For years I’ve been teaching a workshop called Reaching Your Goals to an audience of mid-career professionals who, either voluntarily or due to corporate downsizing, find themselves actively seeking new job opportunities. Those of you who’ve been through this process know firsthand how challenging it can be.
Workshop participants learn strategies for staying positive and on track during their job search process. My post-workshop surveys receive ratings of 4 and 5 out of 5, so clearly, it’s helpful. Yet for a long time I left every workshop unable to shake the nagging feeling that something was missing.
This past time I just couldn’t let it go. Finally, after a few days of research and mulling, the elephant finally revealed itself; the piece missing is confidence. Loss of confidence often accompanies career transition, and while I thought my techniques for staying positive sufficiently addressed it, without understanding the underlying challenge, it was just surface chatter.
What I had failed to see was that most of us question ourselves when faced with a new situation. I’m talking basics here; visiting new places, meeting new people, even getting a new haircut may fall into this category. Even though we may not categorize any of these activities as difficult, they still cast a shadow of self doubt simply because we haven’t done them before.
Most of us manage to put that minor discomfort aside and step forward, but the fact remains that we question how others perceive us in new situations, even those we consider relatively trivial.
Now couple those small second guesses with a big unknown, like finding a new job at a new company. Add to that the fact that many of the clients I work with have taken time off from careers to focus on family, laying even more self-doubt onto the stack. These big unknowns make us vulnerable, and how we respond is driven by our sense of self-confidence.
Fight or Flight
Lack of self-confidence isn’t a state of neurosis or mental anarchy. Our fear of the unknown is a primal defense mechanism which has been critical to our survival as a species. The fight or flight syndrome is well-documented, and increasingly understood as a necessary, albeit sometimes problematic piece of the human behavior puzzle. Without going too far down the rabbit hole, suffice it to say, we’re often unaware of why we feel fear and uncertainty, yet warranted or not, we let it stop us from doing the things we know will help us to reach our goals.
Back to the career transition. I explain in my workshop that it’s hard to stay positive during the search process because so much of our identity is tied to what we do. Whether it’s our career, family responsibilities, leadership role or superpower, we identify with the thing we do that’s industrious. When we lose that responsibility, that title, we often lose part of ourselves, and the big question then becomes, how will we get it back?
So building confidence is more than positivity-boosting behaviors, like taking care of your health, seeking inspiration or learning new things. These are still important, but they’re not the whole picture. We know that self-confidence comes from within, so when you’re feeling lost, alone and overwhelmed, as often happens during career transition, all of the positive practices combined may fail to do the trick.
Then what will? Is it possible to learn self-confidence? The answer is yes, and it starts with learning to manage our fear of the unknown, the one we face every day, which has now grown large and looming as our identity has shifted. This time we’ve embarked on a truly uncharted path and the self-doubt can be intimidating. Our job now is to keep this state of unknowing from holding us back.
4 keys to building a foundation of self-confidence on your path to success:
Purpose: Start with the why. This advice might sound like old news but being emotionally invested in your work is critical to staying motivated throughout the tedium and turmoil that will surely cross your path during this process.
Recognizing why your goal matters will motivate you to do things like send that email request, reach out to someone you met at a networking event or, in the case of J.K. Rowling, submit your 12th proposal to one more publisher, risking yet another rejection.
When the process seems overwhelming, let your sense of purpose remind you of why you started this journey in the first place and then push you to keep on keeping on.
Aptitude: Recognize your skillset. Perhaps it’s the same work you’ve done well for the past 8 years and now you’re seeking to bring those same skills somewhere new. Or you may be ready to leverage your transferable skills into a new role, or even a whole new career. Then there’s that thing you’ve always been good it, like teaching or writing, which you’re now ready to turn into a new part-time job after years spent as a stay at home mom. Whatever the back story, pursuing the work you know you’re good at lets you trust in your ability to succeed.
Entering unchartered territory always tests our self-confidence. You’ll end up questioning whether you’re good enough, smart enough or in some other way lacking critical requirements to land your next role. Recognizing and writing down your skills, strengths and achievements, then keeping that list visible, will help to change that negative self-talk into reminders of all you are, have done and will do.
Check out my Bold Steps Vision exercise to help with this process.
Clarity: Creating a clear mental image of yourself achieving your goal is a proven success strategy which can boost self-confidence too.
Try this method suggested in Psychology Today:
Begin by establishing a highly specific goal. Imagine the future; you have already achieved your goal. Hold a mental ‘picture’ of it as if it were occurring to you right at that moment. Imagine the scene in as much detail as possible.
Engage as many of the five senses as you can in your visualization. Who are you with? Which emotions are you feeling right now? What are you wearing? Is there a smell in the air? What do you hear? What is your environment?
Sit with a straight spine when you do this. Practice at night or in the morning (just before/after sleep). Eliminate any doubts, if they come to you. Repeat this practice often. Combine with meditation or an affirmation (e.g. “I am courageous; I am strong”, or to borrow from Ali, “I am the greatest!”).
The more you do something, whether it’s introducing yourself at a networking event, asking for a referral, or being interviewed, the easier it will get. The first time will always be the hardest, but each go-round presents an opportunity to learn from your mistakes.
Personally, I’m a natural introvert with my own share of struggles with self-confidence, but I pushed myself to complete a Toastmasters certification program 2 year ago even though the weight of this challenge occasionally brought me to tears. I used my sense of purpose; the need to help others overcome their challenges, as a motive for overcoming my own fear to the point where I now enjoy speaking in front of an audience, and am more comfortable in group settings too.
I know firsthand it isn’t easy but venturing outside of your comfort zone is where the growth happens.
This new understanding now shapes the way I work with clients. Reaching your goals is much more than identifying priorities, strategy and execution, it includes building the self-confidence to carry you through the tough times.
This is a new mindset for most people, requiring planning and practice. Yet developing self-confidence is a critical factor in reaching your goals and, as a bonus, a key factor in overall happiness.
About the author
Elizabeth Borelli is a professionally trained career coach, curriculum developer and workshop facilitator. Frustrated by a lack of resources for candidates ready to return to work after a career break, she created CareerBuilder Bootcamps; a set of interactive, online courses to accelerate job search success.
Engaging, online courses combined with one-to-one coaching calls prepare job seekers to find the right new career opportunities, helping them to stay positive and engaged throughout the process.
Are you considering returning to work after a career break in 2019, but not sure you’re ready? Take the quiz!