The Sensational Shift with Susan Bernstein, MBA, PhD
What shift do you want to make in your career? Let's get you moving!

Afraid to “mess up” your career? Do this.

coveredeyesHave you ever felt stuck in a role or a company — feeling afraid to make a career shift for fear that you’ll “mess up,” or “do it wrong”?

If so, I can relate. And I’ve got the antidote for you.

I understand because I spent five years in management consulting. Which was at least four years too long.

But I felt stuck in this high-stress job.

Worse yet: The longer I stayed, the more trapped I felt.

Despite my hatred for exhausting 12-hour days spent staring at my computer, building Excel models of corporate profitability for my clients, I was afraid to leave. I’d tethered myself to a fat salary, super smart co-workers, and the prestige of working for a big brand name consulting firm.

Whenever I contemplated a move into another career — like becoming a psychologist — I’d feel so overcome with worry about “doing it right.” I didn’t want to “mess up” the “good thing” I thought I had.

My mind spun unpleasant scenarios about all the ways ˆ I could do something “wrong” in my career. I was so concerned that I might choose an “incorrect” path. That left me feeling utterly paralyzed.

Funny thing:  I was the one paralyzing myself.

The problem?

I was treating my career like an grade school exam. I felt compelled to get a perfect score. I didn’t want to miss a single point.

Have you ever done that? Become stuck in a role or a company because you were afraid to mess up, or do it wrong? 

If you have, you’re actually in good company. From my experience as a career coach, lots of smart, accomplished people have been rewarded for getting it “right.” Over time, they become petrified of making mistakes.

But if you live in the land of fear, it’s hard to enjoy your career. Plus, the longer you stay in work you dislike, the more you’ll grow to hate yourself for it.

Because deep down, you know the work doesn’t fit. In your heart of hearts, you know this career doesn’t really resonate for you. Yet you keep trying to mentally justify why you need to stay. And you create your own shackles.

So, is there a way out? How do you fix your situation, so you can get unstuck, and do work that truly fits you?

I recommend you treat your career differently.

What if you experienced your whole career as a big adventure?

Imagine your job as though you’re an intrepid traveler. What if you wandering around, seeing the sights, pulled by your genuine interest and curiosity? How would you treat each day differently if you imagined you it was a big travel adventure?

If you act as a traveler in the world of work, you’ll have a different perspective than being a tourist in your career. Because a tourist wants their itinerary planned and predictable. They’re prone to complain if they go “off track” or if things don’t fit into neat and tidy boxes.

Well, life isn’t neat and tidy.

So, here’s a way to travel through your career, adventuring with greater ease:

1. Treat everything as a learning experience

Instead of seeing your accomplishments as either “successes” or “failures,” you have the ability to see everything that unfolds as a learning experience.

In other words, what if life is trying to teach you something?

So, imagine you face client who loses his temper, wags his finger at you, and blames you for an issue that belongs squarely in his court. You tried and tried, but just couldn’t please him.

Instead of chalking that up as a failure, he can become a lesson in “you can’t please everyone all of the time.” Or because of him, you discover a new way to handle a frequent complaint among your customers.

Make it personal:  What lesson are you learning from a difficult situation in your life or career?

2. There’s no right or wrong

We’re so prone to label experiences as either “I did it right,” or “I did it wrong.”

But what if, instead, you allow experiences to be neutral.

Yes, experiences can have an emotional charge. Like when you hear your colleague tell an overt lie about you to your manager, and you  feel angry or scared (or whatever emotion you feel).

What if both you and that person are neither “right” or “wrong,” but instead are both having experiences?

And instead of getting caught up in a blame game, where you pigeon hole people into “good” and “bad,” you can choose to look at how to address the problem, and create a solution.

Make it personal:  How could you transform a person or situation that you’ve labeled as “wrong” into something more neutral?

3. It’s fine to “make it up” as you go along

A tricky manifestation of trying to “get it right,” is to plan ahead, so you don’t “mess up.”

But there are some things you just can’t plan ahead, so you have to improvise.

For example — my client, Martha, is heading up a new security initiative at her company. She’s a tech wizardress, and knows how to keep the databases locked down so no one infiltrators can get in and steal or corrupt information. Until a new computer virus hits the world, and she’s forced to rapidly introduce a totally new set of processes for employees to keep their computers safe.

And she “makes up” the process — on the fly. Because they’ve never faced that problem before. And even best practices from other companies will only take them so far.

If you continue to stay present and discerning, you can make up your processes as you go. As the world changes faster and more drastically, the ability to “make it up as you go along” will be a foundational skill. So you may as well get good at it now, right?

Make it personal:  What step do you need to “make up” or innovate to enjoy your career more?

4. All you need to do is take “the next step”    

The bigger the organization you work for, the more likely you’ve been informally trained to lay out a whole work plan. And, heck, when you’re doing something like introducing a new product, you need a plan.

But when it comes to your life, there’s a lot more uncertainty. You have a lot of choices.

Like let’s say you discover that you’re unhappy with your job. So you want to make a career change. But you’re not sure of all the activities you need to do to get into a next career.

Yes, in a case like that, it can be harder to craft a step-by-step plan that feels like it’s aligned with your values and your needs.

So give yourself permission to simply take “the next step.” You don’t have to have everything in your life all neatly planned out, like you probably did in school. You can let the next step unfold.

As an example, if you’re trying to answer the question, “What works do I want to do next?” take off the pressure to know the answer. Take a next step, like going to talk to someone who has a career that interests you. Or go to a conference in an industry that excites you. And then use your intuition and your logic to sense the next step.

It’s like navigating in the dark or the fog:  You go slowly, and you feel your way around. You definitely don’t speed ahead or follow a road that you can’t see. You simply take “the next step.”

Make it personal:  What’s the next step that will help you excel in your career?

5. Everyone — or anyone — can be helpful to you

When you’re afraid of having a “misstep” in your career, you’ll tend to put pressure all on your own shoulders.

But, you can crowdsource lots of help.

For example, when I worked in management consulting, I thought I had to figure out the “black box” of how to get staffed on a project all by myself. I was such a pro at being independent, and I didn’t want anyone to think I didn’t know the “secrets” to landing a great project.

But I didn’t know those secrets. And finally, out of desperation, I asked someone to mentor me on the process. Someone more senior and experienced. And all of a sudden, I got plum assignments.

Make it personal:  So, who can be helpful to you in your career?

What’s next?

If you’re a smart, creative, innovative,  ”traveler” in the world of work, but you feel boxed in and trapped in a constraining “tourist” role in your organization,  and you’re ready to get unstuck and unharness your talents, sign up for a complimentary career consultation with me, Dr. Susan Bernstein.

Once you’ve signed up, my assistant will email you back with some dates and times to connect, and we’ll  hop on the phone, strategize a next step for you, and explore how we might work together.

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