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Overcoming the Fear of Sudden Career Change

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Bottom Line/Personal: Let’s say you’ve been a doctor, a lawyer, an Indian chief for many years, but now, through no fault of your own, that’s all ended and you’ve been forced into a career change. One of the scariest things going. So how do you overcome that fear?

I’m Sarah Hiner, President of Bottom Line Publications, and this is our Conversation with the Experts, where we get the answers to your tough questions from our leading experts.

Today I’m talking to Nancy Collamer, a leading career coach, speaker, and author of Second-Act Careers: 50+ Ways to Profit from Your Passions During Semi-Retirement. Welcome, Nancy.

Nancy Collamer: Thanks for having me.

Bottom Line: When somebody gets their career ended upon them, it seems that they go through an almost grieving-like process to deal with that sudden change?

Collamer: Yeah, I think that’s absolutely right. They do go through a grieving process. Your work is part of your identity. It also provides you a routine. It’s the people who you’re around every day, and when you suddenly lose that, it can be a very, very scary transition.

Bottom Line: Let alone you’ve just been judged, and you’ve been told you’re a failure in some ways.

Collamer: Absolutely. The truth of the matter is that even when you undergo a career change by choice, it’s also a scary process. We are wired to find change scary. I think it’s there to protect us.

One of my favorite stories from my book is when I interviewed a woman who had been a cop on Coney Island; she had been with NYPD for 20 years, and was able to take early retirement. She ended up becoming, believe it or not, a standup comedian.

Bottom Line: I remember this story. It was a great story.

Collamer: Yeah. And the reason I love her story is because when I interviewed her about the transition and how she ended up doing what she does today, one of the things that she pointed out to me was how scary it was that first time that she went on stage, and how she was absolutely paralyzed the first time somebody asked her to send them her headshot and her bio, and so she did nothing.

I said to her, “Why is that?” Of course, she laughed and said, “I’m someone who’s used to arresting criminals and carrying a gun. I’m used to feeling scared in that sense, but this was a whole new ballgame.” So like I said, it is part of the process.

Bottom Line: Once they’re done grieving and feeling sad and feeling sorry for themselves and all of those sorts of painful emotions, what do they do? How do they constructively overcome the fear to create a new career and a new life?

Collamer: A therapist once said to me, “FEAR is just an acronym for False Evidence Appearing Real.” How do you get past that false evidence? Well, you need to try things out in small doses. Doing things like taking a class or maybe trying a project in a new area. Just getting out there and speaking with people and doing informational interviews. The more you learn and the more you do, the more comfortable you’re going to get in this new field.

There’s something called a confidence-competence circle, and what I mean by that is when you start to work at something new, you begin to gain confidence. And as you gain confidence and you become more competent at what you’re doing, and then the confidence builds, and it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. You get more comfortable with things.

So it’s about getting out there and trying new things, testing things out, but doing it in small pieces. Bit by bit, you’ll start to feel more confident and more comfortable.

Bottom Line: Is there any difference – if they’ve been fired for whatever reason, or laid off, and they want to stay within their sphere of experience versus they really want to go jump into a whole new place, take it as an opportunity to pursue their dream career – is it really still the same thing of one step at a time?

Collamer: Yeah, it is pretty much one step at a time. I mean, you’re obviously going to have to learn a lot more if you’re going into a new field. And it’s not just about learning new skills; it’s also about creating a whole new community of people.

And I think that brings us to the other point that’s very important for people to keep in mind, which is to surround yourself with people who are going to be supportive during this transition and find that new tribe, so to speak. That way you can meet new people and you can learn from them. They can help support you through the transition, and that can make a tremendous difference. Because when you sit in your house and stay isolated from other people, it ends up becoming a downward spiral. The fear suddenly takes over your life. So surrounding yourself with supportive people is really a critical step to take.

 Bottom Line: All right. Great advice, Nancy Collamer. The bottom line is if you’re faced with sudden career change, feel bad. It’s okay. Go through that emotional pain. But you have to come out the other side. One step at a time; don’t get yourself overwhelmed. Bit by bit, like so many things. Start out, do a little bit of research. Go find new circles of people to connect to. Create a support group and have connections, because you need to build new connections if you’ve had a long network of people that you’re now separated from.

And then increase your sphere of confidence, which will increase your sphere of competence. One step at a time and you’ll be able to get a whole new career and a whole new love in your life.

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Nancy Collamer, a career counselor, speaker, and author of Second-Act Careers: 50+ Ways to Profit from Your Passions During Semi-Retirement. She also writes a semi-monthly career column for NextAvenue.com (PBS) and Forbes.com. MyLifestyleCareer.com

Date: January 30, 2015 Publication: Bottom Line Personal
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