Your Biggest Career Change Nemesis (And How To Defeat It)

Your career change nemesis

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Image: Tech Nick

You're stuck in your search for work you love. You want nothing more than to wake up excited every morning, but there's something getting in the way. What is it? Natasha suggests your biggest career change adversary might be closer than you think, and offers her insights on how to overcome it.

What's holding you back most in your career change?

Is it money? Is it time to focus on your shift? How about your mortgage, or your age, or the fact that nothing excites you any more?

These seem to be external obstacles: challenges or realities outside yourself that you just can't seem to get past.

But what I've learned, from my own career change experience and the experiences of the people I work with every day, is that there's a much more fundamental career change nemesis to overcome.

There's a core adversary in the battle you're fighting; one that underpins all the other challenges you come up against.

And that adversary? That base-level career change nemesis?

It's you.

You're the problem.

Pretty uncomfortable idea, right?

And the really uncomfortable part of that idea is this: the problems you cause for yourself are so natural to you, so effortless, you can't even see that they're there.

So, how do you start to unravel this internal tangle that's tripping you up at every step?

How do you take on the internal career change demons, stopping you at every turn?

You name them, you find their weak spots, and you get crazy-crafty about how you choose to take them on…

Each internal career change enemy relies on something to stay in existence: a weak spot in your humanity that allows it to flourish.

Here are the top three weak spots that we all have as career changers (and some crafty tips on overcoming their corresponding nasties).

You can't be what you can't see

Take a second and try to think of something you don't know you don't know about.

Not just something you don't know about, but something you don't even know you don't know.

Something that's so far outside of your current field of vision, it wouldn't even occur to you that you didn't know about it.

It's a little mind-bending, right?

And that's the process you're entering into when you start to explore what you'd really love to do for a living.

Your world is made up of the experiences you've had, the things you see every day, and the people you're surrounded by. And it's incredibly difficult to see beyond the edges of that world.

When you come home from work in the evenings and try to imagine where else you could end up; what career could make you happy; how you could make a shift into something new… all of your thinking is informed by what you can see around you.

Your life, as you know it, limits what's available to you.

Philip took part in our Career Change Launch Pad, and during the course he shared how he was finding it hard to see beyond what he was familiar with. He studied Politics at university, and had worked in finance for the past nine years.

"All my friends work in finance. I read the finance section of the newspaper on my way to work every day. When I watch the news, the way I think about what goes on in the world is all through a financial perspective.

"I'm realising more and more how limited my view of life is, simply because I don't have access to anything radically different.

"It's no wonder, really, that whenever I try to come up with a career idea that excites me, I wind up back in the financial sector somehow, or something closely related to it."

When you're trying to come up with a new career idea, you are your own worst enemy.

When you've found an idea you think you're excited about, but you can't imagine how you'd make it work on a practical level, you are your own worst enemy.

When you're feeling doomful and gloomful and as though your career change is simply a pipe dream that could never really come true, you are your own worst enemy.

Not because you're consciously trying to self-sabotage, but simply because you haven't (yet) broken out of the world-view that you currently exist in.

You can't be what you can't see.

So what do you do, to defeat this invisible, internal demon?

You focus on finding ways to see things you've never seen before.

New ideas, new options, and new possibilities come from new perspectives.

And there are three primary ways to get a new perspective on the world.

  1. Do things you don't normally do
  2. Meet (and hang out with) people you don't normally come into contact with
  3. Surround yourself with things you don't normally see

By introducing new, exciting and different elements into your life, your world-view changes.

Fresh ideas are sparked; creative solutions to old challenges emerge; life starts to feel a little bigger.

This week: Try outfoxing this crafty rival by bringing new perspectives into your career change mix.

Go and do something you've never done before – something fun, and something you'd never normally go out of your way to do. Take a class. Walk home from work instead of cycling or driving. Build a fort. Visit a museum, gallery, or public attraction that you'd never usually visit. Open up your world. See what shows up.

Look for people you've never met before – people who might look at the world in a different way from you. Look for a meetup in your area. Sign up for an event in a different industry from yours. Go to a talk or a lecture or a class on a topic you don't know much about. Talk to people who pass through your life: your barista, your greengrocer or stall holder at the farmer's market, the woman on the train you see every morning. Open up your world. See what shows up.

Turn to a different section of the newspaper first. Find and read a blog on a topic you loved as a child. Watch a documentary about something you know your brother (or best friend, or uncle) loves, and that you've never paid much attention to. Visit a part of your town or city you've never been to before. Go into a shop you've never been in. Rearrange the furniture in your bedroom. Mix things up. Open up your world. See what shows up.

You don't know what you think you know

Now, think of something you're absolutely sure is holding you back in your career change.

A fact that you just can't avoid, and that you just know is going to sabotage all your best efforts.

It's probably something specific and unique to you… something like:

"I don't have enough money saved to make a career change."

"I can't afford to take a risk."

"I'm too old to make a shift."

"I'm too young to be taken seriously."

"All my experience is in my current industry, so nobody outside my field will hire me."

"You have to be smarter / sexier / younger / luckier / better-connected than me to actually do work you love."

Everybody's got one: a fundamental 'truth' that you just know is true, and that leaves you doomed to a lifetime of stuckness and misery at work.

And this thing you know to be true?

It's just you again, botching up your dreams.

Your career change nemesis, slipping in and out of the shadows of your mind, bungling all your chances to do work you love.

When I first started out on my career change journey, I was 25 years old. I was deeply inspired by coaching – I followed the blogs of well-known coaches, listened to webinars run by coach trainers, and dreamed of working with people to create lives they loved.

