I have a beautiful and brilliant client named Anna who is extremely burned out in her teaching job. She’s struggling to figure out if she wants to leave teaching or just try out a new grade level or subject. She has to make a decision by the beginning of May, and the question of what to do has literally been keeping her up at night. I finally came right out and asked her what she was so afraid of, and she basically said:
If I make the wrong choice now, I will have to start from scratch.
I’m not getting any younger, and I should have figured it out by now. This next job move could change the path of my whole life. I really want to try something new, but WHAT IF THE NEXT JOB IS JUST AS BAD AS THIS ONE? Or worse? I don’t think I can handle that.
What if I leave everything I’ve built here and the next thing isn’t any better?
Yikes. I have been there, and this kind of “what-if” thinking is exhausting. If you are in work burnout, it makes total and complete sense that you are scared to make a change. Why wouldn’t you be scared? You have been burned before! Human beings tend learn by putting their hands on the stove, and if you’ve experienced the pain of being trapped or unfulfilled before, you’re probably not super eager to open yourself up to getting hurt again, especially if it means putting your financial situation in flux.
Anna is pretty freaking talented, and she’s an extremely successful teacher. Part of what has made her so successful in school and at work is her ability to think through the “what-ifs.” She’s a planner. She’s responsible. She learns from her mistakes. She has experienced work burnout, so of course she’s learned to be scared of ending up in the same exact boat as before.
JUST LIKE YOU LEARNED FEAR, YOU CAN ALSO UN-LEARN FEAR.
Wait, what? How do you unlearn fear? It can take time, but here's what worked for Anna to give up the fear of repeating mistakes:
#1: Challenge your sunk-cost bias
Sunk cost bias is basically a psychological phenomenon where humans tend to value something they currently have over something they might get in the future…basically “a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush.” Cave people tended to value security over opportunity because it made more sense to eat the animal in front of you rather than go off hunting in search of a bigger, tastier animal. This is a great strategy if you’re a caveman trying not to starve. If you’re a person in 2016 trying to find career satisfaction, not so much. See if you can reframe your belief around opportunity and risk. Instead of “what if the next job is worse?,” try out “What if the next job is my new career home?” or “What if I’m able to finally make the contribution I’ve been longing to make?” You don’t have discount the potential negatives-just bring the potential positives in, too.
#2: Find something to run toward (instead of away from)
This is my job search (and business) mantra. Making a change just for the sake of change probably isn’t going to feel good either. I had like 10 jobs before I found my perfect career, and it was mostly because I didn’t stop to think things through. I’d get miserable and run away from a job rather than running TOWARD what I actually wanted (mostly because I had no clue what I actually wanted). Making decisions from a place of lack usually doesn’t get you sustainable results. Put some of your effort into really getting clear on who you are and what you want BEFORE making the change. Spoiler Alert: coaching is super helpful with this.
#3: Do a test drive
You wouldn’t buy a car without test-driving it to see if it runs and if you like it. Why are you treating your next job any differently? Do some research. Talk to people in that field or at least that company (or in Anna’s case, in that new grade level). Ask about the positives and negatives. Ask if you can observe a project or even be an intern for a weekend. Get a taste of what the job/environment would truly be like so your decisions have some experience behind them. Anna had some resistance to this idea at first, but she found that most people were impressed by her initiative and they were super willing to help out and share their experiences.
#4: Disrupt the patterns you have control over
Here’s the big one. If you’re afraid that your next job/career/environment will be just as bad as where you are now, change the way YOU show up in it. You absolutely cannot control your boss, your colleagues, your work culture, your clients, your students, or your organization, but the one thing you absolutely CAN control is yourself. Part of your work misery might be your jerk-ass boss….but part of your work misery might be the way you struggle to stand up for yourself to said boss. If you don’t want to take that pattern into your next job, you get to disrupt it and leave it there. This is definitely easier said than done, but if you practice recognizing your unhelpful patterns, you will be able to put them down when you're ready.
#5: Make peace with the fact that you will never be 100% certain and in control
I hear you. This one is tough. Probably my biggest struggle in life is letting go of what I truly can’t fix. Once, I got laid off when my entire department closed. It was soul-shattering because I truly loved the job and gave it my all…and I still got laid off. I’m not saying this to be discouraging…I’m just saying that even the job you hate right now might not be guaranteed, so sometimes taking refuge in safety doesn’t even work. And you know what? That’s okay. Immediately after I got laid off, my coaching business took off and grew in a big way. I don’t think it was a coincidence. There is a plan out there for you. It may not be the plan you imagined, but that doesn’t mean that it won’t be okay in the end.
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NEXT WEEK IN THE STARTING OVER SERIES, I'LL GIVE YOU SOME TIPS ON starting over when it's not the adult, responsible thing to do, but you really want to do it anyway.
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