Overcoming the fear of change: How to start a new career with confidence
Never heard of this word? (And no idea how to pronounce it?)
You probably still know its meaning intimately: the fear of change.
Disruption has become a constant in our lives, whether we’re discussing the current economy, job market, climate crisis or geopolitical conflicts. Now is truly a time when the previously wry ‘Never a dull moment!’ seems especially glib and inappropriate.
The Great Resignation has brought on a seismic shift for many workers in the U.S.— with approximately four million employees a month leaving their roles during the latter half of 2021.
If the thought of a career change isn't enjoyable, though, then what has brought others excitement around new possibilities may cause anxiety and dread for you.
Many of us don’t profess to be a number one fan of change for several reasons. An adjustment that may require you to upskill (that is, gain new skills) or reskill (train in something new entirely) can be uncomfortable at best. Having to do that and memorize new work-based acronyms or leap into a new position can feel like a jump over an actual cliff the size of El Capitan.
Still, there is value in pushing through your fear for a better career opportunity. Those who have switched jobs have seen average wage increases of 8% — 3% higher than those who decided to stay put.
And many are possibly escaping toxic work environments for greener pastures.
Source: MIT Sloan Management Review
There are rewards for transitioning to a job that fits you, especially if you feel stagnant in your current role and know a change is needed.
But what can you do to overcome the fears of entering a new career?
Overcoming the fear of the unknown
Change is uncomfortable…period. Some people love mysteries when it comes to a podcast series, but not when it involves their life. Whether getting used to a new workflow to navigating a new world of office politics, there are unknown elements about that next job opportunity that may feel intimidating.
You can start to overcome your fears by being honest about what’s holding you back.
Dr. Jasmine Escalera, a career coach and TEDx speaker, had this to say about overcoming career-related fear in a LinkedIn post.
"And when fear becomes a pattern in your career, you know you have a real problem, and it shouldn't be ignored,” she said. “In fact, you need to fight it head-on. Identify what is triggering your fear, and how your negative thoughts are playing into your inaction. And create a plan that helps you move past fear by connecting to your strengths, identifying areas of continued growth, and working on crafting a positive mindset."
What truly scares you about your new job search?
Are you concerned your new boss may be worse than the one you have now?
Does the prospect of office politics and a toxic work environment prove unsettling?
Mickey Desai, founder of the Nonprofit Snapshot podcast and a metro Atlanta-based technical writer, is currently working in a contract role at the Georgia Secretary of State's Office.
He shared his concerns with the occasionally disruptive ‘elements of corporate culture’ that can be distracting when switching to a new job.
“I don't want to put up with dysfunctional teams or people who think that Hawaiian shirt Friday is a major perk instead of offering more meaningful ways to make workers feel valued,” Desai said.
Many others share similar concerns. The MIT study mentioned above revealed that the top predictor of attrition was the state of the work environment.
Maybe you’re worried about an overbearing work culture or an office that may not be open to working remotely. Identifying and coming to terms with your concerns about switching jobs can help you create a plan to combat them.
A looming concern: job security
Toxic work environments and difficult bosses can bring on anxiety! But job security is also a gold medal contender in the ‘job concerns Olympics.’
How many times has a variation of this thought entered your mind?
“What if I change jobs only to find that my new company lays me off within six months?”
This is a huge and valid concern, especially in a time where everyone is managing ever-changing financial obligations and an economy impacted by the highest inflation seen in decades.
Throw in uprooting a child out of school or a partner who may not be able to relocate, and this scenario becomes downright agonizing.
The data show that job security is a concern of many workers. And the culprit? Technology, specifically, automation.
According to PwC’s 2021 Hopes and Fears report, 60% of global respondents worry that automation is putting their jobs at risk, while half of Americans agreed. Also, 48% believe that traditional full-time employment won’t be around in the future.
Source: PwC Hopes and Fears 2021 study
A two-step approach can help you overcome this hurdle.
First, upskilling and reskilling can increase the value you bring to the workforce, providing you with options.
Upskilling and reskilling may be the answer
Are you alone in your concerns? Definitely not.
Consider that six out of every ten people globally wonder if their job will disappear because of our rapid advancements in technology. Wow! (More data on this in the PwC Hopes and Fears study led by Chaitali Mukherjee, Bhushan Sethi and Peter Brown.)
Automation doesn't just signify a change in the jobs that are no longer needed, however. It also means that business operations will have to accommodate an ever-changing world of work.
Because of that—and regardless of industry or level—we’re all part of a professional world that will require an ever-evolving set of skills.
CEO of ACSILabs, Neil Sahota is an IBM™ Master Inventor and speaker, and author who advocates for a proactive approach. He summed up how crucial it is for today's workers to acquire skills in preparation for new technologies that will impact the operation of most jobs.
The skills gap is such a significant issue that the World Economic Forum found that one billion people will need to be reskilled by 2030 to manage the new landscape of work brought on by new technologies.
That’s nearly one out of every eight people! Enter upskilling and reskilling…
How upskilling and reskilling upend fear
Picking up the right skills can help you overcome the ups and downs of the job market and manage those career fears—regardless of the economy.
Kristi DePaul, CEO of Founders, cites the impact of this life-changing work. “Upskilling and reskilling are efforts that remain close to our hearts,” she said. “The Founders team recently partnered with the Barbara Bush Foundation for Family Literacy and Digital Promise on the production of Promoting Digital Literacy for Adult Learners: A Resource Guide, and we look forward to the positive ripple effects this will have in families and communities across the country. Enabling others' social and economic mobility is the backbone of our work.”
