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What if it doesn't work out?

how certainty-seeking is holding you back

This week’s post goes out to those currently evaluating career shifts or those who've struggled to make career decisions in the past. As someone who’s made a number of career pivots, some less gracefully than others, I empathize with the complexity of career decisions. They can be rough, and sometimes we need some good, old-fashioned reflection to raise our awareness of how we might be holding ourselves back.

What if it doesn’t work out? When discussing career shifts, this might just be the question I’ve been asked the most--and have asked myself the most, for that matter.

On the surface it seems a sensible question because our career is our livelihood and forms a big part of our identity. We want to know that the grass will be greener in a new role, company or occupation. We agonize over decisions and systematically weigh our options, and we label all of these behaviours as ‘practical’, ‘pragmatic’ and even ‘responsible’. A better label for these behaviours might be ‘fear-based’.

That likely sounds harsh, but hear me out. Career shifts inevitably involve uncertainty and the unknown sparks fear, so when we avoid uncertainty we are, in essence, operating from a place of fear. After all, we might hate a new job, we could be unsuccessful, or the company could go out of business. The worst-case scenario list is a mile long, and that’s exactly the point. Uncertainty provides a fertile ground for our egos to move into fear-mongering mode, urging us to maintain the status quo under the guise of safety. Our egos are all too adept at convincing us that the known of today is better than the unknown of change.

I’m sure you already saw this coming: the challenge with seeking certainty is that it doesn’t really exist. After all, the job we’re in today, the one that feels predictable and certain, could change in a heartbeat. Not only that, but we often disregard the emotional and spiritual costs of staying in a career situation that isn't making us happy. Intellectually, most of us understand this and yet overriding our default reaction can be difficult if we aren't aware of it. Instead, we might unconsciously squash our enthusiasm for a new direction, holding ourselves back from what could have been a meaningful and positive career shift.

The choice is yours: will you choose “certainty” or will you choose to more closely examine the possibilities of the unknown? If you’re currently in the midst of making a big career decision or find yourself in that position in the future, I invite you to reflect on the following questions to enhance your clarity:

  • What’s truly making your decision difficult right now?

  • What matters to you most in your career right now, and what opportunity best aligns with what matters to you?

  • What are you attached to in your current career situation? What makes it difficult for you to let that go?

  • What certainty-seeking patterns have you observed in your life and career so far? How might those same patterns be coming into play now?

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