April 22, 2013 at 1:07 PM

Is Fear Inhibiting Your Career Development?

'..we must first recognize and name our fears so we can stop hopelessly obsessing on them, then healing, clearer thinking and problem-solving can occur'

By Patty Armstrong

Where’s My Great Career?

Patty Armstrong is a career counselor and educator on a mission to help people of all ages find careers they enjoy.

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Change is scary, especially when other people are making decisions that force you to change, adapt or move on.  Your business might be reorganizing, downsizing, losing funding, going out of business or going out of its mind with dysfunction.  You might be reassigned to a new department or work site, have your hours cut, get laid off or even be fired.  Other people might be fired or laid off, leaving you to wonder if your turn is coming next. When we are confronted with those involuntary changes we get mad.  And worried.  And afraid for our future.

A company reorganization might be exciting —if you’re one of the lucky ones who will benefit or who will have the opportunity to impact decisions and the final outcome.  But what if you’re told you have new work assignments and expectations that you don’t want or are not able to do?  Or that you don’t even fit the company anymore?  Thanks for all those years of service.  Oh!  By the way our new policy isn’t to give references anymore.  So, we can’t help you out there.  

Perhaps, you’re intimidated into resigning to avoid being fired, so you give up your right to unemployment benefits (Oh happy half salary!) out of fear that your professional reputation will be harmed.  No bad reference, but no good one either.

Maybe your workplace is so crazy, dysfunctional and/or abusive that you dread going in each shift.  You should get out of there.  But where will you go?  You can’t afford to just quit.

How will I pay the rent, the mortgage?  I can’t risk losing my house!  I need money for food, for gas, for the kids, to pay debt.  The media keeps saying job growth is slowing or the jobs aren’t there.  I hear about or know someone who’s been laid off and they can’t find anything.  I have to keep my head down, so I don’t lose this job that is becoming increasingly awful.  I know my boss is a bully.  I know some of my co-workers are stabbing me in the back—but others are feeling the same way and tell me I’m right.  Even though my doctor gave me a letter to get time off, I could get in more trouble for using it.  This isn’t the first job where this has happened.  How do I get myself into these situations?  I just know it’s going to turn out badly, like the last time.

The problem with all these cascading, forced changes and the worries they provoke, is that you stop being a calm, competent professional.  The stress might cause you to make mistakes, become anxious, believe or spread rumors, be crabby, impatient—even irrational, or you find yourself perpetually complaining.  You may find yourself becoming someone you don’t really like—and others might not appreciate either.

In the course of my professional life, I have had great jobs.  I’ve also given two weeks’ notice for jobs I was really sick of and glad to move on to new ventures I’d been fortunate to line up before I left.  But I have also abruptly resigned from two crazy jobs and was unceremoniously and unjustly fired from another.  For those three the final months were hell.  I couldn’t do a good job because they wouldn’t let me and I wasn’t able to give my best anyway.  Even though I was worried and afraid of what might happen, once I was gone I was also relieved to be out of a situation where I couldn’t think straight, had friends and colleagues echoing or feeding my fear, and I wasn’t my usual physically and mentally healthy self.

How one gets out of their fear can be done in as many ways as there are personalities, coping skills and support systems.  But we must first recognize and name our fears so we can stop hopelessly obsessing on them, then healing, clearer thinking and problem-solving can occur. 

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