What To Do When You're Scared Of Making A Change – And Of Staying Where You Are

Newly Updated

You're paralysed. The idea of a leap fills you with terror – and yet the thought of another year in your current career is just as scary. In this fear-filled limbo state, how do you move forwards? With the help of a career changer just like you, Natasha shares an effective way to use fear to your advantage.

"My stomach – my abdomen – it feels tense and tight. I'm very uncomfortable right now."

Carl and I were halfway through a coaching call.

He was at a crossroads: he was miserable and undervalued in his current marketing job and, at the same time, he'd been offered a better-paid position in another company.

He was scared of accepting the new role and getting stuck there. He'd have to stay at least a year, surely, to keep his CV looking professional. What if he gave up on his career change in the meantime? It felt like a trap: what if this job offer was a test of his commitment to finding a career he loved?

He was also scared of not taking it – of passing up the chance to leave a company that didn't value him, and where he felt himself getting smaller and sadder with every passing week.

But he had to make a decision in the next few days, and he felt paralysed with fear.

You're probably familiar with fear, too, if you're thinking about making a shift.

There's the fear of going for it – of making a change. Fear of failure, fear of looking like a fool. Fear of the unknown, and of leaving behind a life you've invested so much in.

And then there's also the fear of not making the move. The fear of looking back on your life with regret. The fear of spending your life not just being in the wrong career, but having to live with the knowledge that you're still there because you were too afraid to change it.

This stuck state – this paralysis in the face of two equally scary options – is exhausting. You're using so much energy, and getting absolutely nowhere.

Maybe you've been finding yourself lying awake at night, staring at the ceiling, running circles in your head. Or perhaps you've noticed that when your career change crosses your mind, your stomach gets tight, and your head gets so noisy it's hard to think straight. You spend hours weighing up pros and cons and trying to be rational, but you can't seem to be rational about this subject.

This in-between fear is hard to live with. It's frustrating, and it's confusing, and it feels like it's never going to end.

And it's also the sign that you've reached a beautiful tipping point in your career change.

In the course of our conversation, Carl and I discovered a different angle on fear – and a way to navigate this tipping point with a little more power and grace.

And (with Carl's permission), I wanted to share it with you. Here's what we found.

Your fear is a tool for knowing what matters most

"Remember our rule of thumb: The more scared we are of a work or calling, the more sure we can be that we have to do it… Therefore, the more fear we feel about a specific enterprise, the more certain we can be that that enterprise is important to us and to the growth of our soul." – Steven Pressfield

Fear arises when something important is at stake.

In its most basic form, it exists to protect your most precious possession: your life.

So it makes sense that when you think about changing a core element of your life, your livelihood, your income, and your identity, fear will inevitably raise its head. It'll become noisy and protective and, yes, a little overbearing.

Your fear is designed to take care of you.

And it's also a total goldmine when it comes to navigating your way through your career change.

Why?

Because if fear is a sign that you've got something precious on the table, then you can start to use it as a compass.

If it's not present, you're not doing anything that really matters to you.

Carl didn't like feeling uncomfortable when it came to this career decision. But he also recognised that he could use that discomfort as an indication that he had something precious at stake in our conversation.

No matter how confused he felt about what, specifically, he might want to end up doing in his career, he knew he was having the right kind of conversations.

The presence of his fear was his guiding light toward growth, and a signal he was moving toward something that mattered.

And it's the same for you.

The clearer your vision, the stronger the compass

"Pain pushes until vision pulls." - Michael Beckwith

Carl had no idea where he might end up this year in terms of a job title, or even an industry.

But when I asked him what he was committed to creating in his life by the end of this year, however high-level it was, he told me without hesitation:

"I want to feel excited about what I'm doing. I want to have an understanding of what I love to do, and I want to be able to see and feel myself taking actions to make it real in my life."

Carl talked for a few minutes about where he wanted to get to, and with each word that left his lips I could hear him begin to calm. The tension left his voice. He began to sound relaxed, confident, and inspired.

The more you articulate what you're committed to achieving, the better your fear can help you get there.

Why?

With every situation that you find yourself in, every decision you have to make, you can use your fear and your commitment to triangulate your course.

Your fear is your 'push'. Your commitment is your 'pull'. You navigate, decision-make, and course-correct based on the directions they guide you in as a pair.

When all Carl had in his mind was his fear, he had nowhere to go. He was paralysed by the anxiety he felt – every possible action held the risk of being 'wrong', or 'dangerous', or 'painful'.

And yet, as soon as Carl had clearly articulated his commitment for the year, he could feel the pull. He knew what he had to do. He had to take the new job.

Yes, he was scared, and yes, being scared was uncomfortable. But he also had a beautiful vision of where he wanted to get to.

And if he was going to protect that vision, he had a great ally in doing so: the very fear that he had been fighting for so long…

Let your fear do its job

"There's nothing more powerful than a made-up mind." – Lewis Pugh

Carl wasn't willing to let anything stand in the way of his vision. One way or another, by the end of the year, he was going to be well on his way to changing career into something fulfilling.

And his fear, he realised, could now become his ally in protecting that commitment.

That's what fear is designed for, right? To keep the things that matter most, safe? And that's actually a good thing. We want to do this career change thing safely.

So, let fear it do its job, while you do yours – continuing to work towards getting what you want.

If you create space for the work your fear is there to do, it takes on a different quality.

It becomes vigilance instead of terror; care instead of despair.

Carl chose to take the new job. The extra money and a new environment would give him a refreshing new headspace from which to approach his career change. And if he was lucky, he might even get some paid leave during his notice period, which would allow him to spend more time on his shift.

But when he imagined accepting the job offer, he felt his fear begin to stir.

So he checked in – what was his fear warning him to look out for? Where was there a risk to his commitment that he needed to be mindful of?

His fear was showing up, he realised, because there was a risk with the new job that he might lose momentum and give up on his career change. His current discomfort at work was a big motivator to make a shift. If he took a new, more comfortable position, he needed to make sure he wouldn't get trapped there.

Carl made a list of all the things he needed to be sure of before he accepted the job offer:

  • The remuneration package had to be what he had requested

  • A straight conversation with his potential new employer would be useful, to ensure a match in values

  • He needed a structure in place to keep him focused on his career change (he chose this one)

The fear hadn't gone away, but he had used it for what it was designed for: to protect what was most important to him.

If you've been paralysed by fear, try using it to steer your own course.

  1. Name your fear. What are you afraid of, specifically? Write it down – give it a voice. Look for the fear under the fear: the most obvious, surface-level fear is usually the result of something more deep-rooted.

  2. Articulate your commitment. What's the deep, important desire that your fear is attached to? What vision or dream could your fear be trying to protect?

  3. Imagine your fear is actually simply vigilance. What actions could you take to proceed safely toward your goal, while protecting what you're committed to? How could you honour your fear and your commitment at the same time?

  4. Stay present. You're not in danger right now. If you're feeling fearful, take a look around you. You're ok. And chances are, the next action to take isn't dangerous either. Take one step at a time toward your goal. Listen to your fear, and to your vision, and let them guide your next small action. Bit by bit, you'll get there.

What are you afraid of when you think about your career change? And how could you use that fear to guide your next steps? Let me know in the comments below!

Natasha Stanley's picture

Natasha Stanley is Head Coach for Careershifters. She also speaks, writes and facilitates events on the art of human connection.