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  • Writer's pictureAlmeera Eman

Fear is running your kids life and what you can do about it

Do you ever wonder what’s holding your young person back from applying for that job, trying out for the sports team or even asking that person out?

Well, in today’s episode, Michelle unpacks this powerful underlying emotion of fear. She walks us through how and why fear overwhelms teenagers when they are faced with making decisions.

As always, Michelle shares real-life tips on how to have the proper conversation with your teenager on overcoming their fear, and provides insight on how to make this effective on your young person. Take a listen!

Topics Discussed

  • The powerful emotion of fear and its impact on your teens performance.

  • Why are teenagers feeling so overwhelmed and nervous about their future?

  • Understanding concepts of rejection and uncertainty, and how they factor in on your young person’s decision making.

  • Identifying fear in terms of its 3 zone zones, comfort, challenge and overwhelm and tips to navigate through these.

  • Advice and resources on how to lead conversations about overcoming fears with you teen

  • How to support and show up for your young person during this transitional stage of their life.

Resources Mentioned In This Episode

Connect With The Canadian Gap Year Association


Michelle Dittmer - 00:00

Do you ever wonder what's holding your young person back from applying for that job or asking that person out or maybe even trying out for the sports team that they're really, really good at?

Well, in today's episode, we are going to explore the underlying emotion and why it's so powerful and how it is holding our young people back in their lives.

So, take a listen and learn how you can identify this emotion and help your young person to use it to their advantage and move themselves forward into those things that are scaring them.

Michelle Dittmer - 01:21

Hey there and welcome to the Gap Your Podcast! My name is Michelle Dittmer and I am your host and Gap Your Expert.

We are getting a little bit of a late jump on the start of our podcast season for 2023, but as they say, better late than never, we've actually been spending some time taking a look at what content you listeners really want to hear. So checking into the analytics of what episodes are getting the most listens and where we are getting the most feedback.

So please feel free to leave a comment on the episodes that you are listening to or send us an email at info at

We'd love to hear your ideas of where you want us to take this podcast and what are the topics you'd really, really like to hear about it because we are here to serve you and share our knowledge with you, but also want to make sure that this is on point with what you want to be hearing.

Michelle Dittmer - 02:16

Now today's episode is all about a very, very strong emotion that is holding so many of us back.

And I'm going to focus because this is my area of genius is on how this particular emotion impacts young people, but you may find that it resonates with you and it might be showing up in your life too.

So let's jump in and let's talk about this powerful emotion called fear.

Now, when I think of emotions, I think of that amazing Disney Pixar movie “Inside Out” and the way that they represent emotions is so incredible.

They did their research and I think of that little purple character that's fear and while this little guy is kind of a caricature of fear, they did a really great job of capturing a lot about what fear is really all about and how powerful this emotion can be in how we show up in our day to day life.

Now, fear is something that we often think about in horror movies or when something is really scary, but fear can also be a protective mechanism that we use in our everyday life to protect us from true danger.

And that dates way, way back to a time when we were evolving in need to survive and fear kept us safe. It kept us away from cave lions and bears and tigers and everything that was going to be out there to kill us.

And while in modern society, we don't necessarily have to keep away from lions and tigers and bears in our daily lives, fear is still a very strongly motivating factor in all the decisions that we make in the way that we approach life.

Michelle Dittmer - 04:23

But as I said, my zone of genius is working with young adults and teenagers.

So let's jump into how this shows up in the lives of young adults, because what I've noticed in all of my conversations with my coaching clients is that they are experiencing tremendous amounts of fear about their futures and about the decisions that they're making about their futures and it's almost paralyzing for them that they are unable to move themselves forward.

Now, this fear isn't helped along with the messages that they're hearing about the future of the world in general and the adulthood that they're stepping into.

They hear about climate catastrophe and even just the thought process of will I have an earth to live in for my lifetime. That is so heavy and that is something that is fear inducing for sure.

And to the fact that I've been hearing that many environmentalists are actually choosing not to have kids because they don't want, they don't want their kids to have to live through what is coming up on this planet.

