Tool #1 for tackling career change - Build your confidence!

Tool #1 for tackling career change - Build your confidence!

Why is confidence important when changing career?

Over the years, whenever I thought about changing career, I realized that I always had a reason or an excuse or at the very least a bunch of questions swirling around in my head. What if I’m too old? Am I even qualified to do anything else? Do I need to go back to university? How much would that cost? How long would it take? Could I earn money while I retrain? Do I have the time for this? Could I match my income? These are just a sample of the questions I continued to ask, and I could not find a satisfactory answer to any of them. I eventually discovered ways to find the answers to all of these questions, but in order to get to that stage, I needed to build up my confidence. I would not have described myself as someone who was low confidence - after spending 17 years in my field, I would not have expected to be plagued by low confidence. However, changing career is something I had not done before, and it required me to use different skills, and ask different questions in order to find something that fit and satisfied me, and since this was a process I had not done before, I needed to find new ways to develop confidence in this, so that I could make the transition.

The truth is that any new task we tackle requires us to have some level of confidence in our ability to achieve it. If we find ourselves lacking in confidence, and facing resistance to changing career - even if it is something that we really want to do - here are four ways we can build the confidence that we need to to quiet those fears and get on the journey to change.

  1. Take action. I know I am making this sound easier than it is. In truth, when I am lack confidence, sometimes taking action is the last thing I want to do (and the very thing that I am afraid of) and so I can easily procrastinate myself into a corner. One strategy I started using for this is something I call lowering the stakes. I am a recovering perfectionist. This doesn’t mean that everything I did was perfect by any stretch of the imagination. However, it meant that I never wanted to start a process until I had every step mapped out in my head, and could see the way all to the end. If I am afraid to take action on something that is big, and meaningful and important, then I find something that is related, but may be less meaningful or involved, and take action on that. In truth – action and momentum can allow us to move forward, even with our fear.  And with career change - something that was really important to me - the stakes felt so high that failure was not an option, and that fear of failure paralysed me from taking the first steps - unless I could see that perfect outcome. And as a dentist, once I entered dental school, all of my energy went towards an end result for which there were only 2 possible outcomes - pass or fail. In my career, I got used to being very single minded and outcome focused. Any action I took felt very deliberate, and I had a pretty good idea of what the outcome would (or should) be. There felt like little room for error. This made the process of career change feel a bit counter intuitive for me - and a big part of what helped was lowering the stakes. Instead of this being a big “pass/fail” task, where I felt pressure to get it “Right first time”, I took the pressure off by choosing a lower stakes version of the action I wanted to take,and I would work the steps on that path. It helped me take action, and develop the skills I needed to tackle the really important tasks, while remaining curious, and allowing myself to experiment and change if necessary. One example for me was with writing. I always wanted to write a book - since childhood. And a lifetime of reading books - some fantastic (and some dreadful and everything in between) it felt as if the pressure was mounting on me - when I wrote the book it needed to be perfect! The low stakes version for me was starting my personal blog and focusing on a short project that allowed me to take action in a way that built my writing ability without it being the pressure of “the book”. After I had spent some months writing, I finally had clarity, and the confidence that I could complete it, and I was able to complete 2 books. I recognized that two of the biggest ways my fear shows up is through procrastination and perfectionism. This is especially true when the stakes are high and I am thinking about doing “the thing” – whatever that big goal or aim is. Often the perfectionism and procrastination leads me to not take any action at all, and so taking action on a task that felt less important helped me build up the courage to step into the task or action that I truly want to take. Lowering the stakes gave me the courage to take imperfect action and this took me further down the path to my goal, and sometimes to even better outcomes than I imagined, as I learned new skills along the way. Taking action - even a small one towards a similar but lower stakes task version helps build confidence. And the second way of building confidence is:

  2. Finish something. Yes. Anything. I found that setting small goals and reaching them built huge amounts of courage. Sometimes just knowing that I have the ability to finish something I started, or to reach a goal that I set out can give me courage to set bigger goals and reach those as well. I learned a long time ago that planning a project, starting it and finishing it require varying skill sets and taking that process through from start to finish can build tremendous amounts of courage, as well as give me a blueprint of where I need the most support throughout the process. I am a great planner and starter, but when it comes to finishing, that is when the procrastination I spoke about earlier sets in, and that is where I need the most accountability and encouragement. Knowing this about myself means that I can put these things in place so that I can finish what I started, and the boost of courage from that can propel me into my next project. This also leads back to my first point when I spoke about lowering the stakes. I realized that when I found smaller projects that were less important and finished them I had the confidence in myself that I could finish what I started and that was huge for me. This allowed me to tackle bigger goals - for example writing my book, or successfully navigating career change.

  3. Celebrate your wins – even the small ones. So when you finish that low stakes project, or reach that small goal celebrate the heck out of it! I am terrible at this I must confess. This requires having clarity – know what “finished” looks like, or define when you have reached the goal so that you can celebrate it. Even if you have a big goal, break it down into little mini goals and celebrate each one. I am a big picture person, so for me I tend to focus on what is left undone rather than what was done. But I decided that instead of deciding to celebrate when my book is finally finished, I decided to celebrate when I had done 3 writing sessions in one week. Or when I had reached the halfway point. Or when I had written the first draft – and so on. In terms of career change, I used a process that had a variety of steps - from identifying my strengths and what was important to me, through to gaining clarity about what the potential career was, to researching the career and carrying out informational interviews, to setting up my coaching business. I celebrated each step, and in fact I learned to identify small wins I had each week and that would help build my courage as I moved from step to step.

  4. Hang around with inspiring people. These can be people on the same journey as you so that you can encourage one another, or people working towards different goals. This also includes listening to inspiring stories. I enjoyed listening to podcasts about people who had successfully navigated the career journey, or who had conquered their fears in other ways. I include some links at the end of this post. I always found courage in seeing other people working towards their goals whatever they were.This can include hiring a coach to provide guidance and support throughout the process, spending time with people to give you practical tips on actually reaching your goal to help steer you if you have gone off track, accountability buddies to check in and cheerleaders to encourage you. I find that all of these people are so helpful in building courage, and sometimes I can borrow a bit of theirs when I don’t have enough of my own.  I also found that I would lose courage if I was around people who were convinced that there was no point in working towards goals, or who were finding more excuses not to try than reasons to try.

So there are a few things I do to build the courage I need to take action in spite of my fears. It helped me navigate career change, which can seem huge after spending years in the same career or working in the same organization. How do you build courage, or take action in spite of your fears? These tactics could really help you when stepping into a career that you love, and a life filled with the things that are important to you! If you would like my coaching and support on this journey, email me at to book a preliminary conversation.

And the photo above is something I did that took tremendous courage - climbing the Sydney Harbour bridge!