleepwalking, I mean, that's the worst possible thing, that feeling of regret where you wanted to try something else, but you were just too afraid, because you had to pay your mortgage, and you wanted to put your kids to college, do it. But this is what I say to people. What do you want to model for the people in your life? What do you want to show? How do you want to show up? And how do you want to be remembered? Do you want to be remembered as the person who just kept checking the box? Or do you want to, you know, test the limits, test your own boundaries, get curious, and try something else? Yeah, you'll have failures. But you'll also have successes.
Nicola Vetter 32:51
I love that curiosity is everything. Well, that could be my life motto. Now, what's the difference between being cautious at work, for example, and fear-based?
Nancy Burger 33:06
Well, sometimes there's no difference. You know, fear is a very valuable emotion. It may be if you're feeling hesitant, before you hit send on that email, there may be good reason for it. We're wired to protect ourselves. The difference comes in when you don't send the email because you think that you're creating narratives that might be fictional. So, what do I mean by that? We write stories all the time, we're meaning makers, human. So we attach meaning to everything. And we create narratives, sometimes based on facts, mostly based on fiction. And then we operate based on those narratives. So, this all goes back again to metacognition, noticing ourselves. If you've written the email carefully, you're speaking truth with professionalism, you've checked for typos, you've read it three times, it's fine, and you're still afraid to send the email because you're writing a narrative about what your boss thinks of you, what your teammates think of you, that's where that metacognition piece comes in really handy, because you can notice yourself. Okay, the facts are that there's no grammatical errors, this is very professional, I'm not being combative, all the things. You're still afraid all the time or you find yourself apologizing all the time. Are you there? That's that fear-based limiting belief system going on that you want to check, and you want to flip.
Peter Axtell 34:43
What is metacognition for our listeners who may not understand that term?
Nancy Burger 34:48
Okay, yeah. Noticing your thoughts, noticing yourself, sort of taking a step back and saying, oh, I'm doing that thing. Instead of just being rooted in believing every thought you have, you kind of just take a step back, step outside of yourself.
Nicola Vetter 35:06
It's like the bird perspective in a way, right? You're pulling up and looking over everything.
Nancy Burger 35:12
Peter Axtell 35:14
Nancy, you have said that fearlessness is a fallacy. So, let's hear more about that.
Nancy Burger 35:20
It totally is. You know, fearlessness. So, you know, I think it's great that we try to empower each other. I think that's beautiful. And in my early work, I was working primarily with women. And I saw a lot of that, you know, be fearless, be, be bad, be bold, be all the things. So, I think sometimes it lands in a weird way because what we're saying is, it's impossible to be fearless. But what we're really implying is that, you know, feel the fear and do it anyway. And in some cases, that could be really reckless. And I would never try to promote recklessness having been reckless myself in my past. The message I tried to get across is that fear is your ally, fear is your greatest asset, fear is your teacher. Understand the fear, and reframe the fear, and then do the thing you want. Be what you want, do what you want, live your life, create what you want. But I would stay away from you know, the banner of fearlessness. And I would prefer to hold up the banner of, I understand my fear, and I'm embracing myself and accepting myself, and then building the courageous path forward.
Peter Axtell 36:57
Fantastic. It really goes against "fear is your friend," whoever is going, waaa, what do you mean? That really makes a lot of sense. And you said that to get unstuck, it's important to first find and embrace your fears. So, let's talk about that.
Nancy Burger 37:21
Yeah. So, first, I just want to do a quick little back of the envelope, you know, science class, that there's different kinds of fear. So, the fear we're talking about today is not the fear that I feel when I see a spider, or the fear you feel when you're about to walk down a dark alley, and you know, your hair kind of stands up on your neck and you're feeling a little... That is a very different kind of fear that originates from an entirely different part of your brain. So, it originates from the amygdala, it's far from gray matter, far from the cerebral cortex. Why? Because if you're standing on the train track, and the train is barreling forward toward you, you're not going to take a minute to weigh your options. Hmm, how many seconds before I get... So, we are wired not to think in the presence of a threat, right, the lion in the room, the train coming at you, the car coming at you, different part of the brain, comes from the amygdala, at the brainstem. What we're talking about is the cerebral cortex, the thinking brain, and those kinds of fears, which, again, we go back, you know, I'm a broken record now, but this comes from our early life, our early experiences. So, in this case, accepting that the fear-based thought exists, allows you to then take the next step and unpacking it. So, let me give a quick example because this can be a little bit lofty. You know, people are like, what is she talking about, you know, unpacking your fear? Okay, so I will give a personal example. I never had trouble speaking up at work. I never had trouble advocating for myself at work. I started my career in finance on Wall Street in the 80s. Never had trouble, had my suit on, had my tie on, walked around the bank, had it all going on. When it came to personal relationships, couldn't take up space, couldn't just, I was a chameleon. Whoever I happen to be with, I would just be like them. I would like the movies they liked. I would like the food they like. It took me, I was in my 40s before I figured that out. And because I'd started doing this work. Went back to my early life experience. In my first family home it was all about talking about world politics, academics, jobs, careers, but nobody talked about personal relationships. It was just too, it was considered kind of silly. So, you see what I mean. So, I would get fearful in personal relationships and in asking for what I needed or saying this isn't working or whatever, I couldn't even tell a friend, I wasn't happy with them. But at work, there was no problem. So that dichotomy was always a mystery to me until I unpacked my own fear-based thoughts. And then it was like, oh, that's why I do that thing. And it was so enlightening for me. So, this is the kind of, I always I liken it to like, Dorothy, I always use Dorothy as the metaphor and the Wizard of Oz. Like, we had to get to the end of the movie before she realized she had those shoes on the whole time. And all she had to do is click the heels together. We all have that power, we just have to use it.
