Have you ever said, “Jane is great, but there is no way I can do what she does,” or “I’d love to move on, but I’m really good at what I do and don’t want to take on any new challenges “?
Career anxiety can be holding you back. Professor Emeritus at MIT Sloan School of Management, formerly known as Edward Schein, described two types of career anxiety: learning anxiety and survival anxiety.
Learning anxiety stops you in your tracks for fear that it will be too difficult, you’ll look stupid, or that you’ll have to give up what’s worked in the past. Learning anxiety is what stops you from taking on a new role in the workplace to achieve your career goals.
Survival anxiety is the opposite – it is the anxiety you feel when you think you’re stuck and will succumb to your current role forever. When you feel compelled to search for more, this is survival anxiety: “I’ve got to get out of this place, or I will never move ahead!”
When your desire to be better, do greater things, and move forward is stronger than your fear of failing or learning new things, survival anxiety has taken hold – it’s a good time to make a change.
Follow these 3 tips to destroy career anxiety and make your best move ever!
Tip #1: Identify where the fear is coming from.
Fear is in your head – really. It begins in the amygdala region of the brain, a small almond-shaped set of nuclei in the temporal lobe dedicated to detecting emotional stimuli. Fear is hardwired. But you can learn to control fear by taking control of the things you can and letting go of the things you cannot control.
Let’s say that you’re afraid you will not be able to pick up the slack in your new supervisory role. This is learning anxiety. Take a minute to identify where this is coming from. Did you fail at something similar when you were younger? Were you in complete control or were there circumstances out of your control? What happened? What did you learn from your failure? Are you better off now?
When you take the time to identify where the fear is coming from, often you will find that you’re either better off for having gone through the experience or learned something valuable about yourself that you can use now.
Tip#2: Consider the worst-case scenario.
A lot of the time you are gripped by anxiety because you truly believe the worst-case scenario is going to come true. So, write it down. What’s the worse-case scenario? With your career, the worse-case scenario is not that bad. Here are some examples.
- You’re promoted to a new supervisory role. Within the first month, you realize there is no way you can do this job. You have two options. First, ask your supervisor for help or mentorship to show you the ropes. Second, tell your supervisor that you really appreciated the opportunity, but the job is just too much for you. The outcome is that you return to your previous position or find another job within the company or outside of the company that is more suited to you.
- You finally quit your job to explore a career in theater. You saved a year’s expenses to give you time to “make it.” The worse-case scenario is that you can’t find work within a year and you return to a job.
None of these scenarios are that bad. But what both of them demonstrate is that you are now better for the experience. The next time you’re asked to take on a supervisory role, you’ll be better prepared. And, in the case of becoming the next Doris Day, you now know to start with dinner theater and keep your day job until you’re offered the role as leading lady.
Tip #3: Practice mindfulness.
Mindfulness is the practice of staying grounded in the present, remaining fully aware of what is going on at the precise moment. The Mayo Clinic describes mindfulness as “being intensely aware of what you’re sensing and feeling in the moment, without interpretation or judgment.” I believe the most important part of this definition is not judging yourself. Allowing yourself to be present offers incredible insight.
Neuroscience has proved that it is impossible to focus on two things at once. Use mindfulness as a way to home in on the way you feel by being present to the way your body feels. Be “intensely aware” of the feelings in your body. Recognize any changes in your body and your breath. By becoming aware of how we feel and what we sense, our minds automatically begin to ease. Especially when we realize that it’s not as bad as we imagined in our head – remember, fear is in your head!
Change is inevitable – whether you’re changing, or the world is changing around you. Don’t let career anxiety hold you back from making the best move of your life. Identify your fear, consider your worse-case scenario, and remain present. Keeping these tips handy will propel you through your next big move.
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