Your saboteur and seven steps for dealing with it
You might have been thinking about changing your career direction for a long time, maybe for years (I spent a good five years going around in circles about what I wanted to do before I started my coach training).
Some days you’re fired up and ready to do whatever it takes to make change happen, especially when you’ve had a particularly bad day in your current job. Then there are days when change feels like an impossible dream and that small voice (that we all have), convinces you that as bad as things are now, you’d best stay put.
This is the voice that rattles off very many reasons why it’s not worth bothering to even think about alternative careers, because you’ll only fail, possibly spectacularly. And, it says, “shouldn’t you just be grateful to have a job, no matter how fed up you are with what you’re doing?”
That voice is your saboteur and its purpose is to keep you safe. To say it’s risk-averse is an understatement. So, when you start thinking about change, particularly a career change which could impact your financial security, it’s on high alert. This part of your brain scans for threats to you and it simply won’t accept that a change could be for the better.
Your saboteur has a very good line in what coaches call “limiting beliefs”. These are basically a set of generalisations we make up about ourselves, other people and life as a whole. The seeds of them are often sewn at an early age and although there’s often zero hard evidence to back up them up, the saboteur will repeatedly remind us of them, conning us into thinking that they are “the truth”. They become our version of reality.
So, you might hear yourself talking in absolute terms, saying things like: “Changing is too hard, it’s just not worth putting any effort into it”; “Work’s just not meant to be interesting and fulfilling”; “I’m too old to do something new now, and I don’t have the energy to change”; “I’m not good enough to change, I don’t have any transferable skills”; or “I’m just not cut out for change”.
Your saboteur is also extremely good at gathering what it sees as supporting evidence for limiting beliefs. It looks out for and fastens onto, stories about other people daring to change career and things not working out, “see what happens – that friend of a friend who left that job they didn’t like so they could run their own business had to go back to a permanent job”.
In the face of all of these saboteur comments, your more neutral voice can struggle to be heard. This voice challenges the saboteur’s over generalisations. It would point out that you are not the same person looking to make the same change as the friend of a friend, so the same outcome will most likely not apply to you.
It will also point out that people do actually successfully change career and that although it can be a challenging journey if you capture what you want from your work and do some good exploring about the reality of alternative careers, you too can make a well-informed move into fulfilling work.
How to turn down your inner saboteur
So, what can you do to turn the volume down on the saboteur voice and turn it up on your more neutral, reasonable voice? The voice that encourages you to be open to exploring.
- Start by noticing what your saboteur says – get its comments out of your head and down onto paper or on a screen. Become aware of what it’s saying to you about career change. What is it afraid of for you?
- Add to this list any beliefs you’ve picked up from your family and friends. They will have had good intentions, but they may well have expressed their own fears about career change when you’ve mentioned it to them.
- See if there are any common threads between your saboteur and your family and friends’ limiting beliefs and if there are, group them under broad headings. Then choose the three beliefs which hold you back the most.
- For each of those beliefs, ask yourself, “What is the impact on me of holding onto this? What is the benefit I get from it? (Maybe it’s a good excuse to not have to make any effort towards changing). And what is the cost to me of continuing to hold this belief? Dig deep and be honest with yourself.
- Then ask yourself “What is a neutral, factual way of challenging each of these three beliefs?” For example:
“I’m not good enough to change, I don’t have any transferable skills” could become “I do have skills (everyone does) and depending on what I’d like to move into, I could develop new skills if I need to”.
“I’m too old to change now and don’t have the energy to do it” could become “People change career much more now that we’re all working for longer and if I find work that feels like a great match for me, that will motivate me and give me the energy to change.”
- Write up your new beliefs somewhere where you can see them, so that you’re reminded of them. This will help you to lay down new neural pathways in your brain. Those old beliefs have well worn pathways, so give yourself all the support you can to veer away from them and lay down your new ones.
- Choose three initial actions you can take to help you with your change. It doesn’t matter how small they are. You could ask a friend to help you explore your strengths and skills and maybe offer to do the same for them. Or follow someone on social media who does something you’re interested in. Or start noticing when you feel most motivated in your current job, previous jobs and outside of work. What do you most enjoy? What does this tell you about the sort of skills and strengths you’d love to be using day to day?
Gradually, you’ll start to build a picture of what you want from your work and an awareness of the type of work that appeals to you. When it comes to career change, taking action by exploring options and making choices based on self-knowledge, is the most that anyone can do. And as you discover more about you and the options out there, you’ll start to realise that the saboteur is wrong and change really is possible.