And so that is terrifying. And I have a much shorter time on this planet left than somebody who's a teenager right now.

So they hear this message. They hear messages about the economy, about this looming recession, or lack of jobs, economic instability, inflation and rising cost of eggs.

And this idea of will there be a job for me? How will I ever be able to afford anything like let alone a house? How am I going to be able to afford to feed myself and maybe a family that I want to have one day? The fear that they're going to be in this gig economy and they might have to work five different jobs.

That doesn't exactly teach our body to relax and feel comfortable about the future. It's enough to make anyone fearful.

Michelle Dittmer - 06:34

And young people are especially susceptible to the fear of rejection. Realistically, we're all scared of being rejected. But at this moment in time and late adolescence, their brains aren't quite wired to deal with rejection very well.

They're geared towards this idea of acceptance and belonging and that's really a lot of the primary drivers for the decisions that they make in their lives.

So this fear of rejection is something that is looming all around them in every decision that they make.

We know that about their brains and their way, the brains work. But if you think about what's going on in a teenage life at this particular time in life, they're being exposed to so many potential opportunities to be rejected.

They're looking for part-time jobs. They are going off to school and they need to make new friends. Or maybe they're pursuing a romantic interest or they're applying to schools. And each and every single one of those poses the threat of rejection and taking a risk and having to put yourself out there. And all of these things are happening one after the other or even in succession.

And if you think about that, that is happening, They have more opportunity for rejection than most grownups do and they're particularly sensitive to that. So it's kind of this perfect storm for fear to really be brewing for these young people.

Michelle Dittmer - 08:20

And I'm working with so many teenagers. What we're really seeing right now is so many young people are being paralyzed by fear.

Subconsciously, a lot of them are adopting this mentality that it's better not to try than to be rejected or constantly having to assess the risk of every single situation.

Now, I say subconsciously because most young adults aren't even able to identify that fear is the emotion that's driving their behavior.

And when I say this, let's dive into an example because I think this will really highlight this really well for you.

So when I'm working with young people, often they want to find a job. They want that financial independence, but they have no idea where to start.

So they come to me and they say, Michelle, I can't find a job and I kind of take a second and say, okay, well, what have you done in this process?

And nine times out of 10, they'll say, I've been looking on Indeed for a job. Now, if you have been outside of your house in the world somewhere, you'll know that just about everybody is hiring right now, especially for those entry level jobs.

So if you show up at almost any retailer and you'll see a sign in the window now hiring, job there happening this weekend, if you walked into any of those places and asked for a job, you might be handed a uniform right on the spot.

So from a grownup perspective, there's never been a better time to get these entry level jobs. But in conversations with young people, it doesn't appear that way because of this fear that's there.

So when I'm talking with them and I ask them about their process, they can actually see that they are not applying because there is this fear that is the underlying piece that's holding them back is their fear of being rejected.

So really, they're scared to put themselves out there and be told that they're not good enough or told that they don't have the skills.

So many of them will start with the language round that they lack confidence and you may be seeing this in your young people too, that you see them and you don't feel they're as confident as they should be. Or maybe they're just saying, I don't know how to do this or I don't know how to do this next step in my life.

And for them, taking risks seems like way too much risk.

This fear of rejection is too strong and they really, really don't want to make a mistake.

In the coaching sessions I have with these young people, we talk about the role that fear plays out in this scenario.We talk about how it's maybe they've defaulted to Indeed because it's a lot easier to be rejected online by online applications where basically they just don't get a response.

They're just ghosted by no reply. That and to have that rejection happen face to face. That's really intimidating for somebody to step in and say, well, actually, no, you're not what we're looking for.

And the conversations also often turn into this fear of not knowing how the situation will play out. So if I'm face to face with somebody, who do I ask to get a job? What if there's no manager there to speak to? What if they want to do an interview on the spot and I am not, I don't feel prepared or I'm not dressed properly?

They don't want to look silly. They don't want to blow what they perceive as their only shot at getting that job.

Michelle Dittmer - 12:16

And they are holding themselves to such high standards, partially because social media only shows the rosy side of things.