Upskilling and reskilling give professionals the upper hand.
Preparing you for the future of work
We’ve covered the ‘what,’ but how we work is also constantly changing. Specifically, where we work. Since the pandemic, remote work has been on the rise for a variety of reasons.
However, remote and even hybrid work comes with logistics that require a dynamic and revolving set of skills to be successful.
Katie Scheuer, head of learning experience at Workplaceless, has seen this firsthand in her work supporting teams, leaders, and companies to thrive in hybrid and remote environments:
"Whether an individual is an employee at an organization seeking a new role, or is an external job seeker, knowledge of remote work habits and principles is critical to gaining and succeeding in a remote position."
And according to her, employers are expecting job candidates to already possess skill sets that enable them to succeed in remote work.
"Employers are increasingly seeking individuals who understand the culture of a remote-first organization and async-first practices, which requires experience and knowledge of transferable soft skills. While many professionals were forced to work from home during the pandemic, employees and employers alike have recognized that these were not ideal remote working conditions. Since the pandemic, the expectation to be comfortable with virtual communication tools has gone from a nice-to-have to a must-have," Scheuer told us.
Kaleem Clarkson is a LinkedIn 2022 Top Voice in Remote Work and serves as COO of Blend Me, an organization that helps startups and small businesses improve their remote employee experiences. Clarkson shared how vital he believes remote work is for expanding your career options, regardless of your location.
“The importance of an individual upskilling themselves and knowing how to work remotely along with understanding the skills they need to improve are going to become even more crucial moving forward," he said.
In his work with Blend Me, Clarkson has seen that remote work opens the door to more employment possibilities, and upskilling can lead the way.
"If you want to change careers, it's about opportunities; if you want more of them, then you need to expand your ability. And working remotely, we've found, opens a lot more opportunities for other employment. It's about preparing yourself to apply for positions all over the world."
Increasing your market value
Ever sold something to someone? What’s the first thing you did (or possibly wish you did in hindsight)?
If you wanted to make a profit, you likely visited a site like eBay or Amazon to see how much your product was worth so you knew what to charge.
Did you know that you should treat your skills the same way? Every credential, degree, workshop, and hands-on experience is a commodity. These elements add to your market value as an employee. And upskilling and reskilling can enable you to maximize your value — particularly monetarily.
Gallup and Amazon's American Upskilling Study estimated that aside from job quality, upskilling boosted workers' annual wages by 8.6%. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, if we go by the most recent data (2020) on the median U.S. household income of $67,521, that would mean earning an additional $5,806 every year.
Upskilling and reskilling on the job can help employers see the value you bring and even be the catalyst for a promotion. It happened to Charles Evans, an emergency management specialist at FEMA.
For two years, Evans got a front-row seat to on-the-job learning and development as a training support specialist with FEMA. While he trained others, he participated in valuable learning opportunities that propelled him to where he is now.
“My experience working in the training department led to me getting to where I am now as an emergency management specialist,” he said. “I’m working in preparedness because I got the experience as a trainer and reservist, which catapulted me to become a full-time employee with FEMA.”
Minimizing uncertainties (like job security)
Training and gaining new skills increase your value; as a byproduct, you gain a highly sought-after aspect in today’s job market: control.
Increasing your aptitude enables you to take ownership of your career path. It gives you leverage and provides you with greater job security. Here’s how:
Because your skills are attractive to multiple companies, you can more easily move around, weathering the storm of an uncertain job market or having an easier time landing your next position if layoffs occur.
It can open the door to opportunities you may have never considered.
Case in point: Clarkson stumbled upon the next phase of his current career by attending a conference.
“Through the web development world, I discovered that remote work was possible,” he explained. “I went to a web development conference on my own time to learn how to improve my skills to do more things for my full-time job. But if it weren’t for me learning how to become a web developer and being at this conference, I wouldn’t have understood what it was like to run a fully-distributed company,” said Clarkson.
Eventually, this experience led to him co-founding Blend Me.
For Evans, his interest in project management has motivated him to seek additional training.
“I’m also receiving IT project management training,” he shared. “Once I complete three managing IT project courses, I will receive a certification, which will help me serve as program manager for FEMA IT projects.” An impactful role with widely applicable skills will benefit him further in the long run.
Both have expanded their options by increasing their skills, giving them greater control over their professional futures. And you can do the same.
Overcome the Fear and Reap the Benefits
The rewards are ripe for the taking. According to data from labor analytics firm Emsi Burning Glass, today’s signing bonuses for new hires are three times what they were in 2016. More companies are offering a variety of means to increase your market value—such as tuition assistance and onsite training—often at no cost to you as an employee.
Ultimately, upskilling and reskilling are making it easier than ever for workers like you (and me) to take greater control of our career trajectories. The more leverage we gain, the more possible it becomes to conquer our fears and make bolder choices.
No longer must employees be stuck in an endless loop of job hunting and worrying about potential job losses. As a result, we’ll experience long-lasting career benefits that make each leap worth it.
Know someone who could benefit from stronger digital literacy skills?
Check out the comprehensive training guide our team recently produced for our partners at the Barbara Bush Foundation for Family Literacy and Digital Promise.