Are you thinking about making a career move? Maybe it’s to another company. Maybe it’s starting a business. Maybe it’s changing careers altogether. Maybe you’re still thinking about it. Whatever career change you are contemplating, one thing is for sure: It’s scary. Why? Studies show that we humans are uneasy — if not downright terrified — of the unknown. We are much more comfortable knowing what to expect. If we could simply know what would happen if we made that career change, life would be so much easier, right? Unfortunately, life doesn’t work that way, and modern-day careers definitely don’t work that way either. Today’s climate of constant change requires us to be in charge of our careers and is often encased in the unknown. As Stephen Covey reminds us: “I am not a product of my circumstances. I am a product of my decisions.” So how can you minimize the fear of the unknown, release yourself from the paralysis that comes with overthinking, and actually make your vision for your career a reality? Here are four ways to begin:
1. Sketch it out. Take a look at the bigger picture when it comes to your career. What do you want your life to look like? Create a vision and bring your career into the fold. For example, if you are contemplating changing careers and your vision includes spending more time with your family — which means shortening your daily commute, limiting travel and teleworking — then focus on identifying and going after the types of opportunities that allow you to have the kind of life you envision.
2. Interrupt those pesky, paralyzing thoughts. Anyone can experience that carousel of thoughts that go round and round, only gaining speed and momentum, when thinking about a career change. This happens a lot when it comes to looking for a new job, which many of my clients hire me to help them with. As we explore potential new opportunities together, I often listen to a thought process that goes something like this: “What happens if I get the job and I have to move to Seattle and then I am living across the country from my family who I will never see again and it’s always raining and I know no one and I might not even like this job after all and then I have to quit and start all over again….” And more.
The irony is, an interview usually hasn’t even been scheduled, nor has a resume been submitted. It’s just the fear talking. When I hear this thought pattern, it generally means these types of thoughts are cycling quite often, which can also mean there is not a whole lot of action happening — a requirement to making a career move. To break through this cycle of thinking, I suggest writing down a phrase, a quote or even a few short words that can be easily accessed and “mentally digested” several times (or more) throughout the day. Reading your chosen phrase, quote or words is very helpful when it comes to interrupting thought patterns. It’s also very important that what you have chosen is visible: Tape these next to your bathroom mirror, above your kitchen sink, or put a sticky note on your refrigerator or computer. As an example, one of my clients who was contemplating becoming a freelancer and entering the “gig economy” versus taking a promotion would repeatedly refer to his phrase of choice: “I am making my own decisions” when he found himself stuck. By selecting the words that resonated with him and reading them throughout the day, he was able to notice his thought patterns more quickly and free himself from immobilization. Then he could take action to assess the right move and ultimately make the decision to become a freelancer.
3. Get the opinion of someone you wouldn’t normally think of asking. While it might sound strange or seem unconventional, people you would not dare to think of asking for help (or even those you might deem could never help you) might be just the people you should talk to when contemplating a career change. I regularly hear from my clients that mom, dad, spouse, grandma, and Uncle Pete have been the go-to for help with a career move. I totally get it. I have done that myself. Your family and friends love you, and they want you to be happy. You are comforted by their words and they know you best and want what is best for you. But what about someone who knows you less intimately? Perhaps it’s someone in your network who is linked to someone you have never met but who has made a career move similar to the one you are contemplating. Perhaps it is a coach who can provide an objective perspective, and help motivate you to act on your own answers. And while this may sound pretty scary to some, I have asked for help right within the very walls of an organization I once worked for when I was involuntarily reorganized into a different HR role. I wanted to stay with my organization but move into something that I liked, so I took a chance and discussed my dissatisfaction with my director, who not only listened but suggested I conduct informational interviews with individuals within the different functional areas of HR and learn more about their jobs. To my surprise, it didn’t stop there. My director also suggested I talk to leaders within different departments of the organization as I was also interested in marketing and corporate communications. Not only was I able to get a ton of information I did not have, I also gathered important new insights about myself, which was a bonus. Without that conversation with my boss I never would have come up with this great idea — or had the courage to act on it.
4. Take action – and try something different! I say this to most, if not all, of my clients. If you do the same thing over and over again and you are not getting the results you want, take a closer look. A good and easy example we can all relate to is using the old “hit submit” method of applying for a job and responding to online job ads. Have you ever done this and been disappointed by the results? Changing things up and diversifying your approach when job hunting is an excellent example of doing something different. Identify someone you would like to network with and schedule a face-to-face meeting to learn more about that person’s career and gain more insight into where that person works. This can be a game changer when it comes to job hunting, and will more than likely yield very different results. You will also feel great about challenging yourself to try something new, and seeing yourself make it happen.
Today’s careers require constant engagement and active participation. They are likely to change, and change often, whether we want them to or not. While we might hope great things happen to us and result in a satisfying career, the reality is that it’s up to each of us to make that happen ourselves. Start with believing you can make that career change and I promise: It’s not as scary as it sounds.