I’ve always admired people who have known exactly what they wanted to do from a very young age. Me? I vacillated between ballerina, lawyer, author, and journalist for a majority of my adolescence all the way up until my college graduation. The hard truth is that I still don’t know where my career is headed. I’ve often been told, “You’re just 23. You have so much time to find your true calling.” This provides little comfort, mostly because I don’t see my 20s as a time to aimlessly navigate my interests until I find something that sticks; I see this as the time to root myself in one endeavor that I can shape and modify in years hence.
I think most people can relate to this career anxiety. Very few of us are born knowing exactly what we want to do with our lives. If you’re feeling unease when it comes to your career path, these tips will help guide you along the way.
1. First and foremost, acknowledge you’re already taking steps by virtue of the fact that you recognize your anxiety.
You’d be surprised how many people experience years of stress and upset without considering that their career may be playing a salient role. This phenomenon is especially prevalent among older generations of adults who began their careers at a time when people worked at the same job for 30+ years. When someone entered the workforce, it was generally accepted that you were committed to staying at the same employer for many years; to suddenly question your place was frowned upon.
These days, many industries have a high turnover, and it’s much more common for individuals to examine their career direction and make changes accordingly. So, pride yourself in your ability to be introspective and open to change.
2. Eliminate the distractions.
Whether your dream job is traveling internationally to meet world leaders or working in a cozy coffee shop writing your next novel, remember that a majority of us never achieve true perfection when it comes to our careers. There’s always the narcissistic boss, the demanding hours, or the terrible commute to stifle our sense of professional fulfillment. Once in a while, it’s important to step back and look at the bigger picture: if all of these distractions dissolved, would I be in a better place?
If the answer is no, it might be time to consider whether your anxiety is stemming from the job itself as opposed to all the extraneous irritations. Instead of exacerbating your anxiety by stressing over your next move, try to focus on the aspects of the job that do resonate. After all, you did accept the job offer! Is it the competitive salary? Do you get along well with your colleagues? Was it the subject matter, the location, the office environment? Whatever it is, hold onto that feeling or concept as you determine your next steps.
3. Surround yourself with supportive people.
There’s nothing worse than feeling alone in your anxiety. Luckily, most people can relate to a feeling of unease when it comes to their career trajectory, so you likely already know someone who can offer his or her support. Form a strong network of allies who provide encouragement, but are also unafraid to challenge you when necessary. Example: if you’re stressed that you’ll never be paid above $x because you don’t possess an advanced degree, a good support will encourage you to apply to grad school or ambitiously ask for a raise. Remember, a support system is there to bring you up, not consistently affirm your own limited perceptions of yourself and your abilities.
What helps you deal with career anxiety?
Related: Finding Your Career Focus
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Photo: lauren rushing via Flickr