How to move beyond the fear of career change

A shockingly high number of discontent workers around the world go to work every day hating their job to the bone and wishing they were elsewhere. Most of them, though, are still reluctant to change.

It sounds great to quit a job you are dissatisfied with in order to do something you are passionate about, but doing it? Well, that’s another matter entirely.

The idea of making a big career change fills you with dread, and yet another year in a hostile office environment is just as creepy. This stuck state in the face of two equally petrifying options can be exhausting.

Why? Making a career change is one of the most challenging life decisions and transitions and most people approach the process with fear and trepidation. Change is hard.

What stops most of us from making a big career change is fear, specifically:

  • fear of the unknown;
  • fear of change;
  • fear of failure;
  • fear of greater responsibility;
  • fear of the financial implications of a career change;
  • fear of what others might think;
  • fear of starting at the bottom of a new ladder, with new colleagues and coworkers;
  • fear of a downgrade in status, at least initially, if you are starting over in a new field;
  • fear of regretting the decision later.

These are gut-level fears that might hold you back from making the move out of a miserable job. As much as it can be toxic, alienating and exasperating, your job has become a safe place, and this is making you fear the implied changes. The longer you have been in a particular role, company or industry, the more every aspect, however awful and frustrating it may be at times, will start to feel familiar. Our comfort zones are called that way for a reason. Leaving what has become your safe harbor can be extremely scary.

Life is far too short to be miserable, though. Fight back. You shouldn’t just stay somewhere because you are afraid of what could be. Outside of your current job there is a whole world of appealing opportunities, all yours for the taking.

What’s fear?

Fear, uncertainty and apprehension are all related to the Great Unknown, our oldest, most primal and strongest kind of fear.

Fear is a natural, instinctive survival mechanism our ancestors experienced when they perceived danger and had to make a quick decision to run for their lives or fight. Today we tend to apply fear to circumstances that have not yet arisen. Not knowing what will happen next can be extremely debilitating.

Change does not always have to culminate in fear, though. The sooner you accept that uncertainty is part of life, the easier it will be for you to move beyond the fear of career change. Overcoming fear requires an acknowledgement that it is almost entirely in your head, so is jealousy. Examine your reactions and try and move beyond them responsibly and take action regardless of your fears.

Here are five ways to help you tackle the fear of career change and embrace it.

1. See fear as a friend

What is it that scares you the most? Write it down, draw it, give it a voice. Acknowledge your fears instead of ignoring them. Fear can be a great motivator and you need to recognize it as an ally and a force to encourage you to move forward with confidence, rather than something to run away from.

2. Relive your achievements

Go through the different phases of your life and make a list of everything you have achieved. You don’t need to be afraid of change. Your achievements show that you have every chance of succeeding on this new challenge. Look at this list each and every time you need to remind it to yourself.

3. Imagine the best-case scenario

Try and focus on the endless possibilities of things going wonderfully well rather than on what could go wrong. Don’t let fear be the dominant emotion. Imagine the best possible scenario and focus on the excitement of a better life. Feel positive about the career change and make your self-talk more encouraging and realistic.

Conversely, try and imagine the worst-case scenario that might arise if you DON’T initiate change. That is typically filled with regret, frustration and morning sickness. It that something you want to live with? Don’t let the fear of career change be the thing that holds you back from what could be.

3. Start with small steps

Do one different thing every day that you are afraid of, to build your risk muscle. Starting small, like, for example, speeding down a hill on your bike, making that phone call you have been hesitating to make or just taking a drive to somewhere you have never been before, can help you take big action. When you conquer little fears first, you feel braver, stronger and more confident, and this makes the bigger fear much easier to handle.

4. Create a strategy

Being prepared and equipped can help ease your mind. How much you perceive you have control over a change is the key to mastering the fear of career change. If you have a rock-solid plan in place, you are much more likely to feel comfortable with the change you are initiating. Do your research, save money before leaving a full-time position or find ways to get some experience in your new career while still working at your current company.

5. Find a supportive network

You are not the first one to make a big change in life. Surround yourself with positive, inspiring and empowering people. Seek advice from a pal, friend or relative who is also changing careers. It is easier to face your fear of change when you are not doing it alone. Teaming up with those who have done it before you can be a great resource in keeping you motivated.