How to get past the fear of changing jobs

5 ways to prepare for a career change

There are many reasons why people want to change jobs. A current job might be emotionally draining. Some discover a new passion and decide to professionally pursue it. Perhaps it’s as simple as wanting a better salary or opportunities for progression. 

Whatever the reason, changing jobs can feel like an intimidating process, and this goes beyond the logistics. Scott Barlow explains that this kind of change feels daunting because our brains think of it as ‘one of a category of life changes that pose a threat to its survival.’ Often our jobs are part of our identity- when someone new asks what we do, we default right into our job as our label. And we grow our friend circle and opportunities from these jobs. It’s no wonder our brains balk at the thought of such a large change.  

Ironically, there’s no guarantee of safety in staying at an unsatisfying job. Traditional, secure 9-to-5 jobs are being increasingly replaced by the gig economy. Changing jobs, careers, trajectories is becoming the norm. Playing it safe guarantees nothing! 

If you’re considering taking that leap and changing jobs, but feel worried about it, these 5 steps will help you get past your fear of changing jobs and turn it into one of the best decisions you’ll ever make.

1. Move past the fear: name it and re-frame it 

There are always reasons behind why we’re scared to do something. Past failures, anxiety, the work involved in starting over with new co-workers- these are all valid concerns. However, most of them are simply catastrophizing the situation. And this can be paralyzing. 

Our brains are hardwired to accept the “better the devil you know” situation, which is why so many times in our lives we stay in jobs, relationships, neighbourhoods, lives that don’t serve us. And there’s a twist to our fear of change. Psychology Today explains the dynamic: 

On one hand, we are hardwired to resist uncertainty—our brain prefers a predictable, negative outcome over an uncertain one. On the other hand, our mind is flexible and adaptive—it can be trained to thrive in change.’

So to harness that flexibility, think on what it is about the change that’s got you anxious. FEAR stands for False Evidence Appearing Real and nine times out of ten you don’t ever deal with the scenarios you imagine. Naming the reasons behind your fear is one of the most powerful things you can do because when fear is pulled into the light, it’s no longer a powerful and abstract emotion. You can now change its meaning. 

This can be done by re-framing, which is simply looking at what’s behind the fear in a different way. For example, if you fear failure, that can be re-framed into the opportunity to learn powerful lessons. After all, failure is the greatest teacher there is. That’s all it comes down to - find a different meaning for that fear. 

TIP:  If your brain gets stuck on ‘what ifs’ (such as “what if I fail?’ and ‘what if it doesn’t work out?’) change the what-ifs to positive outcomes - ‘What if I fall in love with this job?’ What if it’s the best thing that ever happened to me?’ 


2. Give yourself credit: you’re a survivor, you’ve got this!

People forget how much they’ve overcome in the past. They think this situation is different, or worse, or harder, than all those previous challenges. But when you sit and really think about the hardest times in your life often you’ll amaze yourself at your resilience. Author Mike Robbins explains: 

‘Even though we're all unique, our stories are different, and we have varying personalities and life experiences, most of us have done, experienced, and overcome a lot in our lives up to this point, and by remembering this and acknowledging ourselves for it, we can create an even deeper and more authentic sense of self confidence.’

You have survived every single one of your bad days. You’ve most likely gone through some things that would make others shudder. And when you were in the middle of those problems, you probably didn’t see how you’d get through it. 

And yet you did. Sometimes the outcome led to even better things. It also led to a stronger and wiser you! Give yourself credit for that. Confidence in your ability to tackle the unknown is so much stronger when you remind yourself that you’ve done it before. 

So imagine what you can do when you’re making a move that - though a little scary in the short term- is an investment in your future! 

TIP: Have a look at inspiring career change stories. They’ll show you what’s possible from the most dire of circumstances.


3. Don’t do it alone: ask for help and lean on your people

Experiences can feel difficult when we feel we’re alone. But we rarely are truly alone- in fact, usually when we feel alone, it’s because we’re afraid of reaching out, or burdening others, or appearing vulnerable. 

The great news is that you aren’t alone when it comes to career change. In fact, at any given moment 70% of the people around you want to change jobs too! And when people are asked if they’ve ever wanted to change jobs, that number probably goes to 100%. That’s a lot of people who understand exactly what you’re feeling. 

Talking to people who understand makes it easier to make the moves you need to. Reaching out to others is essential for work because around 60% of jobs are found through networking. And there’s a simple formula for how to lean on the people you know. Claire Harbour in Insead Knowledge explains:

‘Identify people who have the job or the experience that you seek. Tell your network “I’d like to do this. Do you know anybody in that field?” and ask for an introduction. You never know where help may come from.’

Sometimes you can’t broadcast your intent far and wide. If you are looking for a job change on the quiet, you can still take action like letting only recruiters know you’re looking for work on LinkedIn, and enlist the support of trusted friends and family to offer emotional support. 

TIP: Make certain to review your social media content before reaching out to others whether for job, support, or for a referral. It should be up-to-date, professional, and avoid complaints about your current or previous jobs/employers. 54% of hiring managers and employers have rejected candidates because of their social media. 


4. Do what it takes: line your ducks in a row

Any type of job or career change will require some preparation. There’s a lot to think about including logistics, if you need to move, whether you need more training, and how many people you might know in this new company or industry. 

Preparation is important because making mistakes that could have been avoided will make the transition more challenging than it needs to be. Success coach Kathy Caprino recommends figuring out the ‘essence’ of what you want, including asking key questions. What are the skills that you want and need to use in this new job, and have you got them all? What type of environment do you do well in - a buzzing collaborative office, or one-on-one partnerships, or do you do best on your own? What are your non-negotiables? Is a good salary and benefits most important? A clear progression track? A company with a good social justice or environmental record?

Know what you want to do, why you want to do it and how you are going to do it. If you figure these out ahead of time, you’ll know exactly what to look for, what won’t be suitable for you, and where you’ll thrive. Clarity always brings better decisions. 

TIP: Write out your ideal job description. Getting it on paper will help you refine what you know about what you want, as well as what you need to get you there. You can also check out our video interviews tips to get the job you want.


5. Believe in yourself: be brave, and take the Leap!

Sometimes we don’t like to hear this, but often our biggest rewards come from those leaps into the unknown. Corporate mentor Jill Griffin points out that the bigger the risk, the more potential for profit- and this is true whether it’s money, or a job, or a relationship, or anything else. If you know that whatever you want to go for on the other side of that chasm is your thing, take the leap. 

Your brain might calculate the cost of taking a risk and stop you from leaping. But what is the cost of regret? Of not living a life that uses your passion, skills, love, and gifts? 

This isn’t about taking a leap of faith in the new job- this is about taking a leap of faith in yourself. If you’ve done your research, have a good idea of what the right opportunities are, have put yourself in alignment with where to do, you’ll be in a great place to weather any challenges. 


TIP: Consider setting a leap date, and tell a few trusted people for accountability. 


Whatever happens next, you’ve totally got this

All of us differ in how we process the fear of changing jobs. Some find it easy to jump into something else, and some are terrified. Some follow their gut, and some research and write their own personal, annotated 25-page report before making a move. 

The point is that there are very few downsides to taking a chance, because even in the worst case scenario you fail at that job change, it’s never really a failure because you learn, re-direct, and have a much more accurate picture of what you need to do going forward to succeed. And who’s to say you wouldn’t fail if you stayed in your current situation anyway?

You can do this. It’s probably going to be better and more fun than you think. Go for it. Like George Addair said, ‘Everything you want is on the other side of fear.’


Considering a job move?