The Fear of Starting Again Shouldn’t Stop You From Changing Careers

Fear. That well known killer of fun and barrier to progress. Fear is a theme that runs underneath all moments of change and the bigger the decision, the bigger the fear.

For career switchers, there can be many levels of fear. The more immediate fears of not making enough money or not liking your new colleagues – and then the deeper darker fears:

  • is this a big mistake?
  • do I really want to start again?

Times where the risks feel high, yet potential rewards feel higher – we are in transition. Transforming from one form of ourselves to another. The key to this time is trust and patience. As Andre Gide wrote: One doesn’t discover new lands without consenting to lose sight, for a very long time, of the shore.

What does it actually mean to start again?

No matter your age, point in your career, seniority, or type of career you are switching from and to, there are many aspects to consider.

Learning new skills, getting qualified, discovering a new industry, making new contacts, writing a new CV, updating your LinkedIn, getting your foot in a proverbial new door. These are all things that you can put on your career switch ‘to do list’ and start at the top. Measurable, quantifiable, and most importantly actionable.

However, there are less tangible parts of starting again, parts that are much scarier, less easy to talk about, and harder to do. It is vitally important to plan for these as well.

How will you introduce yourself now. How will you account for the switch. Will people respect your past experience and skills. How will you like being the most junior person in the room. What will people think.

Naming your fears

In his first inaugural speech, FDR said that “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself—nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror” and that is this undefined fear “which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.”

Fear like this presents itself at moments of extreme change. Moments where potential and opportunity, meet terror and risk. If it wasn’t so scary, would it really be worth it?

Tim Ferris, best known for his book The 4-Hour Working Week, has interviewed hundreds of successful people, many of whom are serial career switchers. Ferris argues that “you need to drag your fears out into the open and confront them.” In July 2017, TED released Ferris’ latest talk, where he discusses fear-setting. Like goal-setting, this is a useful regular activity designed as a simple, smart way to conquer your fears now.

What to do with your fear:

Choose a goal that is important to you but you haven’t attempted yet. Divide a piece of paper into three columns.

1. What if…?
Write down whatever you are afraid. In detail and be specific. You are looking for 10-20 worst possible outcomes. Then identify several methods of preventing each individual item from occurring – Prevent. Then identify several methods of lessening the impact of each individual item, if it were to occur – Repair.

2. What could happen…?
Spend 10-15 minutes working out all of the benefits that might happen, if you manage to succeed even just a little bit.

3. What would happen if nothing changed
What is the cost of inaction? If in 6, 12, 24 months time you have yet to make a decision or make even the smallest progress in this area, what would your life look like then?

Some of your fears will be very well-founded. This exercise enables you to name and scrutinize each of these, so you know what you are up against. You can assess whether the risk of doing something outweighs the risk of not doing something and then choose.

“The hard choices — what we most fear doing, asking, saying — these are very often exactly what we most need to do. And the biggest challenges and problems we face will never be solved with comfortable conversations, whether it’s in your own head or with other people,” says Ferriss.

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