Dear Shannon: How can I face my fear of making a career change?

If you have a question for Shannon, send it to shannon@walkoflifeconsulting.com.

Dear Shannon,

I've been working in a marketing role at a medium-sized retail business for the last three years. Recently, I proposed a new initiative to the board to integrate sustainability principles into our business model, and they said there wasn't budget. So I guess it is time to try to move on. But I am unsure about how my skills will translate, what the market is like now and how I will find the time for a job search while in this demanding role. Sustainability is a critical emerging issue and I want to be a part of shaping it for a retail company that is committed to making a difference. Can you help?

— Sarah, Manchester

Dear Sarah,

Making a career change is scary and exhilarating all at the same time. Fear of change, failure and the unknown are usually what hold us back from diving into a change. Or perhaps a bit of laziness, too?

Thomas Jefferson once said, "If you want something you've never had, you must be willing to do something you've never done." Fear, uncertainty, nervousness and reticence are the nieces of nephews of the Great Unknown, but rather than resisting them, you now have the opportunity to use them to their best advantage by recognizing them and putting them to work.

I always ask my career-coaching clients to think three years down the line in their job or career and ask themselves, "Did I have an impact in those three years? Did I make a difference? Did I challenge myself to grow? Did I enable others to live into their values?"

Figure out what those three years need to look like for you to meet your personal and professional goals. It's time to dream.

A career change is especially scary because it affects your financial security. But we are a "portfolio career" generation where moving from job to job has become more accepted. It's now less common to stay in one career for the whole of your working life. A career change can provide a new opportunity to live your values and find an organizational culture that you are more aligned to. If you already have tried to create that sustainability space within your role and company but there isn't an appetite, then perhaps it is time to explore options. Maybe one of your competitors is looking for an eager marketer with a sustainability lens right now? You won't know unless you look.

How can fear help you?

For our ancestors on the African savannas, fear was something they experienced in short intense bursts to help them make an immediate decision to stop and fight, or run. Once the situation that gave rise to the fear was over, the body reverted to its non-stress state. Today, however, we are bombarded with choices and have to think on our feet and, what's more, we apply fear to future situations that haven't even arisen yet. Moving beyond fear requires an acknowledgement that fear is an irrational reaction in the majority of contexts, and that rather than being afraid, it's far more productive to examine our fear reactions in order to move beyond them responsibly.

Why is making a career change so daunting?

This is always a very personal thing, but some of the most common restraints I hear from clients are that:

• The market is tight with hiring managers seeing 100 to 300 applications per role.
• The "easy" route of finding a role online is 60 percent less likely to convert to a job than networking, which for many is not a comfortable or favorite sport.
• You have to create and communicate your personal brand to stand out from the crowd and have the confidence in putting yourself out there.
• Sustainability is an evolving and diverse agenda within companies and sectors, so navigating the jobs market around it is not clear or straightforward.

What can you do to overcome your fears?

In my experience working with career changers and those seeking innovative impact roles, the most common personal fears are:

• Success or failure
• Loss of status or security
• Not being good enough or having the self-confidence to self-promote
• The "unknown," and then regretting the decision later
• Starting over with new colleagues, new culture

Do any of these ring true for you? Make a commitment to unpacking, understanding and ultimately overcoming your own fears by first clarifying them, naming them, writing them down and sticking them on a dartboard or mirror. Then look hard at them in the cold light of day, and ask why are they holding you back.

Map your fears

At the same time though, remember that fear is often intuition in disguise. By extracting the useful warning your intuition has identified, you can make fear work for you. From the dartboard you've created, look at your fears and ask yourself the following questions:

• Is this fear valid?
• Is it something I can control? Is it about me and my abilities, or the external environment?
• What is the worst-case scenario that could arise from this fear?
• What factors would make this outcome more likely?
• How can I minimize each of those factors?
• What is the best-case scenario that could arise from this fear?
• What factors would make this outcome more likely?
• How can I maximize each of those factors?

By plucking your fears out of the deepest, oldest and least rational parts of your brain, dusting them off and shining a spotlight on them in full view of your frontal lobe — that's the part of your brain that deals with higher order functions, and the part that got you the job in the first place — you make your fear manageable and less, well, scary.

Reach out to others

Reach out to your support network. Whether on social media through issue-specific LinkedIn groups, or by identifying an individual who has led on a similar project and contacting them, or by looking to colleagues for an internal champion and trouble shooter, there are people with experience, wisdom and insight to offer — and it's often been hard-won. Talk through your fears with someone you trust and value and you will gain perspective and clarity about what is holding you back.

Best of luck making the change you are craving by diving in head first to combat your fears. Need help navigating your career transition? Contact me to learn how you could benefit from my tried-and-tested tools and hands-on facilitation.

Compass image by Olivier Le Moal via Shutterstock.