Facing a career crisis?
A career crisis – like losing our job or being treated unfairly at work – can trigger a storm of negative emotions that batter our self-worth and wreck our work identity.
It’s perfectly normal to feel these emotions at difficult times in our work lives. But if we don’t let go of them, they can drag us down into an emotional quicksand. And once we start to sink, it can be very hard to pull ourselves out again.
Getting stuck like this stops us from moving forward in our careers. So how can we shift a negative mindset to a positive one? How can we get ourselves ‘unstuck’?
Escaping the quicksand
To answer this question, we first need to understand what’s going on in our brains when we respond in a certain way to a particular set of circumstances.
A useful tool for doing this is the Language and Behavioural (LAB) Profile (here is a link to how it works if you are interested.) The LAB Profile uses 14 different patterns to describe a person’s motivation and behaviour in given situations.
When we react emotionally to a stressful or unpleasant situation, and can’t move on after an appropriate length of time, we are in what’s called a ‘Feelings’ pattern.
Being in a Feelings pattern can affect our sleep, our concentration and our ability to function. We become so zeroed in on how angry and miserable we are, we end up not being able to see the wood for the trees.
Taking back control
*Soraya came to see me when she was struggling to get back into employment. She’d been made redundant three years earlier, but was still harbouring so much resentment about the way she’d been ‘let go’ that she’d lost all sense of the bigger picture.
Not only had her anger clouded her personal life, it had negatively affected her interview performance too.
When we find ourselves holding on to negative emotions like this, we need to find a way to switch from a Feelings pattern to a Choice pattern. This is where we experience the sadness, the anger, the frustration, and so on – but we’re able to put these feelings behind us and move forward in a positive direction.
Easier said than done, I know, but there are lots of proactive things we can do to get our mojo back.
1. Use your head (not your heart)
Every one of us has a unique set of values that act as our compass in life. These values are shaped by lots of different factors, including our upbringing, our environment, the culture we’re raised in, and our lived experiences. And they sit so deep in our subconscious, we aren’t always aware of them.
But we do notice when someone treads on them!
Take the case of Lucy, who came to see me after she’d failed to make it through her probationary period for her new job. Lucy was very upset as she believed her boss hadn’t recognised and valued her talents and skills.
Through talking to Lucy, we established that she has a strong sense of justice and fair play, so when her boss acted unfairly, this didn’t chime with her core values. This prompted her stress response to kick in, and the knock-on effect was that she lost confidence and was anxious about applying for other jobs.
Understanding why we experience a negative emotional response in some situations can help us to separate ourselves from what we’re feeling and to view our emotions at arm’s length.
Try writing down all the negative thoughts you’re having, and then ask yourself whether these feelings are accurate, what your beliefs behind them are, and whether they’re really worth it.
Then ask yourself if it’s a good use of your time, when you could be focusing on what exciting possibilities lie ahead.
2. Take a different view
If someone’s words or actions make us feel angry or upset, it can help to try putting ourselves in their shoes.
For example, a person communicating redundancies may appear indifferent, and use cold, factual language like ‘Your services are no longer required.’ Although they can seem callous and lacking in empathy, they’re very likely to be in a Thinking pattern – they’ve cordoned off their emotions to enable them to deal with a high-pressured, stressful situation.
When we come to understand this, we no longer take it personally. We can see that this person’s behaviour is not a reflection on us – it’s just the way someone in Thinking mode expresses themselves.
3. Be positive
Take a pen and paper and jot down all your achievements, both in and out of work. If you can’t think of any, try asking friends or colleagues, as often other people can see things in us that we’re blind to.
Now add to that all the activities you like doing and that you have a talent for. Feels good, doesn’t it?
That’s because this type of thinking bolsters our self-confidence and helps to put us in a positive frame of mind, making us more ready to embrace new opportunities.
Watching out for the language we use can help too. For example, every time you say ‘No, but …’ you’re focusing your mind on all the things you think you can’t do or are too scared to do. And this stops us from progressing.
Now try saying ‘Yes, and …’
Just changing these two small words immediately opens up a whole world of possibilities, and gets us thinking ‘What’s next?’
4. Set daily goals
When we’re in a negative frame of mind, we tend to fixate on all the things that have gone wrong and that we need to avoid.
To help counteract these fatalistic thoughts, focus instead on where you’d like to go in your career, and then try to do at least one thing each day that helps get you there. This could be making a new contact in a company or industry you’d like to work in. Or exploring the options for a change in your career.
If you’d like to know more about how to manage a career change, you can read my article Career change can be scary, but don’t let it manage you.
5. Avoid ‘catching’ negativity
Did you know that emotions can be contagious?
Think about when someone smiles at you and you smile back – you immediately feel happier. But the same can happen in reverse.
An example of this is when redundancies are announced at work. It’s easy to get caught up in a tide of negative emotions as they sweep through the workforce. And when others are panicking and catastrophising, we can start to do the same.
To protect ourselves from this emotional contagion, go straight to the source of the information and get the facts first-hand. Then decide how you want to respond to the situation, rather than being influenced by the behaviour of others.
6. Be kind to yourself
Hands up if you’ve found yourself saying things like ‘I’m not good enough’ or ‘It’s my fault.’
These days we keep hearing the mantra to ‘Be kind’ to others, but we need to practise some self-kindness too. I know it sounds like a cliché, but we really shouldn’t be so hard on ourselves!
Let’s go back to Lucy.
When she described the experience of losing her job, she talked about how ‘they got rid of me’. The language she used reflected how she had come to see herself – as a nuisance or a piece of rubbish.
But if a friend found themselves in the same situation, would we ever use this kind of language with them? Would we tell them they were a failure? That they were useless? That they deserved it?
No, of course not. We’d want to support them by pointing out their talents and skills, and getting them to focus on their future. We just need to remember to do that for ourselves too.
7. Grab a lifeline
If you still feel like you’re sinking deeper and deeper into the quicksand, don’t be afraid to ask friends, family or trusted colleagues to help pull you out.
Many of them are likely to have experienced the same feelings at some point in their lives, so you won’t feel so alone. And reaching out to someone who will listen and support you will help you to work through negative emotions, and see things as they really are.
One of my clients felt such shame at being made redundant, she kept it a secret from her family and friends. Sadly this meant she potentially missed out on a whole lot of love and emotional support at a time when she most needed it.
Believe me, those who are close to you really will want to help.
Bouncing back from a career crisis
Most of us have been knocked over by negative emotions at some point in our careers. But with the right help and support, we can dust ourselves off and get back up again.
I hope my suggestions will help you to do this, but if you’re still struggling, please get in touch.
I can help you to explore your choices, change your perspective on what has happened, and give you practical tools to proactively manage your career.
*Not her real name