These 2 fears are keeping you in an unfulfilling career (here’s how to get through them)

Most people who are in an unfulfilling career know that they don’t enjoy what they do for a living. They know that they’re miserable and work is most likely the source. They know they want more and better in their life.

And yet still, they stay in that unfulfilling career. The more publicized reason for this is that leaving a job is hard.

But, over the years working with my clients, I’ve learned that while change is hard, the most common thing that keeps people stuck in a career that makes them unhappy is fear.

I’ve also learned that these fears are not unique to any one person – most people are afraid of the same things. And while these fears are valid to an extent, leaving them unsaid gives them power — a power that keeps you paralyzed by your fear and causes your career goals to remain unattainable.

So, what are these fears and how do we tackle them?

Fear of making the “wrong choice”

This fear stems from a lack of knowledge – knowledge about yourself and knowledge about the world of work.

Not knowing the career options that are out there, makes it easy to be paralyzed by the thought “what if I make the wrong choice?” But the problem with this fear is you’ll almost never know if it’s the right choice unless you try it out.

There are currently hundreds of roles out there (974 classified in ONET) and when we think about those roles across various industries the opportunities multiply. Plus, there are multiple new careers being created regularly due to constant shifts in different industries. Jobs that didn’t exist 10 years ago because social media wasn’t as prominent exist now.

Getting through this fear: The first step to getting through this is by doing your research.

The idea of “starting from the bottom” or “being a student” after years of managing people and being a leader can be paralyzing.

Get curious about careers – research the kinds of roles and job functions that exist out there and are more in alignment with your interests and values. I don’t mention skills because skills can always be developed.

Test drive potential careers. We test-drive everything these days, from cars to clothes to … ahem … life partners. So why not a career choice if you’re hoping to stick with it for the next two years?

Some ways to test drive your career include volunteering, an internship, shadowing someone, part-time work, or informational interviews. You can start in your immediate zone of influence. What other roles are available in your company and can you talk to people in those roles to learn more about what they do? What stretch projects can you take on that force you to use skills different from what you currently use?

Through your experiments, you might discover that where you are is actually where you need to be with slight tweaks to your role, or you might find a whole new avenue to pursue and discover a more fulfilling career.

Fear of sacrificing – money or status

Let’s start with the fear of losing your current salary or earning less. This is commonly known as the “golden handcuffs” phenomenon – these are benefits provided by an employer to discourage you from taking employment elsewhere even when you’re miserable.

Money is a safety blanket and when you have a source of income that takes care of your basic needs, your lifestyle and so on, it can be scary to think about letting that go.

Getting through this fear: Though this is a very valid fear (you have responsibilities after all) – most people who are letting this fear keep them in an unfulfilling job haven’t done enough research and automatically assume they won’t be able to earn the same amount (or more) in a different role.

Some questions to think through if you find yourself in this situation:

  1. How much money do you really need to sustain your lifestyle?
  2. What career are you looking to transition to and how much do people really get paid?
  3. Are there people in your new desired career who are making the kind of money you’d like to be making? How did they do it?
  4. Are there expenses in your life that are not as valuable as the life satisfaction that comes with being in a fulfilling career path?

The other sacrifice that you are likely afraid to make includes losing your current status (e.g. a managerial or leadership role).

Imagine that you’ve been a manager for many years and now are planning to go into a new industry that requires you to take a “lower role.”  It can feel like you’ll have to start all over.

The idea of “starting from the bottom” or “being a student” after years of managing people and being a leader can be paralyzing.

Getting through this fear: Imagine the long-term benefits of starting in a lower role. Chances are if a career path is better aligned with who you are, you’ll be happier in that “lower” role and have the time to develop the skills to advance in a path while feeling more fulfilled.

In her documentary – Homecoming – Beyoncé made a powerful statement during one of her practice sessions: “That’s why people don’t like to rehearse … You gotta be willing to look awkward, you gotta study, be a student.”

You might have to humble yourself to find your more fulfilling career path.

Tega Edwin, Ph.D., LPC, NCC. Through her company, Her Career Doctor, she helps people do the self-work and research necessary to access their fulfilling career.