How to cope with the stresses linked to a career change
If the thought of going back to work after the Christmas break creates a sensation of huge discomfort or even anxiety for you the way it did for me 2 years ago, it means: the time for action has come. Analyse what it is that creates this negative affect and whether or not you can take actions for these things to change at your current workplace, and if not 2015 might be the year for a career change.
Fact: research shows that those happy with their career are more than twice as likely to thrive in other areas of life (health, relationships etc.). Considering the amount of time we spend our lives working this is not too surprising. Then again, this finding does question the common idea of simply doing any job to pay the bills, seeing work as an unavoidable burden whilst separating your “actual life” from it and finding happiness outside of work. It seems as if our overall wellbeing can be significantly enhanced when we experience wellbeing at work.
This is encouraging for those of you out there who hate their job (let’s call it what it is) and are considering going down a new career path. A career change can be particularly draining though due to the increased investment of time, effort and financial resources, as well as the uncertainty of the unknown, let alone the “Where to start, I am overwhelmed-” and “FOF (Fear of failure)”-syndrome.
During a career transition no matter at what stage (whether you are trying to figure out whether or not to stay in your current job/industry, you are trying to find out what career really suits you or you already took the plunge and are retraining) it is important to keep up good levels of overall wellbeing to carry you through challenging times of instability and change. Going through a career change, from contemplating one through to actioning it, can be stressful. The good news is: it is in your hands to what degree!
First of all, here is the latest definition of stress: “stress occurs when perceived pressure exceeds your perceived ability to cope” (Palmer, S. 2013, founder of the Centre for Stress Management).
The word “perceived” in above definition is key here, because it indicates that it is our take on events that determines stress levels, not the events themselves. As Epictetus said: “We are disturbed not by things themselves but by the views we take of them.” The key to reducing stress hence lies in our mind and this means we gain control back. The ability to reframe is a powerful one in this context i.e. seeing situations from different angles. “I have no clue what I want to do” can become “I have the privilege to explore and chose from a vast range of options.” Even though too much choice can paralyse, we often forget the empowerment that goes with choice; careers are much more linked to legacy and inheritance in other cultures for example, leaving individuals with little career freedom.
Now let me share a few (by me) tested stress-management tips with you that are particularly useful when facing a career change. My biggest advice to you when going through a (potential) career change is:
1. Manage your thinking!
a) Put things into perspective. You feel like a change is necessary but somehow you have doubts?
Try this exercise:
First visualise how the rest of your life would look like if you did not change anything. Imagine the effect on you and the people close to you year by year until the end of your life and notice how it makes you feel. Notice the regrets (if there are any) and the things you’d be saying to yourself.
Then visualise how the rest of your life might look like if you undertook a change. Imagine how you would feel, look and sound different, imagine all the (potential) benefits to you and your close ones in the short and in the long run.
Have an inclination now?
b) Feeling stupid for not knowing where you stand? Especially at “your” age? Thinking you should have figured things out by now and/or you must find a new direction asap? Free yourself from should/ought to and must!
Have you ever been in a situation surrounded by people, for example in a training course, a staff briefing, a talk you attended etc., where you thought something or you had a question about something, but didn’t dare to voice it out of fear of being inadequate and afterwards realised that others were thinking the same? Remember that feeling of relief linked to that realisation, how validated you suddenly felt? This is exactly the same. There are many more people out there in the exact same situation than you think; dissatisfied with their jobs, clueless about what kind of career move would actually make them happy. The question is whether you want to belong to the silent sufferers or those who dare to take action. You have felt constrained for long enough. If you continue to put pressure on yourself thinking in ‘musts’/’shoulds’ and ‘ought tos’ you are not doing yourself a favour! Listen to yourself and the effect when you say these words! Things that you “should” do put you down and aren’t very motivating. The sound of things that “are good for you” however, changes completely; these things sound more appealing. For example: “I choose to reduce my spending, because it will help me finance a happier career” sounds different from “I have to cut costs ”; so much more of a restraining feel to it!
For those who feel comforted by statistics, here is another noteworthy one: In average we change career (! not jobs) about 3 times throughout life. That necessarily means you are not alone, plus it also goes to show that people change careers even at later life stages. Who says we have to have things figured out by a certain age anyway? Free yourself from constraints or you’ll end up in a vicious cycle of negativity! Also, not to discourage you, but statistically speaking an actual career change (not just swapping jobs) takes between 1-7 years, so don’t be too hard on yourself!
c) Once you embark on a new career journey you might find yourself asking: did I make the right decision? Will it all work out? Accept uncertainty as well as your fallibility as human being while taking ownership for your actions!
