Thinking about changing jobs? Good news: The anxiety you probably feel is normal. Mark Dean show how you can combat it in eight distinct steps.
If you are like the average person, you spend around 3,000 hours a year working. That’s more than you spend sleeping so it is little wonder that the status of your working life has such a tremendous impact on how you feel on a day-to-day basis. The impact of a potential career change can at times seem mind-blowing.
Yet confusion is a natural phenomenon, a necessary part of the career change process. Psychologists have even drawn up charts that depict the various emotional cycles, including confusion, anxiety and depression, which people typically experience when undergoing change. The important thing to remember is that all change, whether experienced as positive or traumatic, has the capacity to cause anxiety and confusion.
There are, however, things you can do to mitigate the impact of confusion during your career change process.
COMMUNICATION WITH OTHERS
No woman or man is an island, and it is important to seek help and advice in this part of the change process. Talk to friends, mentors and career coaches. In some instances, where there is a sudden trauma caused by an unexpected event such as a dismissal, or where there is a sustained period of intense anxiety, depression can also occur, and it can assist to bring on board a professional counsellor.
ACCEPT THE NEED TO CHANGE
If you are thinking about a career change, then it might be that your current job isn’t meeting your broader personal or business objectives, often evidenced by either the lack of fulfilment of a measurable goal, or by a sustained feeling of dissatisfaction.
But be careful. In identifying the need for change, we need to be aware that personal factors impact on our perception of our situation and the way we manage our transactions with employers and clients. Remember also that the grass isn’t always greener, and therefore close examination of what you are running from, or running to (including your personal motivations) is absolutely critical.
Very often, people who are seeking to change career paths altogether are in jobs which don’t suit their personal preferences. Psychological testing, aimed at determining your individual preferences, can be a powerful means of identifying whether change is required in order to realign your daily career activities with your natural preferences.
DEFINE YOUR GOALS
By focusing on what is important to you, you will have an end in mind and something to look forward to. Goal setting can help you find the right pathway, and give you a framework against which to hold up all new opportunities. When looking at new prospects, ask yourself whether this role or company will give you the opportunity to progress your goals.
As a guide, career goals should motivate and excite you, give you mental satisfaction and stimulation, challenge you and give you opportunities to learn, but at the same time be realistic and measurable - otherwise how will you know whether you’ve achieved them? They should give you a sense of progression and achievement.
You should also consider your financial requirements, and need for further education and training.
IDENTIFY THE THINGS TO CHANGE
Now that you have created a set of career goals, it is time to formulate a strategy to achieve them. For instance, if one of your goals is to obtain greater emotional fulfilment from your work, one strategy might be to break down the things which impact you on a typical day at work. Include the location of your work, as well as the company’s philosophy, and how it treats its people. Include your daily tasks, what you enjoy and what you don’t. Does the place you work provide you with regular feedback, and seek it from you? Does it foster trust between employees? What is the ‘working culture’ of your employer, and how do people interact?
Do you receive regular information on new developments within your working group and broader company? Do you understand the company’s overall mission, and the way it intends to achieve it, the role of your group in contributing to this, and what is required of you? Is your feedback sought and listened to?
In many instances, the answers to these questions will also suggest answers to the broader question: what needs to be changed and how?
CHANGE WITHIN YOUR CURRENT ROLE
In some instances, you will be able to create necessary change while maintaining your current employment. Taking up opportunities to participate in feedback processes is an obvious example. Seeking information to assist in understanding the candidature requirements for internal promotions may also help.
Where there are other people or companies involved, inevitably there will be some things that you cannot change. Where the status quo is unacceptable according to your values and goals, and feedback is either unwelcome or will put your employment at unacceptable levels of risk, then it might be time to seek employment elsewhere. At least with your new framework of goals and strategies, you will be able to assess more consciously your potential fit with prospective new roles and employers.
DEALING WITH FEAR
It is important to acknowledge the role of fear in undertaking any career change process. Emotional ‘come downs’, unexpected anxiety and even depression can result from either negative traumas or significant successes.
Confidence comes from conquering fear of change through action. You can slowly improve your self esteem by making small positive changes in spite of the fear you feel. At the same time, be conscious of self-criticism and keep it in check. Treat yourself as well as you would treat your own best friend. Examine yourself with care and compassion, and look positively at opportunities to improve. Try to base at least 75 per cent of self reflection on positive affirmations.
Listen for signs in others that they need help too. When you are generous to others with your time and attention, in addition to helping others and enhancing your positive self perception, you will realise you are not alone, and some of your fears will disappear.
TAKE YOUR MIND OFF IT
Have you ever been told you think too much? Constantly focusing on what is missing in your career can create sustained anxiety and increased chances of confusion and even depression. Engaging in physically demanding activities and social engagements can help you to focus on ‘where your hands are’ and break negative thinking habits.
Hopefully by this stage, you will have identified an appropriate career path or employer, and will be on your way to re-skilling, or making other active moves to reposition your employment or career path altogether. Now, create an action plan, which sets out in detail the things you need to do in order to effect change. Arrange psychological testing, research job ads, rework your resume, make new contacts. The important thing to remember is to set time frames and due dates, and stick to them.
Whether forced upon you or undertaken voluntarily, on a grand scale or within your existing employment, career changes can cause confusion, but developing a methodical approach will help you to emerge from the change process for the better. Just remember, fear and confusion are normal human responses to change, and you must not let them stand in the way of your progression. Step by step, you have the power to make change work for you. g
Mark Dean is a partner of Dean & Ling Executive Search, based in Melbourne