Is Fear Driving You?

What is driving your career choices right now? I know a lot of people for whom fear is the driving factor. It’s understandable, given the current headlines. Record unemployment rates since the Great Depression! Recession proof your job!  they scream.  These headlines are designed to excite our interest and they do.  But at what cost?

I talk to a lot of people about their careers, and I’ve seen an interesting dichotomy crop up over the past year or so.  On one hand, I see people staying in jobs they are unhappy with, their commitment and their skills getting duller and duller with each passing day, because they are too afraid to raise their head above the ground.  Hunkering down in their cubicle like the proverbial foxhole, they stay out of the line of fire.  They also stay out of the line of opportunity.  They don’t learn; they don’t grow. 

I once worked with someone who had done this for several years only later to realize how much he had stunted his career.

“I don’t have six years of experience,” he exclaimed bitterly. “I have one year of experience six times.”

On the other hand, I frequently see people intentionally running in the opposite direction from an industry they love because they want “something more stable”.   Unfortunately, their definition of stable often means “anything other that what I already know.”  They leave so much accumulated knowledge at the door, and end up in a situation that can offer them no more security than they had to begin with.  It’s sad.

Both of these situations describe overreactions based on fear.

Sometimes, however, fear is a rational reaction.  If you are in a rapidly declining industry, in a role that relies on growth (sales, for example), with no room built into your personal financial situation for a down quarter-or year-you may have reason to fear.   For those who have lost their jobs, the effects of the current unemployment picture in the U.S. are very real.  The length of time on average that it takes to land a new role has risen to around six months.   For some, this can be devastating, financially and otherwise.  

The fact is, though, that even in this time of economic crisis-turned-ennui, most of us will not lose our jobs.  We will continue getting paid to use our talents, whatever they may be.  Just like making smart financial investments, we need to make smart professional investments.  We need to have long-term goals and constantly be taking small steps toward those goals.  Will we have mis-steps sometimes?  Sure.  But we won’t be too far off track, if we have been mindful.

If fear can help you in one way, let it be this: to motivate you to ask yourself “Where do I want to go in my career and what am I doing to get myself there?” 

Define that future, then lay a brick each day.  Build your own path.