Career change fear is normal. It’s partly about fear of the unknown. And about making mistakes. But also a deeper fear that you won’t be enough, no matter how hard you try. And that dreams are just that — silly fantasies best left unexplored.
More often than not, our fears are the biggest obstacle to change of any kind. And it leaves us afraid to even take that first step. But sometimes just understanding and recognizing the roadblocks can help them seem smaller — and less daunting. It may make it easier to at least put one toe in the water. And then the next.
Often, the simple act of giving yourself the permission to say “let’s try” can set real change in motion. Or at least give yourself a chance to grow and explore new things. And maybe even see what’s behind the next door you never before imagined,
Even if you don’t ever reach your original goal, the act of trying and seeing where that leads is a pretty cool thing. And that alone can help you go further the next time.
So let’s try to understand what’s really going on. And look at some steps you can take to help.
Basic career change fears
1. Am I enough? (Where you stand in your career)
One thing you might look at when considering a new job or career is your basic qualifications for that next step. At least as you imagine an employer might see you.
If you have the skills and experience required, then at least you don’t see that as an obstacle. But you may see these other possibilities as stop signs that keep you from even trying:
- You have the skills, but not enough experience.
- Or you don’t have the skills or experience.
- Or you don’t have the skills, but you have related experience.
And, besides having to get past the hurdle of whether an employer will consider you, these are career change fears you may bring with you to an actual interview. Or even the job itself.
2. What if I fail miserably?
Again, it’s totally normal to worry about failing. But it’s important to remind yourself that the most successful people in the world have failed at some point. Many more than once. No one is perfect every single time. As they say … stuff happens.
But there is one surefire way NEVER to fail — and that is to never try anything new. Or anything at all! And the irony of that is if you just stand still as others move on to their dreams, then that will make you feel like a failure too!
If fear of failure is stopping you, I hope this post can help:
3. The unknown is terrifying.
Some people are born adventurers. They climb mountains. Visit exotic foreign lands. And challenge all kinds of fears just for the thrill of it. They see the process as exciting and worth it, in and of itself.
But most of us prefer less adventurous life paths. And so when the thought of leaping into a brand new career enters our minds, lots of fear alerts go off in our brains. Especially because we’ve never done it before and have no roadmap.
Luckily, there are ways to take some of the bite out of career change fear. I’ll discuss them shortly, but the basic thing to remember is that each thing we consider has parts to it. Even if the whole is daunting, by finding those parts we know we can do, you can decrease the number of unknowns. And, hopefully, the level of fear.
4. What if I hate the new career?
Related to tackling the unknown, one of the biggest career change fears is what if you hate the very thing you dreamed about? Some things you just can’t know for sure until you try them.
I once dreamed of being a theatrical agent. And I found a way to get myself into a talent agency, even though I started as a temp receptionist just to get my toes in. Soon, I was assistant to the agency’s owner, a well-known “Super Agent.” And got to see the business first-hand.
Turns out, even though I had the skills necessary to deal with contracts and negotiations, I wasn’t a match for the agent job or business. I hated going out all the time to “schmooze” people. And I wanted to help the people who didn’t have experience yet — something my boss rolled his eyes at!
But I learned a lot by trying. Not only what I didn’t want to do, but more about myself and the kinds of things that I eventually loved doing — more than anything prior to that. I was on the path toward career change, but sometimes you need to take a few steps in-between before you see the whole picture.
5. What if I can’t go back to my old career?
Following up on that last fear, sometimes you try something new on for size — a job or career — and realize that your former career was actually a better fit. Maybe you just need to find ways to incorporate more of yourself in the old career, making it new for you.
This way you slowly and purposefully shape the job or career toward you, rather than expecting it to all be there for you from the git go. I call that “job morphing,” and this post can explain more:
Stepping past career change fear
So now that you’ve learned more about what might be stopping you from going ahead with your career dreams, here are some steps that can help. Again, it doesn’t always happen fast. But slow and steady, as Aesop taught us, can often win the race.
1. Start talking about it.
This seems so simple. But when we keep things buried deep inside, they don’t get a chance to take shape or ever become real. Sometimes saying things out loud helps us see things more clearly. And it’s the beginning of exploration — an important part of any change process.
Besides speaking with family and friends you trust (not ones who will squash your dreams), you can find info online, take courses, or look for some informational interviews to help flesh things out.
2. Use the “career change two-step.”
This is a wonderful way to get past that earlier roadblock we discussed of not having the exact skills. If you have strong skills in one industry but really want to change to a different industry, you can do the “career change two-step.”
Let’s say you’re a bookkeeper in a manufacturing plant. But you are dreaming of a career as a project manager in a solar energy company. You start by selling yourself as best you can (also see next section on transferable skills) for a bookkeeper job in solar energy.
Yes … it will take longer. But that first step will get you much-needed industry experience. And in the meantime, you make it your job to also learn all you can about project management. Networking and informational interviews can help, as well as any courses and / or licenses that apply.
3. Put your transferable skills to work.
Many jobs require skills that can be applied to all kinds of other jobs. Transferable skills can help you make a case for your qualifications in your resume, cover letter, and interview. You have to market yourself to any new employer. But carefully matching what you do have to what they need can help get you in the door.
4. Embrace the words “If it is to be, it’s up to me.”
I think this one is fairly self-explanatory. No one but you will always have your best interests as a priority. And if you want to know more:
5. Try your ideas on for size.
As my agent story shows you, sometimes you need to try a new career on for size to see if it fits. But I know this isn’t always possible. So things like volunteering or working part-time can help you get a feel for it. Even starting a small related part-time business on your own might give you a good feel for it.
You might also join a club or group related to the new career to get a feel for the industry — and the people. Sometimes a fit falls through when you realize you don’t enjoy being around the people. I felt that way in the talent agency. They were interesting — but the world they worked in and lived in didn’t feel like a good match for me.
6. Don’t be afraid to fail — more than once.
We already discussed this one. But it’s important enough for me to bring it up again. Failure is normal. Successful people often fail many times to get to their big wins. And the one quality they all share is that they don’t give up — and they learn from their mistakes. Mistakes can provide a valuable tool.
People who are truly devastated by failure often feel like failures deep inside, no matter what they do. But by going ahead anyway and trying again, you can start to add mental wins — and that can help you the rest of your life. Alternatively, each time you let a fear stop you, it feels like one more failure. And makes the next time even harder.
But every failure also gives you a chance to pick yourself up and create a success for yourself the next time. Or the next time. And if you can see the very fact that you at least tried as a success, well then you have learned to play the game by a healthy set of rules!
7. Spend time visualizing.
You might not believe it yet in every fiber of your being, but a great first step is to allow yourself to at least think about it. And see it happening. And that’s where visualization can help.
Maybe you feel that visualizing isn’t your thing. Well, let’s talk science. Simply put, if you let your brain practice seeing something as real, you short-circuit old neural pathways that scream “I can’t!”
By building a “Yes I can” neural pathway for your brain, you won’t feel as much resistance the next time. And you’ll start to project a belief in yourself and your dreams that other people will see. And that they will want to help you with.
Fear is paralyzing.
Just take a step — any new step!
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