Overcoming Your Fear of Changing Career


Whenever we’re considering making a change, or doing something new or different, it’s often our fears that get in the way.

A friend recently forwarded me an article by comedian Tessa Coates on the common ground we all share when it comes to our deepest fears:

“Disappointing my parents; mediocrity; not making anything of myself; being alone; the idea that I might have already peaked.”

Fear Has A Purpose

I’ve always believed that our fear of change does serve a purpose, or used to anyway. As Tessa states in her article, “We are a stupid, scared species, us humans. And that fear is the reason we’re alive. The brain that thinks through every possible danger is the brain that keeps you safe.” Our brains want us to avoid taking risks for fear of being isolated from the group, which would make us vulnerable and put us in danger. A handy response back in the day, but not so much now when all you want to do is change career - not exactly a life threatening situation!

Those little gremlin voices in your head talking you out of doing new things often stem from this fear. That inner-critic keeps you small and comfortable, making you doubt everything you do and want to do, making excuses not to break out of your comfort zone, reminding you that “you’re too old, too young, too late, you can’t afford to, what will everyone think?”, or Tessa’s common examples, “What if I fail? What if people laugh? What if I think I have imposter syndrome but actually I am just shit?” I regularly hear these fears a lot in clients who want to change direction and feel inspired and motivated by their career again.

Take the Fear With You

I often say to clients whose fears are holding them back that sometimes we just have to accept that the fear never really goes away but to move ahead anyway. Instead of trying to get rid of it, embrace the fear and carry on regardless. I love how Tessa offers the exact same advice in her article:

“When CEOs and authors and athletes trot out the wishy-washy expression that “the fear never goes away”, I thought they meant the hot white adrenaline of stage fright or pre-match nerves. Now, I know they meant the doubt. The gnawing sense that it would be better for everyone if this didn’t go ahead. And it turns out that never goes away. That fear and creativity walk hand in hand and you just have to tell the fear to get in the backseat, because this is going ahead.”

Back Yourself

An additional factor that tends to feed our fear is that, as a society, we are not encouraged to talk positively and confidently about ourselves. We’re taught that self-confidence and talking well of ourselves can be construed as arrogant, and yet we’ll quite happily say amazing things about other people. God forbid we might actually believe that we are good at something, and that we can make something big happen. We often believe in others, but don’t give ourselves the same credit.

“But it’s vulgar and boastful to think you’re the best, shouts your brain. Sure, you have to say back, but I also have only one life. You only get one go and what, truly, is the point of living it in the corner so that no one thinks you think too much of yourself?”

Without an internal dialogue that is affirmative, encouraging, and supportive, our fears can take over, feeding us only the worst case scenario, and all the reasons not to go ahead. However, as Tessa says above, what’s the point in living a life you’re unhappy in, just so you don’t look bad to others? Life is way too short for that. Dream big and confidently about what your future holds. Have self-belief in what you’re good at, and what that means you can achieve. It’s your life, and it’s important it reflects what’s important to you, not someone else’s perception of you and what you’re capable of.

Have Faith in Your Decision-Making

The most common fear I hear in clients considering a career change usually sounds like something along the lines of, “What if I change career and I end up not enjoying that either?” My answer to this is to please have more confidence and faith in your decision-making. If you go through a career change process like the one I offer clients, you learn so much about yourself, what would suit you, and what you’re looking for in a career, that, by the time you narrow it down to the one ideal career you want to pursue, you’ll feel you’re making a deeply informed and well considered decision. I would have also encouraged you to ‘experience’ and immerse yourself in your dream career as much as possible, and in lots of different ways, so that you develop a solid understanding of what it feels like to do such work before committing to it.

Any Change is Progress

What I’d also say to anyone considering a career change, but fearing the result, is that any step you take in your career is a step forward. Even if what you decide to do next doesn’t quite fit, you will have learnt so much more about what you want the step after that to look like. Each step you take always leads to the next. Too many see such a result as a perceived failure, mistake, or step backwards, which is just so unhelpful. How can you move forward if you won’t even try anything new? How can you learn what you want if you’re not willing to step out of your comfort zone and try something different? Try to see any movement as progress. After all, what’s the alternative? Carry on as you are? I think you deserve more than that in life.

Alice Stapleton

About Alice

Alice coaches those who want to change career but don’t know what they want to do instead. She offers Career Coaching designed to help graduates, early to mid-level career-changers, and parents returning to work gain a clear vision of what career is right for them, and how to achieve it. She is also an accredited Coach Supervisor, and host of The Career Change Diaries podcast.