“Who am I kidding?! I wailed inside. I’m going to be stuck here FOREVER.”
I was about 6 months into my career change when I had my first proper wobble.
I knew I wanted my own business, I knew what I was going to sell, and I knew what I had to do to set it up.
Then I was hit by a HUGE crisis of doubt.
It started as a creeping sense of uneasiness, like I’d forgotten something really important.
It was a nagging, itching feeling. And with it came a sense of foolishness, ridiculousness, of feeling stupid for even trying to create work I loved.
Because OF COURSE it was the better option just to go and get a sensible job.
It would be so much easier to have an interview and have someone offer me a role, any role, than having to figure out this whole ‘set up my business’ thing on my own.
To be rescued from work that was slowly killing my soul, than to have to rescue myself.
And I was so done with having to show up every day in a role that drained me dry and left nothing good for the people I loved. I just wanted something, or someone, to come along and make it all better, quickly.
“Starting a business is HARD,” whispered The Wobble in my ear. “You know what’s easier? Getting a sensible job.”
And so it was that I found myself, instead of creating my website and advertising my services, scrolling through page after page of job ads on job search aggregator sites.
I used to scroll until my eyes were red and sore from staring unblinking at my PC screen late into the night.
I would batch apply to 10 jobs at a time — I didn’t care which ones, as long as I felt I had a passing shot at them.
My sole criteria were, ‘Is the pay OK?’, and ‘Am I qualified to do at least most of the job description?’
I had all of zero connection to the roles and companies I was applying for. The descriptions were as exciting as blocks of concrete.
…And I heard nothing back from 99% of them.
When the one I interviewed for turned me down on the tiniest technicality, it broke me.
I sobbed on my kitchen floor. I felt like I’d be stuck in work I loathed, FOREVER.
It was the lowest point of my career change.
But with a little time, I picked myself up, thought about what had gone wrong, and I realised that I was never supposed to apply for any of those jobs.
I’d had a major lapse in self-belief. But I already knew what I had to do.
So I got back to building my business.
I’d be willing to bet good money that you know that wobbly feeling too, in some way.
Perhaps yours is stopping you from taking your very first steps in career change. Or perhaps you’ve started exploring, only for it all to feel overwhelming and impossible.
Wobbles are really good at keeping us away from the positive changes that we want to make. And if we let them, they’ll scupper our plans for good.
But with a little bit of understanding of what a wobble is, you can, like I did, learn how to manage them, reduce them, and move towards work you love in spite of them.
Let me show you how, with a little help from a hugely helpful brain training / neuroscience book I’ve been checking out this week — John Assaraf’s Innercise.
What is a wobble, and what’s it got to do with your brain?
Imagine that making a career change is like climbing a mountain.
It’s steep and challenging. You don’t know what obstacles are coming next, and that peak feels a long way off.
Your legs are sore, your breathing is ragged. And you’re not even sure you’re going the right way to get to the top.
It’s hard work; you’ve never done this before.
It feels uncertain whether you’ll ever make it.
Typically, the kinds of wobbles I see career changers having at this stage are of two varieties…
Type 1. The Distance Wobble (AKA “F***, that mountaintop is a long way up”)
Instead of keeping your head down and focusing on your next few steps, you look up.
Geez, there’s a LOT of distance to cover before you’re anywhere near that mountaintop. How are you going to make it there?
What were you thinking? This is a really stupid idea.
Type 2. The Self Wobble (AKA “F***, I don’t think I have what it takes to make it”)
Your legs hurt. Your lungs are raw.
And the worry hits you hard that some part of you is going to give out on this journey.
Who are you kidding? You’re no altitude climber. And besides, you don’t have enough training / qualifications / leg strength / essential biscuit supplies to make this climb!
What were you thinking? This is a really stupid idea.
Whichever wobble you’re going through, you stop. You sit down. Hyperventilate a little bit.
You look back down the path you’ve just come from. You can see base camp. It looks warm, and safe and easy down there.
Wouldn’t it be easier just to turn around and go back?
You’re hardwired to stay stuck
Your brain is an incredibly powerful supercomputer that’s evolved from our ancestors with two distinct priorities:
1) To keep you safe: whether you’re trying to avoid being eaten by a sabre-toothed tiger, or making sure you can make your mortgage payments to keep a roof over your head, your brain acts first to meet your needs for basic survival. It’s job is to keep you alive, fed, warm and sheltered.
