Helen’s Situation: I have a high powered, highly respected, and well-paid job in the city, but I feel that I am at a major crossroads in my career. The job is taking a real toll on me. I’m not coping well, and I’m feeling beyond burnt out.
Helen’s Question: I want work that doesn’t leave me feeling overwhelmed, that protects my financial security, and that I feel a genuine connection to, rather than feeling I am just going through the motions. However, my current job pays so well that I’m very hesitant to give it up. What can I do?
Deborah’s Answer: As I talked with Helen it became apparent that she was feeling a lot of fear around the idea of leaving her current position. She wasn’t afraid of losing social status (even though her job did provide quite a bit of it). She was scared of going broke.
The fear of becoming totally destitute is quite common, and it puts us into a “survival mode” in our brains. Our brains perceive that leaving a job equates to losing safety, which triggers an intense wave of discomfort and fear. While in the throes of these feelings it is very difficult to make a thoughtful decision about how to move forward.
Here are 3 strategies to cope with an intense fear reaction.
Meet Your Lizard
The part of you that is trying to keep you safe is the reptilian or lizard part of the brain. It is much less sophisticated than your rational brain. It loves to send out an attention-getting, though simple, message, “DANGER! Look out. DANGER!” It often buys into all-or-nothing thinking. Either we stay here under this rock where things are safe. Or we leave and meet our doom.
Hopefully reading this you can see that there are many more possibilities between these two extremes.
The first step is to notice and separate from this black and white messaging. One fun (but effective) way to do this is to give your lizard brain a name and a visual image. We named Helen’s lizard brain ‘Jolene’ and visualized her as a small red iguana. By taking this step, Helen was able to see that it was Jolene’s limited perception that was coloring her view of how dreadful things would be if she left her. The reality of the situation could be quite different.
Add in a Heaping Dose of Facts
Lizard fears thrive in the dark and grow amidst mental unknowns. The more we can shine the light of reality on a situation, the calmer this part of our brains will be. When I inquired, it turned out that Helen had built up a financial safety net.
I encouraged her to get a clearer picture of where she stood financially. We can look worst case scenarios in the eye. (Of course, we’re not gunning for these situations, but it helps to see that there’s a way forward even in a not-so-great situation). For example, how long could Helen’s safety net support her? What luxuries could she give up if needed? What steps could she take if funds ran low?
Instead of standing in fear of the question, “What would I do if?”, we can actually answer the question and create back-up plans.
Make a Commitment and Look for Short Term Moves
Before taking any steps or acting rashly, internally commit to making a positive change. I shared with Helen that this doesn’t mean quitting that day. Instead, it means committing to finding a way to work that feels safe, supported, well-reasoned and well researched. She needed to give herself permission to want something else to go for it.
With this in mind, we reviewed two short term options that could be readily available to her (and keep her employed). Helen could explore what the work culture was like at similar firms to see if she could find something that would work for her in the short term. She might also explore whether she could work from home more or potentially job share. These options could help to temporarily reduce her level of burnout and buy her some mental energy and space to develop a more cohesive long-term plan.
Bonus Tip! Get the Longer Term Help You Need
Are you dealing with the combo of feeling unhappy about where you are in your career and experiencing a lot of fear around making a change? This is a tough spot to get out of all by yourself, because your fears will keep you stuck, even though you want to make a change.
With the support of a skilled career coach, you’ll be able to connect to your dreams and take steps towards them, while feeling safe and supported. Put in an application today to get started on creating the career future you’re craving!
What helps you to stay calm around the idea of job security? Leave a comment below!