I squirmed uncomfortably every time someone asked me how work was going. The judgement I knew I’d get if I told them I was f****** miserable in my career and wanted out was paralysing, so instead I’d smile blandly and answer, “Yeah, not bad, thanks”. And my soul would wince.
Are you worried about what other people will think of you starting a new career?
Afraid that it would look like you’re giving up, or that you’re fickle, not able to hack it? That you’re some kind of lame-ass job hopper who just can’t go the distance?
Are you worried that you’re letting down your parents, and everything they’ve invested in you?
Or that your friends will see you as a flake, the one in the group who can’t quite cut it? That they’ll talk pitifully about your inevitably short-lived ‘career change phase’ when you’re not there?
In your head, their voices get loud. You doubt yourself. The idea of making a career change suddenly seems painfully ridiculous.
But what other people think doesn’t have to scupper your shift. Here’s why, and what you need to know to move forwards…
Your prospective change is triggering your fear sensors
Whenever a prospective change appears on the horizon, your fear radar is activated.
It scans the immediate environment, looking for hazards, risks and reasons why you should avoid the change entirely and stay exactly where you are.
You might worry about giving up a secure job to take a punt on a new direction. Or perhaps about jumping from the frying pan into the fire, and ending up in a role that feels even more of a poor fit for you. You might be concerned that a career change will be hard to explain on your CV, and that you’ll damage your prospects.
The prospect of creating disharmony in your relationships, or how you appear to the people around you, is exactly such a hazard.
Which is why you feel worried about what other people will think of you starting a new career.
Your fear sensors would be much happier if they could just maintain the status quo, keeping you in the safe and familiar, the comfortably uncomfortable.
Except the part of you that wants the change knows this won’t be enough. That if you’re to find fulfilment, flow and meaning at work, you have to move forward in some way, into something new.
While your fear sensors can be managed, your career change ‘spidey sense’ won’t be truly satisfied until you’ve aligned your work with who you’ve evolved into on the inside.
Which sensors do you want to give more mental airtime to?
Most of the time you’re mind-reading
The things we think other people think about us often loom far larger in our own minds than they ever do in theirs.
That huge, scary tarantula of judgement, looming menacingly over your thoughts, would most likely only be a friendly and passing daddy long-legs in reality.
In other words, the major judgement you imagine others feeling in response to your situation, would probably get only a moment’s fleeting thought in their minds. And whereas you experience the prospect of it at volume 10, for them it’s probably only volume 1.
The truth is, people don’t care about what you do, as much as you think they do.
Plus, you’re also making big-ass assumptions about what they think. When you decide ahead of time how people are going to respond to your plans, you’re framing their prospective opinions in the worst possible light, instead of allowing them to step forward to support you.
What about giving them that chance? You might be pleasantly surprised.
One of the most momentous moments of my shift was sharing my tentative plans to train as a coach with my mum. I had thought she would be wary, concerned for the stability of my income, and worried that I was making a big mistake. Instead, she said this,
“I really believe you can make a success of this. You’re so suited to this, and I think you should go for it.”
I was blown away. My risk-averse mum, backing me 100%. I felt stronger and supported in my resolve to make the change when I heard her words, and excited that she could see how the shift was a good fit for me.
Their ‘stuff’ is their business, not yours
That said, some of the reasons why you’re worried about what other people will think of you starting a new career may be completely on point.
The thought of you making a significant change in your world can be highly triggering for some who love you: Will you be OK? Will your income be safe? What does it mean for their relationship with you?
And because they can’t envisage as directly as you can what the pull of finding more fulfilling work would mean to you, the fears are likely loom larger than the potential benefits.
It’s well documented that when people go through change, the psychological process they go through can be similar to that experienced with a bereavement. Phases of denial and anger come up as much in coping with change as in coping with grief.
Your loved ones want to keep you safe. And that’s tied up with you staying in a safe and familiar situation.
Remember too, that your change forces others to reevaluate their own choices…
…whether that’s work colleagues in your current role, or your best friend of 20 years.
We spend so much of our time on a collective treadmill. When one person turns around and walks in a different direction it can be frightening, liberating, or even both.
Those that are also unhappy at work might be especially triggered, because if you make a change, there’s no reason why they shouldn’t too. That possibility, whether enticing or terrifying, is huge, and they might not be ready to square up to it just yet. You may both be unhappy at work, but at least you’ve been unhappy together. What will they do if they’ve no longer got you as confirmation that it’s OK to stay stuck?
Whatever the reason for the reactions of people around you, while it’s kind to be sensitive and understanding, it’s not your job to take on, manage, or control their feelings.
In fact, and consider this said with love, what other people think of you is none of your f****** business.
What is your business is moving your life forward so that your work is in greater alignment with who you are. And since you’re here, I’m guessing that’s already something that appeals.
When you focus on you, and take steps to uncover your superpowers and how you can bring them into the world, the power of what other people think fades.
I can honestly say, that right now, I give all of zero f****s about what other people think about my career trajectory. It’s right for me and I love it.
And if you give yourself a chance to feel your way to work that you love, I’m confident that you’ll be able to say the same.
If what other people think is a supervillain scuppering your shift, try this:
- Own your career situation. When people ask you how your work is, have a response that feels confident and authentic in your back pocket, ready to use. For example, “Actually I’m feeling ready to explore some potential new career directions in the next few months. I haven’t got exact answers just yet, but I’m excited about the possibilities.”
- Remember that it’s not your business what other people think, about you or anything else. Just as no one else is allowed to hijack your mental airspace, you can’t get inside theirs, so don’t try, and take the pressure off yourself to do so.
- Double down on focusing on you. The more you explore what makes you tick and get into action with moving your shift forward, the more your awareness of other people’s thoughts about your shift will fade.
- Know that you’re capable, resourceful, and that you can handle this. You’re not going to take crazy, unmitigated risks without a plan. You’re going to do this properly, like the professional you are.
Are you worried about what other people will think about you starting a new career? What happens when you try the steps above? Let me know in the comments below.
P.S. If other people’s opinions are looming too loud in your shift, I can help you tune in more clearly to your own. Find out more about my Elite Squad programme here.