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How To Keep Fear From Ruining Your Career

Guest post by Brian Carter as part of the book launch of The Cowbell Principle. W00t!


cowbellHave you seen the More Cowbell sketch from Saturday Night Live? It’s more than just comedy. It’s a powerful metaphor for a successful work life. And it provides insight into the kind of people you need on your team, and what makes an effective team.

Everyone has at least one cowbell — it’s your unique, profitable talent people pay you for or your company’s unique offering. It’s something people have a fever for. When you discover it and give those people a ton of it, you gain success and happiness for both yourself and others. It’s a win-win.

A cowbell is simultaneously something you love doing and something other people really want as well (though you still may have detractors and critics). A cowbell creates joy for you and other people. They can’t get enough.

Not Caring If Some People Think You’re a Fool

Is there more to you than people know? Maybe you aren’t showing up fully in your work. Are you hiding your light instead of shining it? Maybe you’re afraid to shine because of the extra scrutiny that comes with success. Are you afraid you’ll fail and look bad? It’s not necessarily better to be anonymous if the price is mediocrity.

“Be yourself; everyone else is already taken.” — Oscar Wilde

The cowbell guy in the sketch, Gene Frenkle, acts like a fool. He doesn’t care how he looks to people; he’s giving them his cowbell, and the unfortunate combination of a short shirt and a huge stomach, because he loves the cowbell. He’s so passionate he sometimes annoys even his friends and team members.

Saturday Night Live staff members said the original sketch wasn’t really funny until Will Ferrell put on the smaller shirt, increasing the sense that he was playing the fool. He is willing to look stupid if he has to in order to give people what they want. Other people think he’s dumb or crazy but he’s doing what he loves and getting great results from doing it.

To paraphrase from the SNL sketch, we don’t have a lot of songs with cowbell in it. There may not be a ton of places for you to really excel. So, you’d “be doing yourself — and every member of (your team) too — a disservice if you didn’t play the hell out of” your cowbell.

Even if you risk looking like a fool.

Who Was That Masked Man? Are You Hiding Who You Really Are?

Freedom of fear of other people’s opinions gives you the freedom to excel. You desire to be yourself has to be greater than your fear of other people. One of the reasons high school is so difficult is that teenagers are so afraid of what everybody thinks. That’s (one reason) why high school plays suck. Garrison distinctly recalls high school sports being the same way. You have to go to school the day after the game and hear people say, “Hey, Wynn! You suck. You guys suck. Could you be any worse?” (Well, we lost every game, so no, we couldn’t be any worse.) Garrison was the quarterback, the leader of losers. That level of scrutiny can be difficult.

The fear of being who you really are creates failure. If you’re not being who you really are, then you won’t achieve what you’re meant for. Are you willing to be accountable for who you really are? Then take a look at the positive, high-potential parts of yourself that you’re rejecting.

One thing that made Will Ferrell famous is his ability to be ridiculous. How many comedians would have worn that shirt with his body? In Anchorman he takes his shirt off and talks about the gun show. Chris Farley did a similar thing in his Chippendales sketch with Patrick Swayze. What we’re saying is you should get fat and take your shirt off. No, on second thought, keep your shirt on, because what we’re really saying is this: There comes a time in your life where you have to be the fat guy in a tiny shirt. So go that extra mile. Eat an extra pizza. Eat another donut. It’s great for your career.

The thing that holds people back from who they could be, from who they should be, from who they are, is fear. It holds us all back. The best, most interesting things we could put in The Cowbell Principle aren’t there because of what other people would think. That’s why we took one chapter out! (But you can get it as a bonus if you really want it.)

Sometimes the statements that people object to are the ones that produce results. Garrison wrote in his recent book that no one reads the New York Times and that USA Today is the Fisher-Price newspaper, so the Washington Post wanted to talk to him immediately.

Whose opinion are you listening to? There’s a difference between the archetypal high schooler who judges you for being a fool for your passion and the people whose opinion you care about. Typically, random high schoolers don’t help your career, don’t love you and they don’t pay your bills… other people do. What do the people who matter think?

Embrace Your Inner Read-Headed Step-Child

The red-headed kid with the cello at the bus stop is going to have a hard time in life, especially with dating. (Even if he becomes a world-renowned cellist, he’ll probably still struggle with dating.) He might endure some bullying, but he’s doing something to move his life forward. And even those of us who currently are not philharmonic players still know what we learned from learning an instrument. Full disclosure: During junior high, Brian kept his violin in his locker because he was too scared to walk around with it.

In our hearts, we all feel like that red-headed kid with the cello at the bus stop.

Confidence isn’t necessarily essential to success. We can feel confident but not look it, and that doesn’t help. Some people cry in the parking lot before a meeting, but if they walk in and project confidence, they succeed. It’s projected confidence that matters first. If you can project confidence- even fake confidence- you might conclude that you possess it, and next thing you know, you’ll really have it!

This post is an excerpt from the forthcoming book The Cowbell Principle: Career Advice On How To Get Your Dream Job And Make More Money, by Brian Carter and Garrison Wynn. Brian and Garrison will be giving away a limited number of digital copies at launch time. To get notified when they’re available, sign up at And don’t miss the cowbell launch giveaway, with $8,005 in prizes available!



(photo credit)

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