And everybody thinks everybody gets it and if I'm the one that doesn't get it, I'm the loser.

So in many of these cases, this fear is so crippling that it leads to complete inaction.

Whereas the opposite or not the opposite, but another reaction can also evolve from this place of fear and sometimes it plays out as anger.

So let me give you a second scenario. So we talked about getting a job, but let's look at scenario two.

Maybe your young person is applying to post-secondary and you as the parent are curious and innocently are asking if there's been any news about their university admissions.

And for seemingly no reason, your kid blows up.

Lay off, mom. Why can't you just leave me alone? Maybe they storm off or slam the door. But really, they aren't mad.

They're just a little fearful of rejection. They're fearful that they're not going to get in. They're scared that if they get rejected that they're going to have to share that with you, their parent, the person who they really don't want to disappoint.

This may sound funny, but teen's secret is that they really don't want to let you down. And so that's how that fear can manifest itself and be presented in anger in some of the interactions you might have with your young person.

So the question really is, how can we help? How as parents, can we help with this situation?

Michelle Dittmer - 14:06

Now, let me talk about how the Canadian Gap Your Association and how I support young people in analyzing this and really understanding this process.

We coach students to understand fear in terms of three zones that they might be in.

One is their comfort zone. Two is their challenge zone and three is their overwhelm zone.

Now, they are just what they sound like.

Your comfort zone is that space where you feel safe, you feel comfortable, you're in your PJs with a warm blanket on. It is the place where you are most comfortable and feeling safe.

The opposite end is true. When we go to the overwhelm zone, it's so far outside, so far away from that comfort zone that we are just panicking and in survival mode.

So just our brain stops functioning effectively and we are just striving to survive.

Now, the middle, the sweet zone, is our challenge zone. So we want to always push ourselves into that challenge zone. That's the area of optimal growth. Now, what gets us from one to the next is different levels of fear quite often.

So once they understand that these areas exist and they learn to identify when they are in each zone, then we start to understand that there's a time and a place to be sitting in that comfort zone or to push ourselves into that challenge zone.

Or even when we find ourselves in that overwhelm zone, we need to find a way to guide ourselves back into that challenge zone or into that comfort zone.

So if your kids are finding themselves in the overwhelm zone or having trouble getting out of that comfort zone, understanding this continuum and how to navigate and get from one zone to another is key.

So that's really what we want to do. We want to put them in the challenge zone as much as possible and we want to move them out of their comfort zone or take them down out of their overwhelm zone into that challenge zone.

So really, baby steps is another common way that we think of this. So we're not going to go from being scared to ask for a job to going to a Fortune 500 company and asking to be a CEO there.

That's too much of a jump. That's going to put you in your overwhelm zone and you're not going to be effective.

Michelle Dittmer - 16:51

So let's go back to this idea.

When we're talking about those baby steps and moving from a comfort zone of just looking for jobs on Indeed and getting them to take a step out of that comfort zone into the challenge zone, I recommend that they start with a mock conversation with me.

I'm their trusted coach, somebody that they're familiar with, somebody that they have that vulnerability with already, so we start with that.

Then I encourage them to head to a place where they don't want to get a job.

So maybe they really want a job at Sephora, they don't want a job at McDonald's.

I say go to McDonald's, try out your pitch there because if anything goes terribly, there's nothing lost.

But it is great practice in having those conversations and building up the confidence and the reverse, removing some of that fear because they are feeling more confident and that will allow them when they are ready, when they have overcome that crippling fear.

Now they'll still be nervous and we are not taking away the fear altogether, we're not taking away the nervousness, but they just are not paralyzed by that fear.

Then they can move to those more important connections at the jobs that they want.

Michelle Dittmer - 18:10

It's also important as parents to help our young people to identify what they are scared of.

So being actually able to think about what is causing them to experience fear, they can then kind of identify the enemy, and I'm using air quotes there, the enemy, whatever's causing them that fear, but then also pick out the tools that they have to defeat that enemy or at least temporarily disarm them.

So actually naming it can give them power over it. So rather than just being in a state of paralysis, they can actually step up and say, no, I am scared.

