Home Business & Industry The Uncertainty of Changing Careers During the Pandemic

The Uncertainty of Changing Careers During the Pandemic

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It’s no secret that for many, the job landscape is rapidly changing. As we enter into Season 3 of Covid, Life Interrupted,  individuals are continuing to experience challenges in all aspects of livelihood, especially in the realm of work. Unemployment and the move from the office to home ushered in a reckoning for many  and researchers have labeled the outcome as the ‘Great Resignation’.

In this social phenomenon, people aren’t just leaving their jobs; they’re transitioning to a completely new career. I personally know two friends, one a teacher, the other a nurse, who made big decisions to pivot to tech-related fields in the past  year. It’s a process that entails resetting expectations, steadfast perseverance, and a great deal of uncertainty: how can I leave  the career I’ve been building for myself for years and start again  in something completely different? For many, uncertainty or  instability may prevent them from embarking on this endeavour. By  deconstructing the differences between the two, we can begin the  process of navigating our fear of the unknown.  

What does uncertainty look like?  

Uncertainty occurs when we are confronted with a situation and  lack clarity on its outcome. You can think about preparing for a  licensure exam, wanting to ask for a promotion, or submitting  applications. There is an ideal outcome that you are hoping for  but you also understand that there are numerous variables  threatening to interfere with it. Some of these variables could be  accounted for eg., you can study rigorously or establish the right  connections, but others, like lack of immediate work opportunity or  difficulty adjusting back to school, might be outside your control. 

When unknown or controllable variables surmount our  confidence, confusion, doubt and even despair, can seep in and  inhibit our efforts to move forward.  

What you can do 

To address paralysing uncertainty, we need to combat its concomitant thoughts and feelings. When you enter in a loop of  fearful thoughts, stop the cycle by engaging in behaviours that  create a complete shift in consciousness, like splashing cold  water on your face or stimulating your body. Practising mindfulness or deep breathing can effectively disrupt feelings of  fear by developing mental shifts that gradually relocate your mental state from focusing too much on doubt to simply being  aware of them. Anchor yourself in what you are certain of: that a  career change is in your best interest and the effort you’re willing to put into pursuing it is valuable and additive to your identity, even if your plans wont turn out the exact way you hope in the  end. Being certain of the road you choose to embark on sets you  on a solid foundation that stays constant amidst the periods of existential doubt that come and go.  

What does instability look like?  

While uncertainty is used to describe our internal state, instability refers to our external one. Transitioning to a new career requires  tremendous time and allocation of resources. Individuals will often  need to invest financially in trainings or classes while  simultaneously preparing to lose the consistent earnings of a full  time job. For those who lost their jobs, the anticipated financial  strain is even more distressing. Displaced by the pandemic, many  people have moved back to a more cost efficient or familiar living  situation, whether it’s across states to where they have family or  into a communal space with friends in similar situations. On top of everything, Covid itself has to be taken into consideration: their  health, those of who they may be living with, and the different viral  waves along with new institutional mandates. Even if you possess  the resolve to change careers, you might be intimidated by real  situational limitations.  

What you can do 

To address this, start by journaling out the ones most stressful to  you. Extracting negative thoughts from our mind and getting them  out into writing is like discovering the temperature of a climate: it  creates a reference point to help us make sense of something  that just feels nebulous and it reduces confusion. You can further  sort this list out by how they directly relate to you: on the  individual level, your health and ability; on the microsystem level,  your home environment, your peers and family, or workplace; and  ecosystem level, the industry of your prospective career, local politics, institutional services available to you.

The further out the nature of the doubt lies, the more inaccessible it is for you to  control. Understanding this can further clarify the concerns that  you can work to change and most directly impact you. Once this  done, shift your focus from the things that stand in your way to  only what you need in order to pivot successfully. Will it be okay to  keep your temporary accommodation or will you require another  private space to learn and work? How much money will you need  to put aside for the necessary training and if you don’t have the  capacity at this time, identify two to three realistic alternatives,  whether it’s taking a part time job or applying for loans. Set a  timeline that works for you; if you do not have the resources  necessary to change careers right now, by when can you obtain  them? When you complete both inventories, compare and  contrast them. You may find that many of the obstacles you listed  as causes for doubt may not be as relevant to what you need to  succeed as initially thought. 

Final thoughts

Changing careers is a big life decision and understanding the  nature of uncertainty and instability, and how they affect our ability  to transition, will allow you to process and better manage fear and  doubt.

Josiah Teng is an Asian American therapist based in NYC. He has worked on relational issues, substance and recovery, and life transitions.

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