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Conquering the Fear of Failure in a New HVAC Job
When you first start your HVAC career, it’s pretty common to be afraid of failing or doing substandard work. The job market is competitive, and many new techs may worry that they’ll be inadequate and easy to replace. So, the fear of failure is common and understandable.
Embarking on an HVAC career journey can be just as terrifying as it is exciting. Whether you’re afraid of maintaining your first HVAC job, dealing with impostor syndrome, or questioning your skill levels, you’re not alone. The nerves can feel overwhelming and negatively impact your work life, but the anxiety is understandable.
You deserve to know how you can feel more empowered and secure in a new HVAC career. I’d like to give some new techs some tips to move past their fear of failure and overall nervousness.
Take stock of your attributes
Thinking about your qualities probably won’t make you feel any more secure. However, it’s the first step you can take.
If you managed to get hired for an HVAC job, there’s a good chance you’ve probably already evaluated your skills in some form. Most of us put our hard skills on our resumes, so we’ve thought about what we already know and have to offer. Even if you didn’t submit a resume and got hired through a different avenue, you probably had to explain your skills in an interview.
Soft skills can be equally important, especially in residential HVAC. Assessing your soft skills takes a lot more self-awareness than hard skills. However, having strong communication and customer service skills makes you an asset to the company. That’s because customers want you to make them feel good. Being friendly could be the difference between a 4-star review and a 5-star review, or your customer service could inspire customers to write a review when they otherwise wouldn’t have.
When you think about your skills, you can determine what you bring to the table. Skills are an indicator of your work’s quality, and you can assess your strengths and weaknesses by examining your proficiency in typical HVAC skills. If you can perform a skill very well, we hope you can feel confident in your abilities. If you realize you’re a bit behind, that doesn’t have to be a permanent anchor that keeps you at the bottom of your career ladder.
Don’t overanalyze whether you’re the best person for the job
It’s good to know where you stand when you take stock of your attributes. However, it’s neither healthy nor productive to obsess over your proficiency. Constantly analyzing your skills might only make you feel worse, and the gaps in your knowledge or skill might not even be your fault.
We understand that your background has a heavy influence on mechanical skills. Some people had high school shop classes, and others didn’t. People may have worked on cars or learned mechanical skills from their elders, and others haven’t. Being at a disadvantage won’t necessarily kill your career, though it can catch up with you and make you feel nervous about your job security.
If you feel like your skills could be better, the best thing you can do is improve them. Working on cars is a great way to get a better sense of working with your hands. Watch other people perform skills and look for points where you can improve. For example, your sheet metal cutting skills could be subpar because you contort your body while you cut. If you can watch somebody else cut sheet metal in a different body position, you might find it easier to do better work if you set your body up for success.
Accept that some people may be more skilled than you
Comparing ourselves to others is rooted in society and human nature itself. This idea doesn’t just apply to the HVAC field. The HVAC field has many hard skills with objective proficiency levels, so it’s all too easy to compare ourselves to others and lose faith in our abilities.
You may watch a coworker cut sheet metal and realize that their cuts are cleaner and straighter than yours. You can see that someone is better than you at that skill, and it’s easy to feel discouraged or nervous. That’s where those dreadful “what-ifs” come in:
What if I never become good enough at these skills? What if the company sees no value in me and fires me? Or what if I can’t find another job and can’t provide for my family or establish myself in my career?
Those thoughts can quickly spiral out of control. At worst, they can become self-fulfilling prophecies. You spend so much time worrying about your skills and value that your job performance suffers. Your management may no longer see you as an asset, and they let you go.
Of course, that’s an extreme scenario, and I don’t mean to scare you. The truth is that there will probably be people who are better at specific skills than you are, but that isn’t a career death sentence. It’s not about where you start; it’s about where you want to go and how you choose to get there.
If you feel like your skills are a bit behind everyone else’s, there are a few things you can do to avoid falling into the trap of anxious inaction.
Commit to your work by being a self-starter
Taking the initiative is a critical life skill. It opens you up to opportunities that you wouldn’t have found otherwise, and it says a lot about your character.
