Managing Risk During a Career Change
In 1967, two psychiatrists named Thomas Holmes and Richard Rahe performed a rigorous study to better understand the correlation between stress and illness. Ultimately, they created the Homes and Rahe Stress Scale, a comprehensive list that ranks the 43 most stressful life events. (You can see the list here.)
While much of the scale is predictable (death of a spouse ranks at the top of the list), there are several surprising things that stand out. One of the most fascinating is that the word “change” pops up in 15 out of the 43 listed events. What’s more, the scale doesn’t indicate whether these changes are good or bad. For example, change in financial state, change to a different line of work, and change in living conditions are all listed. Regardless of outcome—positive or negative—the stress associated remains the same, at least according to this scale.
Why is that? The reason revolves around the very nature of change. As human beings, we are creatures of habit. Any change—good, bad, or indifferent—comes with the potential for danger. We are evolutionarily wired to fear the unknown. After all, when our caveman ancestors disrupted the status quo, their lives were often put in jeopardy. Survival depended on consistency.
So it’s no surprise that career changes are stressful. Regardless of how dramatic the change may or may not be, there is inherent risk. It could be the best move you’ve ever made; it could be a disaster. No matter how well you plan for it or how certain you are that it’s the “right” move, there’s just no predicting the future.
Many people let this inherent risk scare them into staying stagnant. Change—and for that matter, GROWTH—of any kind requires confronting fear, weighing the risk against the reward, and taking a leap of (intelligent) faith. Yes, you may land on your butt once or twice. But it’s all part of the process. You take what you learn, pick yourself up, and try it again.
The best you can do is understand the risk you’re facing. Go in with eyes wide open. Do you have the time, money, capabilities, support, etc. needed to make this change comfortable for you and your family? If not, what’s missing? What are the potential consequences? What can you do to fill the gaps and reduce the risk?
Figure out exactly how much risk you’re willing and able to endure. What’s acceptable? What is too much? What goal are you trying to achieve? What will you give up (or put up with) in order to earn the potential rewards of this goal?
Lastly, manage your attitude toward risk. Know that anything worth doing will involve some level of potential danger. If things don’t work out exactly as you dreamed, you will recover. Shift your perspective and look at change as an adventure, an opportunity for growth. Don’t dwell on the risk.
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