I am scared of X, Y, and Z. And this is what I can do to tackle that fear head-on.

We can also ask the question, what is the worst-case scenario? And have them play that out because that's important for them because that will articulate all of those fears and bring them up and then have a conversation about how realistic are those worst-case scenarios?

Or what are the pieces of that are more or less realistic? But then also asking them, so not just focusing on what is the worst-case scenario, but what is the best-case scenario?

Because the odds of the best-case scenario, especially in the instance of that job, can be pretty high and actually having them identify that maybe you can weigh the risks and rewards of all scary actions and decide, no, this is worth taking this action.

This is worth me getting out of my comfort zone to be able to tackle this because I want that best-case scenario or that second best-case scenario.

Michelle Dittmer - 19:54

I will say that sometimes, as a parent, these conversations can be a little trickier with our own offspring, especially if this isn't the style of conversation that you typically have with your teen.

If you're looking for some tips and tricks on how to have a conversation with your young person, there's a book on the market called How to Talk, So Your Teens Will Listen and How to Listen So Your Teens Will Talk.

It's a phenomenal resource and it doesn't only apply to communicating with teens.

So I highly recommend it, even if your young person is turning 20 or is 25, the strategies in there can be so helpful.

So if you don't usually have these conversations, check out that book, get it from the library, buy it on Amazon, buy it on Indigo, wherever you're buying books, great, great resource.

Mine has so many tabs, so many highlights in it, it is well worth it and it's in the form of a cartoon, so it's fun to read.

Michelle Dittmer - 20:54

Okay, so it might be difficult as a parent to have this with your child because maybe this is not the way that you usually speak together or simply because you are their parent, we all know sometimes words coming out of a parent 's mouth, might be the exact same ones coming out of somebody else's mouth and you as a parent know nothing, but that person has the answer.

So we just know that that's sometimes the dynamic, but I will say, so even if you attempt these conversations, your young person will hear it.

And at the time that they are ready to digest it and ready to process what you're saying, they will, they might not in the moment and it might leave you feeling rejected.

And this is a little hint, maybe it's your fear of rejection for not approaching these conversations, but even just bringing it up will mean a lot to them.

But if that's not working for you, if you can't get to that place, sometimes that's why a coach is really, really beneficial for them.

Having another trusted adult whose job it is to have these conversations and to move your young person towards resolving that fear and moving away from inaction to feeling empowered and feeling confident and feeling capable to take those next steps in their lives.

And that's really the power, the superpower that we have in the way that we interact with your young people.

Other strategies that you can use, maybe you can leverage the power of peers.

So we know that maybe you as a parent know nothing in their eyes, but their peers, they can really, really respect.

So encouraging your young person to connect with other peers who have been successful at whatever they're experiencing, whatever fear or challenge they're experiencing, that can be a great first start.

So maybe leaning on the peer to give the advice and the encouragement, and then you as the parent can follow up with the accountability of following through.

So peer-parent combo can be a really winning combination.

Michelle Dittmer - 23:09

Now, I do want you to take some time to reflect on this concept of fear, and where is it showing up in your life, and where might this be showing up for your young person?

I think being tugging on that empathy, bringing in the empathy that you have for their situation and the fear that they are experiencing, even if it's different than your own, the fear is real, then the two of you can work together to help find a way forward.

So it really can be a team effort and coming from a place of understanding and a place of expressing maybe some of the things that you are currently fearful of can really bring about some really meaningful conversation and support with that forward momentum that we all want for our kids.

So I hope that this conversation was interesting to you and perhaps even helpful as you support your young person in moving forward.

As always, if I can support in any way, please do not hesitate to reach out. Please book a call with me or send me an email.

I would be more than happy to chat with you and see how we can give your young person the best opportunity to feel supported and to feel confident and competent in whatever their next steps are and getting over some of that fear and really, really owning their life and springboarding into the next phase.

Michelle Dittmer - 24:49

So that was a lot of aunts, but I really am so passionate about this and I can never stop talking about how powerful these conversations are.

So my friends, thank you so much for listening and until next time, keep on adventuring.

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