October 18, 2021
Career Anxiety: How to Overcome It & Move Forward
Written by Rachel Eddins
Deciding on what you are going to do with your life is complicated.
The future is already uncertain, and picking one thing to do can feel overwhelming. For some, this creates career anxiety.
The fear of the unknown. Or the fear of choosing the wrong path.
You constantly doubt if your decisions are the right ones and hear yourself saying, “I’m just not sure.”
Choosing a major, deciding on a career path, or planning their future feels like a great burden to you, and that’s not a crazy notion because it’s a hard thing. Faced with what seems like a crucial life decision, it’s easy to experience career anxiety, which may show up in your mind as fear and indecision.
You may also experience pressure from others asking about your career decision or encouraging you towards a particular path or major. While their intentions are good, the most important person to listen to is yourself. Only you know what is best for you.
An essential aspect of this conversation, which is often overshadowed by the need to constantly level up and get “more,” is your career values. In this post, we will attempt to ease the burden by first exploring your values, using them to determine what careers and employers will be a good fit, and how career assessments can help you do it all.
What is Career Anxiety?
The first thing to remember in career decision-making is that it is a life-long process, not meaning you will make a decision that determines the rest of your life. You’re going to experience a lot of changes, and they will alter both what you need and what you like.
It’s very natural for preferences to shift over time. It’s like deciding where you are going to live. If your needs and preferences change, it’s not crazy to move to a place that fits better.
Something that does help the career-choosing process is knowing yourself. We aren’t saying you need to understand every atom of your being, but you should try to understand your likes, dislikes, and things of that nature.
The better you understand yourself, and the more you know about your options, the better your decisions. Finding the right career fit is a highly dynamic process.
Keep in mind that you are not deciding your future when choosing a major or making a career choice. There is a lot of pressure involved in these decisions.
We are often asked questions like “what do you do” rather than “what is the task you do for money?” It makes sense that career anxiety is so common.
Don’t forget, people in the workplace change not only their job but also their entire career field an average of three or four times, and it’s perfectly normal. It should be encouraged. You do not have to do the same thing forever.
Each step along the career path provides a foundation for the steps that follow, same as with life.
Factors That May Contribute to Career Anxiety
We mentioned it earlier, but the societal pressure put on your job can be summed up by looking at the question, “what do you do?” It is a big question, and it almost sounds like, “what is it that you have decided to put all of your time and energy so that I know how to value you as a human?” And that is not the only place where it shows.
Some places this pressure can come from include:
- Parents – The people who have, by far, the most influence on how you feel about this topic is your parents. There may be a family business that you are expected to inherit or an occupation that your family “tends” to go into. No matter how it’s done, it’s safe to say there is a lot of stress that you feel is from your parents.
- Personal Expectations – You may think it necessary to please someone else, someone you value highly, such as a parent, girlfriend or boyfriend, or even a professor. This one can be related to parents, but generally, this one is self-made. We have decided that we need to do this one thing for this one reason, and anything else is inconceivable!
- Fear – Depending on money, you could feel you have to reach a certain point, or you are doomed to live a hard life forever. You may fear “wasting” your energy with the wrong choice, you may fear failure, you may fear your competence, or maybe just the unknown.
Career anxiety sounds like:
When you feel these kinds of pressure, you might ask yourself questions like:
- Will I make it out in the workplace?
- What if I don’t get hired or get into school?
- Will I disappoint my family?
- How can I decide what I want to do for the rest of my life?
You might look at people who “have it all figured out” or “know exactly where they are going” and feel a lot of feelings. At first, you might be jealous that you don’t feel like and you might even get mad at yourself for feeling that because, in your mind, you’re the reason you’re in this place.
Examine Career Values to Counter Career Anxiety
When helping clients through anxious feelings, we often see a disconnect between where they are now and where they want to be. Others just aren’t sure.
It’s very normal and very okay. Today, you have more options to “be something” than any other generation that has ever lived before us, and you can really be so many things.
So, how do professionals navigate such a significant number of possibilities when guiding people who literally have no idea what they want to do?
We start by examining your career values.
You might have just thought “but I don’t even know what my values are….” Don’t worry.
We simply examine what matters to you, what doesn’t matter to you, what you appreciate, and what you’d like to avoid. For example, your friends are often a reflection of your values.
Work values reflect the qualities of a career or job that are satisfying, rewarding, and motivating to you. They reflect what you want in a career. And though it may feel like it cannot be that easy ─ it honestly is.
We always want people to love their work so much that they roll out of bed ready for a new day to begin, but the reality is that roughly 65% of the workforce say that they are satisfied with their careers.
Only 20% are passionate about their career.
Whether you are just dipping your toes into the idea of working or you are ready to change careers after years with the same company, you will have to find a balance you are comfortable with between financial, personal, and professional needs.