Surely you are learning loads of new useful things. Even if you were to not end up working in what you thought was your new dream career, you will acquire useful new knowledge and transferable skills along the way making you overall more “employable”. Also, and probably most importantly: you’ll get to know yourself better in the process. As human creatures we are constantly in the making!! (Noticed the reframing?)
Also de-awfulise! What is the worst that can happen?? You invested some more time and money into finding what is right for you and found that you didn’t find it the first time round? Doesn’t sound like this will spark wars or kill you, does it? I once saw this quote and really liked it: “Life is not a straight line. It is ok to have curves in it.” (unknown) So don’t place unrealistic demands on yourself of creating the perfect path in no time, this can actually be counterproductive. Remember to reframe: There is no failure, only feedback! Everything you do will bring you closer to your goal one way or another!
I am sure you have heard loads about mindfulness by now, as it has been trending for quite a bit, and rightly so! The reason research found that it not only increases concentration but also helps even with depression is that it helps you focus on the here and now. Anxiety comes from reliving past stresses and anticipating future ones. Mindfulness, a secular meditative practice, helps you become aware of your thoughts and feelings in a non-judgemental way and manage these to be more resourceful in the present! You might find it especially helpful if you are going through (career) changes; why not give it a go? The Mental Health Foundation created a dedicated online portal for mindfulness with an online course (cost £60): http://bemindful.co.uk/. Here you can also download free exercises: http://www.freemindfulness.org/.
2. Financial worries – how to deal with them
Ok, money issues are often THE big stress source especially before or during a career change. You wonder how to pay your bills while paying for getting retrained, if you leave your current job. My advice: make sure you know you have enough money coming in for survival and whatever you plan to do BEFORE you do it. Might seem obvious, but that is the best way of managing your stress levels around this! You basically have the following options:
- You can try to work reduced hours as to make your work compatible with exploring new options in a part time internship or with that part time uni-course that will qualify you for what you really like.
- You can try things on the side in the evening and on weekends.
- You can try to get your employer to grant you a sabbatical
- You can save up enough money that lets you feel comfortable to take the plunge and quit. After exploring a bit you might want to envisage part time work or freelancing (even in your old industry) to finance your way through to your new dream career (the option I went for)
3. Manage the process!
In order to feel on top of things and hence keep the pressure within acceptable measures, schedule in concrete dates in your diary on which you check in with yourself. We can easily get carried away exploring and exploring without taking note of what we learn or reassessing where we stand with regards to our overall goal; provided we clearly defined it and broke it down, of course. If you now think: “But I have no clue what I want, how will I have defined a goal?” Make that your goal: finding out what it is you want. Come up with concrete and time-bound steppingstones of HOW to achieve that (what things you want to explore, who you want to talk to etc.)
Make sure to make time to check whether you are on track or how far off track you are in relation to what you set out to achieve. Assign yourself timeframes. Once you know your destination, this habit will help you keep focused on the overall goal. It will also help you be aware of what you are doing things and enduring potential sacrifices for.
4. Additional tips you might have heard before, but are not to be omitted when it comes to managing stress levels and ensuring wellbeing:
a) Do the things you love and that energize you! (Cannot stress this enough!)
b) Exercise, when not overdone, not only is good for your body; it releases happiness hormones and adds substantially to your wellbeing, moodwise too!! I personally can tell how lack of exercise usually creates inertia in me, whilst a regular workout (usually in the form of dance) helps me maintain a positive outlook on life even in challenging times!
c) Make sure you have a supportive network, distance yourself from stress carriers!
Others can often pass on stress either by their behaviour (e.g. rushing around like a headless chicken) or simply by passing on their beliefs. I remember when I was about to tell my Dad about my quitting my secure and well-paid job with nothing else in the pocket apart from a few savings...I was rather nervous...Then, surprisingly he simply said that I probably knew what I was doing and that it’ll be up to me to figure things out. That was it. No telling off, no “are you crazy?” - discourse. He displayed utter faith in me and my decision-making (or at least pretended to). Now, unfortunately we aren’t always surrounded by this kind of limitless belief in us. Expect people to question your decisions and actions and be clear that the only person’s approval that counts is yours (if you have family commitments it is a slightly different story, of course, and it will be important to negotiate the impact of your decisions). If auntie simply cannot get why you would prefer to venture with building your own business over sitting in the office 9-5, that is fair enough. Listen to everybody’s concerns, once! Acknowledge them, then turn around and don’t look back (figuratively speaking, of course, as this wouldn’t work with flatmates, for example). Don’t allow for doubters to project their fears on you! If you consider the validity of those concerns and are still fully aligned with your new endeavours and career path, then you will find a way to achieve your goals, realistically. Even if you cannot see the doors on the sides of the tunnel you are about to go through, that does not mean they are not there!
If you’d like additional support with your career change in 2015, feel free to get in touch!