Nicola Vetter 40:42
So, you finally worked out how to speak up in your relationships as well. And how did you do it? I didn't happen from one day to the next, right?
Nancy Burger 40:59
Oh, no, no, no, these were among the strategies that I learned with my support system. Like often it was just having access to the right language. And I teach this now. It's like, okay, don't apologize, unless you have a reason to apologize. And start with I statements. So, this was a big change for me. I started implementing all I statements when I was in any kind of an uncomfortable exchange with someone, instead of saying, you did this, and I didn't like it. I always started with I, I felt sad when you, I felt betrayed when you whatever it is. Start with an I statement. It's so powerful, because if you start with you, the other person is on the defensive in five seconds. When you start with an I statement, no one can say to you, no, you didn't feel that, you can't do that. I express myself with compassion and respect and care. I speak my truth. And I stay in my lane, I let the other person do whatever they're going to do with the information. But I don't take that on. These are the little tricks and tips that I started implementing. And it was just so empowering, to be able to express myself freely, kindly, but freely, just by changing my language and changing my phrasing and doing things a little bit differently. And then I got really comfortable doing it. And to this day, it is just never a problem to complain, because I use my strategies.
Peter Axtell 42:36
I love this. I speak my truth and I stay in my lane. Oh, I've got to write that one down. That's fantastic advice.
Nicola Vetter 42:50
You're very comfortable in your skin when it comes to business and academia and all of that, writing of course. Could you also transfer what you learned from your relationships, your personal life? Could you transfer that one on one to the business part? For others listening that might have the opposite problem.
Nancy Burger 43:18
Yes, they're interchangeable and I do it all the time. They're interchangeable and they fuel each other. Right? Because this whole concept that we show up one way personally, and one way professionally is just bunk. I think. And especially given the experience we had in the pandemic, the lines are all blurred, you know, your cat's walking across your laptop during your Zoom meeting, you know, there's kids in the background, there's FedEx people popping in. So, life is different now. And work life is different now. And we show up the way we show up at work and at home, it's really the same thing. Obviously, you know, there's a level of professionalism and things we don't really talk about at work, and I understand all that, but I'm just saying that the lines are very blurred. So, what I use myself and what I teach other people, you know, strategies that are applicable anywhere, I tweak them a little bit for like, you know, I'll work on digital communication at work, you know, workplace communication, not so unique to work and sometimes they take a little bit of a different approach.
Peter Axtell 44:27
Just a couple more questions. I'm curious because, you know, we know that music is a passion of yours. Of course, as you know, it is for me. How has music helped you throughout your life? And how have you incorporated music in your life? Because I'm pretty sure I know you're not in a rock'n'roll band and opening for the Rolling Stones next week. But I know how important music is to you. So how have you incorporated it into your life? Something so important,
Nancy Burger 45:03
Right now, I am contemplating incorporating music into my work. And what I mean by that is, using song because I'm a songwriter, using song to reinforce my message on how to reframe limiting beliefs, how to understand your fear better, because just as people learn better through story, you know, song is story. And just now I am talking to my videographer about incorporating music into my speaking engagements, into my trainings. And I'm actually writing lyric like, just yesterday, I was writing lyrics, because I think it would bring... To answer your question, music has meant everything to my life, because it's a channel for me to be creative, and to express myself. And I'm a singer songwriter. And I've probably written I don't know, I mean, 30 songs maybe. And going into the recording studio, you know, tapping into my creative juices, and expressing myself that way has been tremendously powerful in some of the hardest times of my life. Now, I'm kind of like experimenting with well, how can that format, help people learn that they have choices? Help people feel hopeful, healthy. So, it is just so funny that you asked the question, because I really in the coming year, I want to offer that as part of my service offering that when I do the talk, when I do the training, I'll bring a song just for that team or just for that organization,
Peter Axtell 46:48
I think this is a great idea. And this causes me to think about somebody listening to this, to think about what their passions, whether it's painting, or yoga, or music, and you've got to make a living in a certain way. But you can also feed this other very important part of you in another way. I don't make a living being a professional musician anymore, but I try and play 10 or 15 minutes every day. And that feeds this deep, important part of me, which I know you understand, without having to say I must reclaim my youth and do any of that. You can kind of combine that and have both.
