Overcoming Fears of Career Change


In the USA, the median number of years someone stayed in a typical professional job was 4.2 years.

So, most of us change jobs twice a decade, and most of those job changes are also involve career changes — new industry or profession.

Changing your career can be very scary to even consider.

Fear, in all its forms, is the single biggest factor standing between where you are and reaching your dreams.

In my work with career reinvention clients, I have noticed that more often than not, fear of changing careers or fear of change at all rears its head early on in the process.

You are not alone, as most career changers feel afraid at some point in the process. But, recognize when your fear turns to self-doubt, inactivity, and paralysis.

Fear Is a Normal Part of the Career Change Process

Understand that fear is normal and acceptable as you go through this process.

Some of the more common fears I have heard explicitly and felt intuitively are:

  • Fear of the unknown
  • Fear of failure
  • Fear of success
  • Fear of what others might think
  • Fear of not complying with other people’s dreams
  • Fear of making a bad career change choice

Here are some tips to help you overcome your fears and to help you move to the next stage in your career and life.

Assess the Risk and Break It Down

Think of a risk you would like to take in this career reinvention.

Then, ask yourself these questions:

  • What would you gain from taking it?
  • What’s frightening about it?
  • What’s the worst thing that could happen if it turned out badly?
  • If the worst happened, what would you do?
  • What could you do to minimize this?
  • What information would make this less risky?
  • If you broke the risk into small steps, what would be the first step? When could you take it? Do this for each step.

Examine Your Fears

What exactly are you afraid of in the reinvention process?

Have a good look at this, and decide if your fear is realistic or irrational. Remember that most of the things you fear won’t actually happen.

Reframe your fear by thinking:

  • What is the worse that could happen?
  • If your fears really came to pass, what would you do?
  • Would you survive?

You might find that your worst fears are not really as bad as you thought.

Take Small Steps

This is a great approach for a fear that seems overwhelming. Your initial reaction to a fear might be to avoid what it is you are afraid of (public speaking, hating a new field, etc.).

I have found with clients that if you can break what you are afraid of into small steps, it helps avoid the paralysis and gets you moving.

Identify your fear and then think about some smaller steps you could take to build your confidence, get more information, feel motivated, and move into your comfort zone.

Read my “Testing Options to Find Your New Career” article to see some preliminary steps and other options for testing a new career.

Does Failure Have to Be Negative?

Many clients get blocked in “fear” during the reinvention process because they are afraid of failure or rejection. I help these clients understand and reframe failure.

Failing at something, or not having a new career work out, doesn’t need to be a bad thing.

Instead, a potential failure can be an opportunity to gather more information about what you like or don’t like so you can learn from it and make better decisions in the future.

Think of failure simply as feedback on what you need to improve. Listen to the advice failure gives you, and you will improve. And success will come.

Embrace Your Fear

Many of my clients are not aware that they are afraid as they go through the reinvention process. I try to get them to recognize the fear, feel it, and embrace it. Just observe the feeling in your mind and body without labelling or judging it. If you let it in and embrace it, oftentimes it will lessen in intensity.

Live in the Present

Keep yourself in present time. Don’t let your thoughts and emotions run away to the future or the past.

Being in the present means not dwelling and obsessing on what has gone wrong and what could go wrong.

This runaway thinking will only heighten your fear to the point that you might feel unable to do anything. Instead, make your plans, and move forward one baby step at a time.

Bottom Line

Considering a career reinvention can be an anxious time for anyone. My advice is to understand your fears, address them, and take your career reinvention one step at a time. Life is a learning experience, and so, too, is a career reinvention. Addressing your fears, learning about yourself, and believing in yourself and your career dreams can be a positive and life-changing experience.

Randi BussinAbout the author…

Job-Hunt’s Career Change Expert, Randi Bussin, founder and president of Aspire!, is a career coach and counselor with more than 25 years of business, entrepreneurial, and career counseling experience, including DISC assessments. Randi has experienced several major career transitions (from corporate to small business owner to career counselor to coach) and personally understands the effort and commitment involved. She has appeared on public television’s “Job Doctor,” and is a frequent contributor to Bridgestar’s Leadership Matters newsletter, The Ladders job-search Web site (www.theladders.com) and her own blog, which offers advice on career transition, job search, and labor market trends. Follow Randi on Twitter @Aspire4Success.
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