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Afraid to Make a Career Change?

by THEA kelley | March 9, 2022

Are you hanging onto a job you don’t like because you’re afraid to make a career change?

Why is it that the fear of change so often overwhelms the desire for fulfillment? Human beings have a built-in tendency to be anxious and risk-averse – what  neuropsychologist and author Rick Hanson calls the “negativity bias.”

“The nervous system has been evolving for 600 million years, from ancient jellyfish to modern humans,” wrote Hanson.

Our ancestors had to make a critical decision many times a day: approach a reward or avoid a hazard. The hazards were potentially fatal: dangerous wild animals, physical attacks from competitors, starvation. So a risk-averse caveman might fail to take a risk at killing a mammoth one day, but live to hunt again the next day. While a too-daring caveman might just die young.

You can see how evolution favored risk-averse people.

Do we really need to be that fearful now? In terms of looking for a new job, we may be terrified of rejection, failure, stress, disruption – but these problems are survivable. Fear is very unpleasant, and there are ways to decrease it, for example by working to change the beliefs that are making us fearful. But some fear will probably persist, so we also need to learn to live with it.

The key is, we can choose not to let it rule us. We can start doing whatever it is we would do if we weren’t afraid.

Feel the fear but take action anyway.

Make a plan, take steps toward your goal (even “baby steps”!), and find sources of support – a buddy, a good self-help book or a career coach. Do it even if you don’t feel confident.

Your mind will generate worry and fear, in a misguided effort to protect you. There’s no need to get angry about that. In fact, appreciate your mind for wanting to protect you! But fear doesn’t have to stop you from making that career change. Start going after what you really want.

 

This post was originally published in October 2013 and has been updated.

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  1. Great point.

    So many people focus on trying to overcome their fears when often, it’s enough just to learn how to manage them.

    If you ask policemen, firemen and soldiers who they overcome their fears, the often surprising but typical answer is that they don’t. They still get scared, but over time, they learn how to execute well even when they’re scared.

    Granted, those are extreme examples – most job seekers’ fears aren’t about life and death – but everything is relative and if those people can learn, so can job seekers and career changers.

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