2) To be efficient: your brain is processing trillions of pieces of information at the same time: everything from your body temperature, to the likelihood of a predator appearing around the next bend, to what that advert on the billboard across the road says, to how wide your pupils need to be to optimise the projection of light onto your retinas. When it gets the opportunity to conserve energy by putting some of those processing tasks on autopilot, it will.
The prospect of change, in any form, is perceived as a threat by your brain, because it raises the possibility of an uncertain outcome which could risk your safety.
In Innercise, John Assaraf explains more…
“Your goal to lose weight may seem exciting to you, but your ancient brain wants you to keep that weight on in case there’s a famine around the corner. Or the idea of leaving your job to start a business might send a tingle of excitement down your spine, but your ancient brain ‘worries’ that the loss of your current job and income could lead to starvation. To your brain, almost any change you want to make is interpreted as potential risk — emotionally, financially, physically, mentally, socially. And the mother of them all, a risk perceived as potentially one that could kill you…
Consider the thermostat in your home. It keeps the temperature the same, no matter if it’s hot or cold outside. If you open a window in the winter to let in some fresh air, the thermostat registers the change, and turns the heat on, bringing your home back to ‘normal’ so that you’ll feel safe and snug.
Your mental and emotional habits of a lifetime have set the ‘temperature’ at a certain point too. So you’re comfortable within a certain range of feelings, behaviours, and thoughts. But when you try to change the way you feel or think or act — to open a window to let in some fresh air — the ‘thermostat’ in your brain kicks in to bring you right back to what it has come to know as your ”normal’ comfort zone. The result is you stay stuck…”
And when it comes to career change, what more effective way could there be for your brain to keep you stuck in ‘normality’ than to plague you with self doubt and overwhelm, and send you scurrying back to the safety of the work that keeps you playing small?
So how do you beat your brain’s programming?
Even though evolutionary biology would suggest that there’s not much that you can do to get past this hardwiring, developments in neuroscience do.
Over the last ten years, it has become widely accepted, thanks to the science of neuroplasticity, that we can ‘upgrade’ our brain’s wiring. It can be shaped and honed to accept new messaging and to stop using old neural pathways that no longer serve our growth.
The solution to overcoming the doubts and fears that keep you stuck in career change is to train your brain, so that you can ‘flip the switch’ on your own thinking, believe that positive change is not just possible but inevitable, and get into action to create the work you love.
Here are a few ways that you can do just that.
1. Wiggle your beliefs
There are many details we live with every day which are truths.
It is sunny today.
There is an ant on the floor.
I have a meeting at 11am.
These are indisputable because they are facts.
Yet we also have many thoughts which masquerade as facts. And our thoughts about what’s possible in career change are a particularly plentiful source of them.
I’m no good at public speaking.
It is hard to break into the music industry.
I can’t start a new career without going back to university.
You can’t make a career change without risking your income.
I’ll earn less if I make a career change.
While it’s possible that these statements are true, they are not definitely or always so. They are simply thoughts, which have been supported at one time or another by limited or circumstantial evidence, and which your brain has put on autopilot in order to conserve energy.
The problem is, that we act according to our beliefs.
So, if you believe, for example, that you can’t make a career change without risking your income, you won’t take action to lead to making a career change. Because your ancient brain won’t allow you to risk your survival prospects.
Now, all this is important for three reasons…
1) It means that the vast majority of what you think you know about whether career change is possible for you could be beliefs rather than truths.
2) Beliefs can be changed.
3) You can teach yourself to act according to new beliefs.
Here, for example, are a few things that through working with hundreds of career changers, I have come to believe — fully — about career change…
>> Career change is not just possible but INEVITABLE when you’re committed to the journey, even if you don’t understand exactly how the process will work for you.
>> You will only fail if you give up.
>> Career change is life change
>> You already know, deep inside, the work you want to be doing.
>> Career change is exciting and fun
>> Career change can easily be made in a safe way that doesn’t mean risking your income, or starting again from scratch in a new field.
What would be possible for you if you believed and took action according to similar beliefs?
When you start to entertain the possibility of feeling a different way about career change, the grip on your old beliefs starts to loosen. And that’s just the space you want to be in.
Here’s how to wiggle your beliefs.
1) What are the messages or ‘truths’ you have believed about your career change up till now? Write them all down.