There is also the possibility of finding a position near “perfect” in meeting your values. Would you be willing to sacrifice other qualities if the company met your top values and needs?
As you clarify your values, think of the specifics of what each value means to you to clearly define your job search for work that will satisfy you.
The elements of a satisfying career include your:
Though it may be something you have to work towards, don’t think for a minute that career satisfaction isn’t for you. Anxiety over this decision may convince you that you are lucky to get anything even remotely good, but that’s not true.
Your dream is out there ─ even if you aren’t sure what it is yet.
When Using Assessment Tools to Overcome Career Anxiety
To chart your course towards fulfilling work, you have to know where you are starting from. This process is referred to as self-assessment.
Self-assessment is often the first step in assessing how to find the career for you.
If you’re stuck and feel like you have no idea what your personality preferences and career interests are, an online career assessment test can be a great place to start.
The key to this step is to be willing to ask yourself questions and keep asking as your career unfolds. As you do this, pay particular attention to anything which hints at your purpose and passion, for they are the essence of your internal career compass. A career assessment test can get you started by clarifying, but you must look deeply at all the clues around you.
Interests assessments can help us identify what general, occupational fields will keep us motivated; however, personality assessments, as introduced in the next section, can provide clues as to what to look for more specifically in a job.
Consider the following strategies to help career anxiety:
You might be feeling a tad overwhelmed. As you go searching for answers, you’ll want people to tell you stories that sound just like you so that you’ll know where you end up.
There is one problem. None of those people are you.
You are a unique individual who has a lot of possibilities before them. So, as you move forward on this journey, remember to not punish yourself for not having the same path as those around you. Our differences are our strengths.
With that in mind, here are a few ways to overcome career anxiety and find a way forward:
1. Listen to other’s career stories. Focus on the qualities that got them where they are vs the specific actions or steps they took.
You might think that is common sense, but we want you to go a bit farther. As you talk to people, read books, and take in all this information, turn your focus to the qualities that would assist them on their way rather than the actions they took.
As you go through this chapter, you might be tempted to look at others and feel jealous of the opportunities and accomplishments they have had. Though this is common, it’s not recommended.
They did what they did in a different time under different circumstances and as a different person.
They are not you. Take in the lessons they might have to share with you and use what works for you, but don’t stop asking if it doesn’t work.
2. Seek information from knowledgeable sources.
When seeking out information, you may get more than you bargained for, so it’s important to ensure that you’re getting it from places you can trust.
When looking for answers regarding university programs, find out from professors, academic advisers, or alumni. Don’t trust word of mouth and be very careful of opinions.
No matter how well-intended, opinions may not be helpful if the person offering the advice is inexperienced or biased. Career counselors can be extremely helpful during this time because they have a particular understanding of what you are facing and a level of knowledge that can help you forward.
Something else that can help career anxiety is knowing about available careers. Don’t be afraid to research.
If you discover a particular field of interest, explore the field by talking with people in it, volunteering, or seeking an internship. Read job descriptions, find out entrance requirements, research the market outlook, and join student and professional organizations.
3. Set Goals.
Make a plan to accomplish those goals. Write them down and stick to them.
Sometimes setting small, immediate goals can help with the decision-making process and make things more manageable. For example, “I will contact two people who can help me identify referral sources this week.
Free Yourself From Career Anxiety
If you are experiencing career anxiety, you should consider reaching out to a career counselor.
With this help, you can explore your interests, skills, abilities, values, personal traits, and desired lifestyle. A career counselor can also assist you in developing skills to cope with career anxiety.
They’ll have tools to help you continue forward. You won’t be stuck, not taking action towards your career goals. They will help you put one foot in from of the other.
A career counselor can help you sort through your options and help what seems to be an overwhelming array of possibilities become manageable and realistic. A career counselor won’t decide for you but can provide the necessary tools to help you better understand yourself and where you fit in the world of work.
Seek Help for Career Anxiety Today
Making a career choice gives you a goal to work toward and helps alleviate the stress and anxiety you may experience about not knowing. Planning a career doesn’t need to make you feel like you’re locking yourself into one way of life.
You are simply setting foot down a path that can take you in many directions; you have plenty of time to try something different. Above all, choose what you enjoy.
Remember, people who do what they love tend to do it well and find ways to do it even in a changing workplace.
If you want to delve deeper into understanding your career anxiety and overcoming fears that might be getting in the way of enjoying a satisfying career, a career counselor can help.
You can meet with one of our career counselors in the privacy of your home if you prefer. Contact us to find out more.
Eddins Counseling Group’s career coaches can work with you in person, via phone, or video, regardless of your location. Sometimes, it can be helpful to have an outside perspective to help you put the pieces together and identify a rewarding career path. Give us a call if you’re ready to take the next step in your career.
Talk with a career counselor and start living your dream today. To get started now, give us a call to schedule an appointment at 832-559-2622 or online.
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