Simply stated, if you want to be better at something, don’t wait for someone else to teach it to you. Ask your superiors to recommend educational resources (or better yet, take advantage of free internet content and HVAC forums). Whenever you have the time, become familiar with your tools. When you’re standing by, read books instead of standing around, socializing, or checking your phone. Before long, you’ll fill the gaps in your knowledge and proficiency.
Being a self-starter also shows a good work ethic. No amount of training will improve your work ethic, and your bosses know that. That’s why the ability to take the initiative will give you more job security than if you lacked the drive to work hard and improve. When your management sees that you’re willing to work and learn, they’ll want to invest in you.
Knowing that someone is willing to invest in you can be a huge confidence booster. Hopefully, it can help diminish your fear of failure.
Allow your failures to educate you, not bring you down
As terrifying and disheartening as the truth may seem, there are several ways that you may experience “failure” in an HVAC job. You might have put your foot in your mouth and accidentally offended a customer (or just made yourself cringe when you realized what you said). Maybe you misdiagnosed something and feel like crawling in a hole. Real or perceived failures will happen in any HVAC job, and none of those will feel good.
However, you can either let them defeat you or learn from them. Learning from mistakes can be challenging if you have either a strong fear of failure or a fragile ego, but failures make us aware of our weaknesses.
After all, you can’t realize how bad you are at installing flex ducts if you don’t work on flex ducts at all. If you set up a sloppy duct system, then you’ll know which topics to look up and what you can work on to be a better technician.
I know failure never feels good. It may not bring you any comfort to walk away from a blunder and think, “Well, I survived. I still have my job. Next time I’ll do better.” Still, the only way to avoid making that same mistake is to remember it and commit to doing better.
Be the best version of your professional self
Simple professional practices will make you stand out and instill confidence in your superiors, customers, and hopefully yourself.
Arriving to work early is one of the best ways to cement yourself as a serious, committed employee. I understand how tempting it might be to sleep in a few more minutes and risk arriving late, but that’s not a best practice. Show up at least 10 minutes early to show your managers that you’re serious about your work. Showing up late is NEVER a good idea.
It’s also a best practice to demonstrate cleanliness and respect for your customers and their spaces. Wear shoe covers to avoid tracking dirt into houses, and wear company-approved clothing that’s in good condition. If you listen to the customer, be friendly, and be open about your troubleshooting process, they will appreciate your customer service and be more likely to leave a good review. If they mention you by name, that will show your bosses that you are crucial to their team. Not to mention, it feels very nice when somebody says nice things about you and your work.
In all, the key to overcoming your fear of failure is maintaining a progressive and professional mindset. Be willing to learn, and have a proactive attitude toward developing soft and hard skills throughout your career. When your employer or boss sees that you do good work and are in the business for the long haul, you’ll likely have a secure job and make a good living for years to come.
The first few days, weeks, or even months of work will be tough, especially if you already tend to get nervous and overanalyze your work. The fear of failure may be strong; you may question your worth and your future all the time. It’s frustrating and may give some of you nightmares, but it’s completely understandable.
Once you establish a good work ethic and commit to honing your skills, you may finally feel relieved of your fear of failure. As with many jobs, it takes some time to establish your momentum in a new HVAC career. You’ll probably feel a lot more confident and secure when that finally happens. (Or that’s at least what we hope for.)
This post had perfect timing!
I attended a year long HVACR program a Santa Fe College and graduated in July. I started work the very next day and after 4 months of shadowing, I was on my own with my freshly stocked van and shiny new tools last week. I knew it would be a lot different not having someone right there with me, but I was and still am very anxious to take the next step at being a good tech. BUT, this article hit home and was extremely helpful with the anxiety I’m feeling with my first full work week all by myself starting tomorrow.
So thank you!
Sounds nice. I had 3 weeks of shadowing then was sent out on my own in the middle of summer. Stressful. Hard not to beat yourself up and feel guilty when people are counting on you and you fail them.