Fight The Fears That Come With Freedom

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Fight the fears that come with freedom

Nineteen years ago, I unshackled myself from a job to pursue my life’s purpose.  I was frustrated in my role as an “employee” in a large tech company and tired of spending my precious days helping others build their dream instead of following my own.

But the idea of going it alone was terrifying.  Was it worth pulling the plug on all that comfort and security?  How could I manage without a steady paycheck, paid time off, bonuses and benefits?  Was it possible to succeed as a newly-minted nutritionist, on my own, with no prior experience?

These fears surfaced once again from students of mine who were taking a business course that I teach at the Nutritional Therapy Association, from both newbies and those who have been in practice a while. Luckily, 19 years of distance has given me perspective and the confidence to say you must tackle these demons head on before they take hold of you first.

What are they?

1.     The Imposter Syndrome. This is a is a psychological pattern in which people doubt their accomplishments and have a nagging, often internalized fear of being exposed as a "fraud". Though impostor syndrome isn’t an official diagnosis, psychologists acknowledge that it is a very real and specific form of intellectual self-doubt. Nicole Hodson gave an impassioned talk on this topic at Saturday night’s conference dinner just a couple of weeks ago. Unfortunately, it is pervasive in our industry.

You might recognize it from comments like:

  • “Who am I to teach others about nutrition? I just finished school… what do I know?”
  • “I’m still struggling with my own health issues. How can I teach people about weight management when I’m still fat myself?”
  • “I’m not perfect yet. I need another class in X, or Y, or Z to be perfect. THAT’S when I’ll open my doors for business!”

Well, I hate to break it to you, but perfection is a myth. I’ve not met a nutritionist yet who knows everything about everything and has zero personal health issues. This worry is stopping competent and passionate nutrition professionals from moving forward with their businesses. They enroll in an unending series of classes and programs so they can get “up to speed” and finally arrive at this mystical land called Perfection.

But perfection is like the horizon. No matter how long or how far you walk toward it, it’s impossible to reach.

How do you battle imposter syndrome? Get in the game! You cannot know what you don’t know until you get busy with your work. I recently read a quote from the book, The Body Keeps the Score, which said, “Our best textbook is our client.” Yes, you will stumble occasionally on your journey. No, you don’t know everything but, frankly, you never will. The only thing that really matters is that you know enough to help others make progress toward their ideal health outcome.  

If you have these doubts, acknowledge the fear, dig deep into your strengths, and move forward. Step by step, your confidence and your business will grow.

2.     Charging What You’re Worth. This fear is closely related to the imposter syndrome. After all, if you’re not perfect yet, how can you justify charging the going rate for your services? Of course, this idea, like the previous one, is preposterous!

The most valuable thing you offer to your clients is your ear. Most clients come to you after being shuffled around, largely ignored or poorly treated by the conventional medical establishment. You may think that it’s your “technical proficiency” that a client seeks, but survey data shows that, even in medicine, people are far more interested in a personal relationship with a provider than in their competence. In fact, research has shown that people who like their provider will not even sue him, even if he causes them harm!

It’s not your job to treat, heal, prevent, or diagnose (besides, it’s illegal for you to say that you do). Embrace your role as a guide, a coach, and educator. Clients are scared and confused. And fed up. They want clarity and direction. The good news? These are things that you are great at! You should feel confident about charging a fair rate for this valuable work.

3.     Fear of Failure. I recently read a book called Selling the Invisible by Harry Beckwith which has many applications to our industry. One section in his book decries the idea of failure as a fallacy.

In example after example, he shares how successful business leaders and sports heroes “failed” way more often than they won. He pointed to Fred Smith who got a “C” on his graduate school paper in which he described the concept for Federal Express, golfer Ben Hogan who said that in eighteen holes, he hit only two or three balls exactly as planned, and Robert Townsend, the genius behind Avis’s turnaround who said that two of every three decisions he made were wrong. As Beckwith concludes, “If you’re doing anything worthwhile at all, you’ll suffer a dozen failures.”

Failure is part of the path toward success.

Perfection is less important than progress.

You are valuable right now.

Recognize and accept these facts and go fearlessly forward with your great work.

To your health,


Miriam G. Zacharias, MS, NTC, BCHNTM
President, NANP 
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