2) Are they always true? Can you find examples of when those ideas have not been true?
3) What would be new, more empowering beliefs to hold?
4) Practise consciously thinking about the new beliefs every day, as often as you can, EVEN if you don’t believe them yet.
2) Seek new experiences / Stretch your normal
Doing things that are out of the ordinary serves multiple purposes when contemplating a career change, ESPECIALLY when you’re feeling stuck for ideas or like all your ideas are dead ends.
Firstly, doing new things expands your brains idea of what is ‘normal’ for you. By gently expanding outwards the edges of your comfort zone, a greater range of actions and behaviours become familiar and thus less likely to trigger your brain’s fear based survival response.
And, besides, look sweetcheeks, you’re a bright cookie. If the solution to your career stuckness lay inside the boundaries of your life as it is right now, you would have found it by now. If you want something new and different, you have to try things that are new and different, right?
“From an evolutionary perspective, novelty has meant one of two things: danger or reward. Is that sound in the brush something I could eat or something that could eat me? The answer has been critical to survival, and those with brains that paid attention to novelty and could tell the difference between a danger and a reward won. Those that couldn’t, died off. The winners not only survived, they also reproduced. And as a result, millions of years later, here we are with brains that love the rewards of novelty.
“Novelty does a host of things for your brain. The learning centres in your brain — especially the hippocampus and amygdala — are associated with memory, and they, along with other areas in your frontal and insular lobes, function as ‘novelty detectors’. These areas compare new information coming through your senses, perceptions and creative thoughts with older information stored in memory. When something new, interesting, and potentially pleasurable or rewarding shows up, your detectors trigger the release of neurochemicals, including dopamine.
Dopamine helps you get motivated, plan and prioritise. It also helps you form new memories and create new habits. There’s a whole lot of science about dopamine — nicknamed the ‘happiness hormone’ along with its cousins, endorphins and serotonin — but in short, it stimulates new neural activity; activity that is triggered by novelty — even novel thoughts. So, when you’re curious about something, you release dopamine and thus become more motivated and action-orientated to learn new information and make new connections. So get curious!” — John Assaraf, Innercise
To bring more novelty and curiosity into your career change (and your life), try this:
1) Take this step as a sign to do something you’ve always wanted to try but never have. Secretly wish you knew more about photography? Sign up for that online course. Want to have a few friends over for a (socially distanced) dinner and cook them a recipe of your own creation? Book it in. Always fancied making your own dress? Go online and buy the pattern and material, right now.
2) DO THE THING. As soon as you feasibly can. No excuses, don’t overthink it, just do it.
3) Write down three things that you loved about it, and three things you learned.
3. Ask better questions
“Judge a man by his questions rather than his answers.” — Voltaire
Why is this happening to me?
Why is my job so rubbish?
And FFS, why can’t I find a way out?!
…are just some of the questions that came up for me in my own career change. My brain used to work angrily away at them, trying to figure them out and whirling round in spiralling thought loops that never got me anywhere, and left me feeling small and frustrated.
Not one of those questions was empowering.
And every single one was being framed and crafted by the ancient part of my brain, which incorporated into the very question and spoke into existence the exact situation I wanted to get away from. In a master move worthy of the sneakiest super-villain, my OWN BRAIN was trying to keep me stuck.
‘Why is this happening to me?’ reinforced that I was a victim, instead of an agent of change.
‘Why is my job so rubbish?’ reinforced and emphasised my dissatisfaction with my work, making it worse.
And ‘Why can’t I find a way out?’ reinforced that I was not capable of finding a solution.
By asking myself these same questions over and over again, I was putting on autopilot the neural response that told me I was stuck and that I would be forever. Just where my ancient brain needed me to be to avoid the unpredictable, unknown and uncertain outcome of a career change.
But there was another way for me to take control. And there is for you too.
I learnt about it first via Susan Jeffers, author of Feel The Fear And Do It Anyway, who calls this ancient fearful self-talk the Chatterbox. And you may have heard of it referred to elsewhere as the Monkey Mind, the Chimp or the Saboteur.
John Assaraf calls it the Frankenstein brain, and his metaphor lends a new and interesting dimension to the idea:
“The left side of your PFC (Pre-frontal Cortex) is your “inner Einstein”. You might think of it as the CEO of your brain, or the orchestra conductor leading your brain in a complex symphony. It’s the forward-looking, creative, rock-star side of you that can find elegant solutions, that can fill you with the promise of what is possible. When we feel motivated and at our best is when our Einstein brain is most active.
