In an earlier blog, I alluded to the vicious cycle of thinking you can’t study, which will guarantee that you actually can’t study. Some people messaged me about this and it got me thinking about the games our minds play on us.
A few years back, I made the decision to leave my job and start on a new path. Initially, I was over-excited by all the opportunities out there. At one point I turned down exciting new possibilities simply because I had committed to too many currently exciting possibilities. But then over time, having had to pick a path and stick to it, I froze. It didn’t matter what new opportunity came along — I assumed I would fail at it, so what was the point in trying?
I would think about events in my life where things had not gone as I’d hoped and play them on repeat in my mind, over and over. For example, I once bombed so bad at a conference that I think I saw a tumbleweed lollop past the podium. You never thought you would read that sentence, did you? Well it’s true. People can bomb at a conference. Though, so far I may be the only known person who has managed it. Anyway, I had seemingly developed Career Fear. (Feel free to add your own music of dread; that is how the line was written.)
I used to work at heights, and that can instill fear. But that’s not the kind of fear I’m talking about. I feel like being afraid of heights is a very sane fear. It makes you check your gear, check other people’s gear, and keeps things from failing. It’s sort of a “keep you alive” fear. No, Career Fear is a nonsensical, non-useful fear that prevents you from taking that next step in your career, applying for that job you really want, or even asking for that promotion that you know you deserve. I know that some people reading this won’t understand this kind of fear. How could you not apply for a job you want or ask for a promotion you deserve?
But I’m pretty sure there are a lot of us out there who understand exactly what Career Fear is, and they might even understand in silence, as they try to hide or deny their own fear. For those who don’t understand, from what I can tell, at least to the layperson, Career Fear is pretty similar to Imposter Syndrome or Fear of Failure or even Peter Pan Syndrome. Basically, it’s a self-imposed obstacle that prevents you from achieving your career goals.
So how do we overcome Career Fear? There are many, many, oh so many articles, blogs, and videos about this online. And to me they seem to all boil down to the same one solution: you just have to go do it, whatever “it” may be. You have to assume and understand that you will fail from time to time, and that that’s OK. You have to know that you won’t walk into a job knowing all there is to know, so you should expect to ask for help and use the phrase “I don’t know.” Don’t be worried that you will disappoint people. If you went through the hiring process and they picked you, then they think you can do the job.
Think about it like this: have you ever been disappointed because someone didn’t know the answer to a question and was honest about it? I haven’t. In fact, I prefer that to being lied to or being given a BS answer. Know that nothing you do will be perfect, but neither will anything anyone else does. Know that being afraid of rejection or, simply put, being told “no,” is normal.
However, “if we don’t, ask we never get.” If fear of being judged is your issue, I’m sorry to say that’s what applying for jobs is. It’s really hard to put yourself out there, but you just have to remember you can’t let your fear control you. You need to stop the self-criticism too. Learn how to make the negative self-talk positive instead and listen to the compliments you receive.
Once you understand all of that, you need to make a plan. Making a plan is key. If you know what you want, then you need to work out how you will get there. This can be a struggle for some people. I personally turn to friends in this situation, but after reading Nick Heim’s post, “The Benefits of a Career Coach in Your Civil Engineering Career,” I’ve realized getting a coach is another very sensible option.
Since it’s the end of the year, we’ve reached a natural turning point to give this all a go. So stop playing your worst hits over and over in your mind and instead start thinking about what you really want for your career, and find a friend or a coach who can help get you there. There’s no better time than now.
About the Author:
Rae Taylor is an Engineer with extensive experience in advanced techniques for materials characterization. She received an award-winning Ph.D. in Materials Science, which focused on the analysis of microstructures using electron microscopy. Prior to her research in Materials Science, she worked in the clean and wastewater industry. Over her career, Rae has gained extensive experience in project management and lab management, including team building, process engineering, construction oversight, safety management, and quality assurance. She has over ten years of experience designing, developing, and testing experimental procedures. Rae is team-oriented and has extensive experience teaching and tutoring, both in the work environment and in the classroom. She has presented her work to a wide variety of audiences, ranging from academics and industrial specialists to the general public and holds a particular interest in the development of resilient whether it is in materials or infrastructure as a whole.
I hope you enjoyed this week’s post by guest author Rae Taylor.
Have a great 2022!
Anthony Fasano, P.E.
Engineering Management Institute
Author of Engineer Your Own Success