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Advice / Career Paths / Career Change

Changing Careers Is Scary, But This Advice Will Get You Past the Fear

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If thinking about changing careers makes you feel paralyzed and overwhelmed with self-doubt, you’re not alone. Making a transition is undeniably scary, disruptive, and difficult.

Research on stress shows that the brain biologically perceives changing jobs as one of a category of life changes that pose a threat to its survival. In fact, the Holmes Rahe Stress Scale found that making a career change is one of the 20 most stressful things that happens in your life, just behind the death of a close friend.

Why is making a career change so fear-inducing, so intimidating?

Well, for starters it often requires a ton of effort. This is industry-dependent to some extent, and it also depends on the change itself, but it’s typically not a walk in the park.

For example, are you trying to become a product manager after having worked as a journalist? Or are you excited about carving out a career in marketing though your background is in education?

Even if you don’t need to go back to school, a job transition and search take time and energy—it’s like having a second full-time job. Using smart strategies like strategic networking, mastering your professional pitch, and investing in a coach can help.

But there’s fear beyond the time and financial commitment. It’s scary to re-define your identity in the professional world, where your job title can impact who you define as your peer group, your promotion potential, your career trajectory, or your reputation.

Thus, we often engineer excuses so that in the end we stay put—even if we’re, frankly, miserable. Once you recognize the fear response as trying to protect you from failing, you can make a decision to just go for it.

You can say to heck with self-doubt thoughts, like “What if I send 100 resumes out and don’t get a single interview?” “What if I suck at this?” or “Yeah right, I’m not just going to contact a hiring manager out of nowhere.”

The only way to grow is to overcome the fear of changing paths. You can acknowledge the critical yet protective internal voice in your head, but decide that you’re not going to let it control your actions.

Here’s how:

1. Cut Off Fear at the Pass

Head off fear’s paralyzing grip at the pass using advance preparation. Before you do anything else, write out a list of all the reasons a career transition is a “must do” for you and everything that scares you about it.

Allow yourself permission to word vomit every complaint, frustration, injustice, or betrayal for ~45 minutes to help illustrate for yourself why it’s non-negotiable for you to make a move. Use this like an inspirational manifesto, and put it somewhere you can see it and re-read it when your fears or inner saboteur pipe up.

This simple and straightforward worksheet can help you get started.

2. Obtain External Support

Trying to decide on–and execute–a career change in isolation can send your fear into overdrive and can make the entire process more painful. To create external encouragement and accountability, integrate friends and family into your search by sharing your “must do” manifesto with them. When you do, tell them that fear might try to derail you, and ask them to remind you of all these reasons why your job search is important and worth putting time and energy into.

If you don’t have anyone in your life who would make a stellar accountability buddy (or want help mapping out the steps to take) enlisting a career coach once you're ready to start job searching can make your search as effective as possible.

Fear around career change totally sucks, but you don’t have to let it control your life. Instead, use it to develop resilience, courage, and grit.

As productivity coach Todd Herman says, “Fear can’t hit a moving target,” so pick a tiny action you can do today to prioritize your fulfillment and keep those fears from allowing your career to happen to you. Even something as simple as sending a connection request to someone you admire on LinkedIn or inviting a professional connection to grab coffee can be the first step in getting unstuck.

Still trying to figure out your path? Ditch the confusion for clarity by downloading The Ultimate Guide to Finding the Career That Fits You.

Here at The Muse, we love introducing you to people who can boost your career. We are working with this contributor on an affiliate basis (meaning we earn a little money when you choose to use their services), but rest assured that we don’t just work with anyone. When it comes to articles like this, we chose to work with this coach not because he wanted a Muse byline, but because his advice was truly awesome. Here’s to finding the career of your dreams!