Making career decisions is scary! You’re dealing with life-changing decisions, impacts on your family, people who can affect your life direction in deep ways, ….
Calm down for a moment.
It’s OK to be stressed, that’s understandable. But there’s different ways of handling stress. Many people start by moving into a position of fear – the animal fight or flight response.
Think of fears as the compilation of your life’s learning. When we were cavemen, we had good reason to be fearful when we heard growling in a cave. You could end up as that bear’s lunch, so running away was the best option. Over time all animals, ourselves included, have developed the ability to sense dangerous situations and respond quickly. That’s fear.
Something strange has happened, though. Researchers have established that socially uncomfortable situations create the same physical responses as when people are physically in danger.
That means that your response to being embarrassed in grade school is very similar to that fear of the bear in the cave.
I find this very strange, but it’s true.
It also means that your imagined fears can be much larger than the actual reality. Let’s say that I’m thinking of giving up a well-paying career as a doctor to take up social work. That’s a huge change, so a wide array of doubts will start popping up:
- I won’t have the income and lifestyle that I’ve become accustomed to.
- People will think I’m crazy.
- I won’t know what I’m doing, at least initially.
These are the logical thoughts, but they quickly spawn some emotional reactions:
- My family won’t love me anymore, they’ll leave me and I’ll be alone for the rest of my life.
- People will ostracize and shun me, I’ll be embarrassed and ridiculed.
- I won’t have the skills to make it in this new career, I’ll be a failure and never make a living doing anything.
You can see that I’ve deliberately overstated each of these to make a point. But our fears really do go this deep, and can be even more irrational than what I’ve stated here. Here’s an example:
If I do this, people will think I’m crazy.
Then what? They’ll laugh at me.
Then what? They won’t take me seriously.
Then what? I won’t have any friends.
Then what? I’ll die an old and bitter man.
See how this goes downhill quickly? But it’s what’s going on at the emotional level.
How do we deal with this?
First, recognize what’s going on: Your emotions are magnifying things out of proportion, because people are resistant to change.
Second, develop counterbalancing alternative scenarios:
If I do this, people will think I’m courageous.
Then what? They’ll be impressed by my decision to focus on something I love.
Then what? They may be inspired to go for great goals.
Then what? They may want to help and support me.
Then what? I’ll have lots of interesting friends.
If I do this, people will be surprised.
Then what? They’ll be interested in what I’m doing.
Then what? They will want to help me succeed.
Then what? I’ll be known for starting something much bigger than myself.
Then what? I’ll be famous and travel the world.
Now that you have some comparison points, you can start thinking through which are more likely. And it may well impact how you make your choices: In this case, maybe I’ll want to work hard on gathering supporters around me and inspiring people.
The others who still think I’m crazy? Well, when I have supporters, who cares?
Just a note: This is surprisingly similar to the situation I’ve experienced over the last decade. Yes, a lot of people have pointed out how difficult it is to succeed as a coach. But in trade, I’m doing something important and I have a lot of people supporting me. And my business is zooming forward!