But I was 25 years old. And if I knew anything, I knew that nobody would hire a 25 year old to support them in having their lives be great. What could a 25 year old possibly have to offer? Who did I think I was? I was certain: I couldn't be a coach until I was older, wiser, and probably had a deeper, more authoritative voice.

Plus, I had no proven experience in coaching. I knew it seeped into my everyday life; supporting friends and family with challenges, working with clients in my old career in domestic violence services… but I couldn't put that on a CV and expect coaching clients to come rushing in.

I was stuck. Stumped. Game over.

Until I took on my nemesis… by striking it hard in the 'knows'.

I wondered: what would happen if I challenged myself to prove my 'knows' wrong?

What if I did everything I could to prove that actually, 25 was a great age to become a coach?

What if I did everything I could to prove that I could easily land clients without prior experience?

So I tried it out.

It turned out, one of my favourite online career change resources (hint: you're on the website now) was absolutely willing to have someone who was 25 on the team.

And, it also turned out, there were lots of people out there who wanted coaching and were over the moon to pay me a discounted fee, so that I could build up my experience without feeling like I was tricking people into hiring me.

It turned out, I was super-cocky about how much I knew about the world.

All that stuff I thought I was 100% sure of?

It was all lies.

It took a little time to prove myself wrong, but I did it. And I wonder: how many 'knows' do you have flying around with your career change nemesis inside your mind?

And what might happen if you managed to prove even one of them utterly wrong?

This week: Identify three things you 'know' to be true about yourself, your situation, or the world, as they relate to your career change.

And then come up with a full-tile, no-holds barred game plan to prove them utterly and unequivocally wrong.

Who knows, maybe you're correct about one of them. But what if you're not? Or what if you're only half-right? What would that make possible for you in your shift?

You're a big fat scaredy misery guts (and sometimes, you really love it)

This is the big one, kids – the squinty, stinky, uncomfortable truth that nobody wants to say out loud.

Here it is: on some, horrible, embarrassing level, it's easier to stay where you are and be miserable than it is to do what it takes to move into work you love.


It's the dirty secret that so many of us have harboured – and it relies on its embarrassing nature to stay alive.

There are lots of things you know you could do to move your career change forward. You read about them regularly here on the Careershifters site. You come up with ideas on your morning commute. You're offered introductions to interesting people at dinner parties and events.

But you never do anything about them. You find excuses and reasons why you can't make bolder moves in your career change – you blame it on something utterly bland and unassuming, like 'time' (like the number of hours in a day has suddenly become a surprise). You, the person who spends their days problem-solving and rescuing and supporting and imagining, suddenly throw your hands in the air and become a helpless kitten in a tree as soon as someone asks you what you want to do next in your career.

It's totally normal. Every career changer has been there.

And it's likely all because it's just too scary and lonely out there to face on your own.

Much better, much more comfortable, to sink into the ranks of people moaning and groaning into their pint glasses on a Friday evening, griping and bellyaching at one another about how much work sucks, how stressed they are, how their boss is a lazy, spiteful slug and they can't wait for their next holiday, snorting irritatedly when they hear someone saying they really get a kick out of what they do…

It's a little depressing in there, but at least it's safe, and at least you've got company.

Zoe was one of my very first coaching clients, and I'll never forget how much I admired her guts and honesty when she sent me an e-mail admitting to her own big stinky career change demon:

"If I'm really honest with myself (and now with you), there's a part of me that doesn't want to do all this cool, adventurous, exploratory stuff.

"I kind of like being stuck, on some level. It gets me off the hook. As long as I'm confused and miserable and frustrated, I don't have to put myself fully on the line. So even when we talk and I have an idea, or see a way through something that's blocking me, I pretend I'm still at a loss. Because I know if I admit to it, I'll have to do something about it, and that just feels too hard."

Recognise something of yourself in Zoe's admission?

Changing career isn't easy. The emotional and practical toll it takes can feel enormous: how can you bring yourself to do something that feels like it risks everything you've worked to build, in pursuit of something as elusive and slippery as happiness?

What worked for Zoe (and what I'd bet will make a huge difference for you, too), was to surround herself with people she could be honest with.

She started with me, her coach – but she also reached out to friends, to family, and eventually to people who were working in industries that fascinated her, even before she was certain of the route she eventually wanted to take.

She built a tribe – a group of people who understood her, who supported her, and who could help her defeat the stinky demon inside, urging her to settle back down at her desk and 'behave'.

She found them at industry events, at workshops for career changers, and in her day-to-day life. She talked endlessly about what she was trying to do, and quickly discovered who she could lean on to support her. Some of the people who became her closest tribe members were enormous surprises: the man in her local newsagents, for example, who would ask her every time she came in what she'd discovered since her last visit. And the CEO of a graphic design company, who put her in touch with a friend of his who was looking for someone to do some part-time project work.

This career-change adversary loses all its power in the face of community and support.

People: people to encourage you and lift you up when you're feeling low. People to hold you accountable to do what you say you're going to do. People to offer advice, ideas, guidance, insights… this is your army against the urge to 'give up and give in'.

This week: Seek out three people who could form the basis for your tribe, and ask them to support you in your shift. See what they have to offer.

Where might your tribe be waiting for you?

How many of the obstacles holding you back do you think could be grounded in one of these concepts? And what could you do this week to weaken your career change demons? Let me know in the comments below!

Our Career Change Launch Pad is designed to help career changers like you get into action and find direction on your shift. Find out more here.

Natasha Stanley's picture

Natasha Stanley is head coach, writer, and experience designer for Careershifters. When she's not working, you'll find her listening to neuroscience podcasts, learning pottery, and dreaming up her next adventure.