Considering a career change but still not quite certain whether it's really the right move for you? You might be wondering if the grass actually is greener on the other side, or perhaps you’re concerned that you’ll make the wrong decision and get stuck on a path that’s not a fit.
Exploring the reasons for your hesitation and taking small steps to answer your biggest questions can keep you on track to make the shift with both your heart and your head in the game.
First, invite the fear to have a cup of coffee with you
What’s behind the fear?
Spend some time with your fear and see what’s really going on there. Grab yourself a favorite beverage, sit and be silent, and listen to the fear. Write down what you hear.
You may find, for example, that you’re unclear on what you really enjoy about your current job, making it more difficult to decipher what you’d want in a new one. Consider reflecting on your values with insightful exercises from “Which Values Drive You?” or “This One Question Will Offer Career Clarity”. The goal here is to gain new information about what motivates and fulfills you at work by uncovering your primary values, why they make a difference for you, and how you can honor them more often.
Or your silent reflection might suggest that you’re worried about getting stuck in a job you find you don’t actually enjoy. What about the culture of the organization?
Another way to let out your inner pessimist is to do an exercise called “if this, then that, … and then what?” Here are two examples of how this exercise may look:
- What if I don’t have the skills needed to succeed in all parts of my job? Then I’ll get the training I need, either with my manager’s support or on my own. And then what? I’ll have learned something new and expanded my horizons. And then what? I’ll do well at my job, which will set the stage for me to do something bigger and better later in my career.
- What if I don’t get along with one of my new colleagues? Then I’ll use my enduring charm and intellect to win them over. If that doesn’t work, then what? Then I’ll ask others in the organization to help me brainstorm how to address the conflict. If that doesn’t work? I’ll learn how to let it go and focus on doing my job well.
What’s the point of these exploratory exercises? By understanding your fears and facing them, you’ll start to see which are valid and which are a bit irrational, thereby allowing you to focus your energy on addressing those you can actually influence.
Start answering the questions most on your mind
Now that you’ve got a good sense of what’s holding you back, it’s time to face the fear. Make a list of all of the open questions that, if answered, would provide you with sufficient confidence to start looking for a new job. Prioritize them, then brainstorm ways you can start to answer the questions at hand. Your list might look something like this:
- What’s the daily experience of someone who works in this field? Ask your network to help you connect with people who have roles that might be interesting to you. Ask them questions like “What do you like and dislike about your job?” and “How did you get to where you are?”
- What if the job I really want pays less than I make now? Pull out your budget and go through some planning scenarios. For example: “If my dream job paid 15% less than I currently make, what would I be willing to cut from my expenses to make it work? What about 20% less?” This exercise can help you determine your required salary range. If you're still trying to decide whether that pay cut is really worth it, here are some more questions and possibilities to explore.
- What would my commute be like if I worked across town? Take the morning off or head out on a weekend day trip. Simulate a commute to a neighborhood that has lots of potential jobs in your field. Try getting there by bus or train instead of by car. Walk around the neighborhood to see what it feels like to be there during the work day.
- What will my life be like in one/five/10 years if I stay exactly where I am? This can often be the most enlightening question. You might learn, for example, that if you worked on different projects within your current organization, you would be thrilled to stay for another few years. Or you could find that you really need to make a shift right now for the sake of your well-being and professional development.
As you explore these questions, take notes about what you are finding. Journal regularly so you have a chance to put into words how you feel about this discovery. This exploration can take anywhere from a week to months, depending on how motivated you are to leave your current position.
Let yourself explore without strict expectations
You’re on your way to getting over the fear of going after a new job and the key is simply giving yourself permission to explore different techniques to get the answers you need to feel more comfortable.
At this early stage, your job search does not need to be a regimented, structured experience full of logic and detail. Instead, it can be about exploring what it’s like to take on something new, finding out what brings you energy and what makes you nervous, and getting used to the idea of making a change. Soon enough, you’ll have the clarity you need to start digging into the next phase of your job search with confidence.
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Liz S. Peintner is a leadership coach and consultant based in Denver, Colorado who has spent her entire career in the social impact field. She helps people to better understand what drives them so they can choose careers they love and ultimately make positive social impact in ways that speak to their talents and passions.