Over on the right side of your PFC, however, is your ‘inner Frankenstein’. The dark wolf. It tends towards the promise of what is not possible. It focuses on constraints, barriers, complications. Frankenstein will always look — and usually find — evidence for why something is impossible, or risky. Or too threatening to the familiar status quo, even if the status quo is crying out for change. It loves to dredge up your past, but it also finds information from your present and the world you live in to be just as lovable for keeping you ‘safe’ — that is through its perception of what is safe. While these are sometimes necessary and valuable traits for survival, too much Frankenstein often creates its own monster.”
While the brain’s two inner characters have very different roles, it’s important to remember that you have a CHOICE over which you step into.
When you notice Frankenstein brain getting in your face with its pessimism, you can CHOOSE to switch on your Einstein brain by asking better questions.
And because your brain loves to conserve energy, the sheer act of this diverts resources away from Frankenstein thinking and towards the curious, conscious, creative part of you that has all the skills to solve the problem. It goes something like this….
“Why is this happening to me?”
“Why is my job so rubbish?”
“And FFS, why can’t I find a way out?!”
Wait. Who said that?
Oh HEY Frankenstein! Thanks for keeping me safe. I’m curious to hear what our Einstein has to add to this conversation. Einstein, you there?
“Always. How can I help?”
I’d love to have your take on this situation. I’m feeling stuck and trapped in this job. It’s just not me.
“OK, I get it. I wonder what kind of work might be a better fit? I wonder what creative solutions there could be to start feeling better now? And I wonder who we know who might be able to help us with this? Oh hey, remember your friend Jen? She made a career change a couple of years ago. I wonder how she approached it, and if she has any pointers she could offer?”
When you ask better questions you can divert brain resources exactly to the creative problem solving places they need to be, and away from the fear-based response system that wants to keep you safe (and stuck).
And, what’s more, in doing so, you’ll realise that those things that feel risky and scary? They’re paper tigers. And they can be managed and mitigated far more easily than you think.
Give Einstein a chance. Invite him to the conversation.
The steps go like this:
1) Notice Frankenstein when he comes out to play.
2) Acknowledge and thank him for looking out for you.
3) Invite Einstein to the conversation.
4) Listen to his open questions which allow curiosity in.
5) Take one small step towards investigating those questions, today.
Ultimately, you can overcome your Frankenstein brain by remembering why you want a career change
There’s one elephant in the room that we haven’t yet addressed when it comes to reprogramming your brain to set you up for success in creating career change.
And that’s this.
Frankenstein ASSUMES that it’s safer for you to stay in work that keeps you stuck, than it is for you to seek change.
And it’s by addressing this that we can bring him fully onboard with the objectives of Einstein, AND your goal to find work you love.
Because I’ll eat my damn hat if there’s a single part of you that truly wants to stay where you are.
It’s ten years from now, and you’re still in the same job.
You’ve given up any hope of finding work you love. You’ve resigned yourself to living for two days per week. And you’re a shadow of the fun-loving potential filled, purpose-seeking person you used to be.
Stress, boredom and burnout are now part of the background of your life. Your world is grey, monotonous, and you’re filled with a sense of missed opportunity.
You’re not making a difference. You believe you never will.
What feels more scary now?
A life half-lived?
Or taking a chance on creating work that lets you be fully you? Work that you have to pinch yourself to believe you actually get paid for? Work that leaves you feeling connected, engaged, in flow and fulfilled?
My client Charlotte, who successfully made a shift to her dream job earlier this year, put it like this…
“I could see this career path unfolding in front of me, and where I’d be if I didn’t make a change in the next five or ten years. I was scared I’d never become a career change success story. But then I realised that I was far more scared of staying where I was.”
Listen Frankenstein. Einstein’s got your back. It’s not going to make any risky decisions that threaten your safety. Back up and let him do his thing.
Because there’s more true safety in feeling a sense of belonging, of meaning and impact than there’ll ever be in feeling small, stuck and afraid.
If you need help rewiring your mind to believe that making a career change is not only possible, but inevitable, I can help. Find out more about my Elite Squad VIP coaching programme here.
And check out John Assaraf’s Innercise on Amazon here.