Change at Work: Better The Devil You Know?
What’s stopping us from making even the smallest of life changes?
It happens to us all – at work, in relationships, and when we’re faced with daunting lifestyle choices. We stick to the status quo for months and years, even though it no longer fits our needs or our future selfves. That’s because the response to most challenges is usually fear. In this case, fear of the unknown.
Here and throughout August, we’ll look at how and why fear of change stops us from making decisions we sense might actually be really good for us. We’ll draw too from the experiences of people I’ve worked with who’ve been totally stuck, faced the fear and transformed their lives.
Let’s start this week with fear of change in work.
Is this you?
- You want to escape your well paid, safe & secure, ‘job with prospects’ for a something more meaningful, but it will pay far less for a couple of years, or maybe it will always pay less. Maybe it taps into a different skill set than you have now and you’ll love it BUT you think you can’t possibly get used to living on less, because there are certain things you just NEED. So you stay… and you stay… and bit by bit, your energy drains away.
- Your commute is wearing you down, your boss is unappreciative and your colleagues are just people you say good morning to, but you’re good what you do and the work suits you. You can’t bring yourself to make a change, even though you know things could be better.
- You’re facing redundancy or coming back from a career break, you want to start your own business. You’ve all the research and have a sound business plan. But you’re afraid people won’t want what you have to offer.
So you choose, for now, to stay in the comfort zone, which lurks in disguise as a safe place. But we know what happens there… yep, tea and biscuits. Plus it’s only ‘safe’ if you don’t want to grow.
Maybe you’re OK where you are and you’re not in any of the situations above, but is OK good enough? Are you actually just treading water, living a stagnant life? You’ve got to weigh it up: is today’s comfort more important than tackling and removing tomorrow’s disappointment?
Is staying like this going to make you happy and give you a real zest for life? I’m a firm believer of spending at least 60% of our time in the stretch zone. It’s where we learn the most. It’s where all the good stuff is.
I love business coach Dan Sullivan’s 4 C’s Formula, especially relevant to entrepreneurs but useful for all of us. Faced with career risk, we tend to think we need Confidence, Capability, Courage, and Commitment, in that order.
Reverse the order, start by committing yourself and the rest follows. You see, the trick is in realising that you don’t have to START with Capability or Confidence. That’s your REWARD for bravery and taking action!
A ’stuck’ quantity surveyor I coached was reflecting recently on what had been holding him back from change. “My sticking point was my past. I genuinely thought that work-wise, I could only really do what I’ve done before. It’s where my credibility, capability and confidence lay. But I realised after a while that my future can be a white canvas if I let it. At 38, I thought I was too old to change. But when you think that at 38 you might be working another 30+ years, it makes you think again about sticking to what you know…”
I’m reminded too of a 28 year old teacher who wanted to retrain as midwife, her first passion. Most of our conversation centred more around financial advice than career advice. It’s very easy to jump to the conclusion that you can’t afford to leave your job. Yet we often have more choice than we realise.
She began to keep a really strict expenditure diary and I encouraged her to find five places where she could reduce or stop spending. It turned out she didn’t need what she thought she needed to make and she began to see her future possibilities differently.
Maybe you know all this. But I’m reminding you of the difference between knowing it and applying it. Whatever reason we give to not change a situation we’re in, it’s likely to be an excuse that comes from fear of the unknown. Your big potential change is far more likely to go right than wrong. You just need to get more comfortable with the idea of uncertainty. Otherwise you’ll continue to feel paralysed by the rut you’re stuck in.
So, I urge you to reframe your current situation and rethink the impact of change on it. As Martin Seligman put it, the imagined outcome of a ‘massive risk’ is always far worse than the actual outcome. Have faith! Allow yourself to respond differently to fear. Learn to embrace the idea of possibility, not answers.
Try seeing your fear of uncertainty simply as ‘anticipation’ and watch what happens!