Nancy Burger 47:25
Absolutely, my son is a phenomenal guitar player. And at one point, he was probably 19 and he said, people are saying maybe I should make a living doing this. And I said, well, I'm not going to tell you how to what to choose for your path forward. What I will tell you is this, when you have to play your guitar to eat, it is less fun than when you can do something else that lets you eat and then you can play your guitar for fun. So that really resonated. I think it resonated with him. He's going to get his master's now. So, I guess it did. But it's so true. Any passion that you have, we go back to the curiosity piece, you can figure out a way to integrate it into your life's work. And not only will it be fulfilling for you, it could be a discerning factor, right? It could set you apart from all the other people doing the thing you're doing. So, just be open, you never know until you kind of like, experiment and try different things. So, I never in a million years thought that I would integrate music into my work. But I started just paying attention to signals. And that's how I got to this point today. But to even as recently as six to nine months ago, I never really thought about it. Even when I would play and people would say, you know, that's really too bad you can't do that more. So, you know what I mean? It's just, it's just stay open. You know, every day when I wake up, and I know a lot of people do gratitude journals and I think that's beautiful. I don't do that. I wake up and I'd say, what could happen today?
Peter Axtell 49:14
Oh, great. What could happen today?
Nancy Burger 49:18
Yeah, instead of, oh, this is my list. This is my thing. I'm gonna do that. What is possible?
Nicola Vetter 49:26
So you're opening up your antennas for the world.
Nancy Burger 49:31
Absolutely. Everyone can do it. It doesn't take any special talent. It just takes willingness, just being willing to try.
Peter Axtell 49:40
No, you're right, Nancy. I actually don't pop out of bed and go, Wow, what's on my list today. Perhaps I should reframe. I think I should reframe.
Nancy Burger 49:54
Reframe! We'll start a reframing club.
Nicola Vetter 50:00
Okay, well, Nancy, this is far too much fun with you. But we have to come to an end here. And I would just like to know, is there anything that we didn't touch on that you really wanted our audience to know?
Nancy Burger 50:14
No, I think we touched on some really awesome topics today. There's a lot of information here. I know, it can be a little bit overwhelming when you're hearing these things for the first time, the science of the brain and all this stuff. So, what I like to do at the end of these things is say, to the audience, you already know, you already have the power, you already know what you want. So, give yourself permission to feel and give yourself permission to want something different. It's the first step and then just get curious. And you'll draw the right people to you, you'll see things in a different way. But if the status quo isn't working, honor that. And start there.
Nicola Vetter 51:05
There we have some pearls of wisdom. Thank you so much, Nancy.
Peter Axtell 51:09
Nancy Burger 51:10
Yeah, my pleasure. Thanks, guys, for having me.
Peter Axtell 51:13
We hope you enjoyed this interview. The biggest takeaway for me, was this idea of sleepwalking through life, and how our inner voice, our egoic voice tries to keep us stuck there through negative fear-based dialogue, and how a powerful first step is to just accept that things are not okay, or the way you want them to be.
Nicola Vetter 51:37
Yes, and for me, also the idea that you don't want to sleepwalk through life, and how the first step to getting unstuck or figuring things out, is to get curious, how curiosity is the beginning to see what's possible, of opening yourself to possibility and change that you can use to weave together your own future.
Peter Axtell 52:09
Wonderful. To learn more about Nancy, head to WhatsNext.com/3, where we share all the links and more. Again, that's WhatsNext.com/3.
Nicola Vetter 52:31
And if you like what you've heard, share it with someone you care about. And subscribe, rate, and review our Inside-Out Career Design podcast on Apple podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you get your podcasts, so you'll never miss an episode. Thanks so much for joining us here today. We'll see you next week for another episode. Same time, same place.