Afraid To Change Your Career? Here’s How To Start

Written by Alison Elissa Cardy

There's tension in your chest. Your breathing is strained and your heart rate elevated. You can feel anxiety everywhere in your body, even in your restless fingers. Why? You’re thinking about making a career change.

Anytime we think of doing something that moves us out of our familiar world into the unknown, we get scared, and that's totally understandable. Introducing new variables into our lives can make us feel threatened, like we can no longer fully make sense of ourselves.

This is true especially for something that basically determines our day-to-day experience, such as work. Contemplating a career change naturally brings up a lot of fear, confusion, uncertainty and more.

You may also find that in the midst of contemplating such a change, some of the negative aspects of your current job begin to seem more appealing. In other words, you'd rather rationalize than deal with your fear: Sure your manager is unfriendly, your benefits are cruddy and your hours are inflexible. But you know what to expect. At least you know to keep your Saturdays open in case the last-minute project comes up Friday afternoon. Who knows what novel drawbacks could await you in a new career path?

This kind of anticipatory anxiety is also totally natural, but it is not a cause to put your desire for change on hold. While fear is inevitable when we think about making changes, its presence does not need to dictate our behavior. Staying away from what you really want because of fear will leave you stuck and defeated.

Here are three essential tips to get started if you're contemplating a career change:

1. Educate yourself — the information is out there.

Fear loves the unknown, so take away some of the unknowns as you consider venturing into a new job. Get more information on the career that has attracted your interest. Read, research, talk to friends (and friends of friends). Get really curious, and then pursue this curiosity further.

You may want to start by gathering information online. Visit career sites like to find out what people in those industries and positions are saying.

Once you have some research done, you need to get out from behind the computer and get real world information. Prioritize talking to people who are where you want to be or who can help you get there. Attend a related industry event, utilize your networks or reach out for informational interviews.

Digging for more information is especially beneficial if you are considering a major career change. It allows you to see if the job in your head matches reality, it expands your network, it builds your momentum and it may connect you to an opportunity that you would have otherwise missed.

2. Get cozy with your fear.

Fear is uncomfortable to experience, so most of us tend to try to avoid the sensation of fear in two ways.

One avoidance mechanism is to freeze. You think, "Going that way brings up fear, which feels bad, so I’ll just stop moving." The other tendency is to distract yourself from the feeling by telling yourself, "If I just stay super busy, then I won’t ever have to feel this emotion."

Here’s a quick exercise to help you find your fear’s message:

First, try to imagine doing the thing that brings up fear for you. Then, notice how you physically feel in response. Try to pinpoint a particular sensation in your body. Describe this feeling with a metaphorical image, like Champagne bubbles or a razor’s edge.

Then respond in the real world to those needs with compassion, attention and kindness, the way you would give a frightened child a teddy bear to hold onto to calm them in a time of distress.

The key is to not run from fear, but to get close to it, listen to it, and then respond to what it needs. Although counterintuitive, feed fear with attention in order to settle it.

3. Take super-tiny steps toward your goal.

People often think of career changes as giant leaps from the rooftop of one building to another, which is terrifying and leaves you with an "all-or-nothing" mentality. But they don’t have to be that way.

Instead of giant leaps, take small steps to build a bridge from where you are to where you want to be.

If you want to be a teacher, you don’t need to jump all in and apply to area schools for a full-time position. Try substitute teaching or mentoring as a volunteer to gain knowledge and experience on being a full-time teacher.

Lay the breadcrumbs now with small doable actions to make the overall career change goal less intimidating. By tackling the small steps, you are not only making it easier, but you are also kick starting your momentum.

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