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Intuitively, we all realize that change can be difficult, especially with our careers, and even more so during a career transition. Many people remain in stagnant jobs, not because they necessarily enjoy it or find it meaningful, but because of the salary, benefits and prestige that come with it. This is known as the “golden handcuffs”. You might be experiencing this yourself.
I have encountered many of these client situations because people reach a stage in their career, where it becomes difficult to leave. Money, power, and status are powerful incentives, while also providing a very tangible level of safety and security. When a person has attained a very high income or position within a company, these are very powerful motivators for him or her not to leave. In many ways staying can certainly make rational sense. Why leave a sure thing, for the unknown? Unfortunately, you will never attain a great, fulfilling, meaningful and rewarding career, if you stay in one that you dislike or even hate. You will not be able to reach true career joy, if there is no growth, and your truest and highest potential is never reached.
There are countless examples of people having moderately successful jobs, who risked security to get to a more fulfilling, and even more profitable career. A very well-known individual who achieved this is Jeff Bezos. Bezos was a senior vice president at D.E. Shaw & Co., a wall-street based investment banking firm. Having been out of college, Bezos was 30 years old, and while he had a career that was very lucrative, he was personally unfulfilled. When Bezos told his boss at the investment firm that he was quitting to start Amazon, his boss told him, “You know what, Jeff, I think this is a good idea, but it would be a better idea for somebody who didn’t already have a good job.” As you know, Bezos never took his boss’s advice and is now worth an estimated $139 billion. Other famous people who took major career risks are Richard Branson, Vera Wang, Harrison Ford, Sylvester Stallone, Elon Musk, Sam Yagan and Sara Blakely.
What is the real origin of the golden handcuffs and where does our aversion to risk come from? In my opinion, a central aspect of it is our human inclination towards a ‘negativity bias’. Psychologists define negativity bias as our tendency to “attend to, learn from, and use negative information far more than positive information”. Several experts believe that this ‘bias’ has an adaptive evolutionary function. It evolved thousands of years ago, when our ancestors were exposed to immediate environmental threats. For example, at one time we needed to worry about dangerous predators. It has been suggested that over time, this bias plays a role in our early development. Infants don’t have extensive experience to draw on during early stages of their life. To adapt to this lack of experience, a child learns very early that he/she should avoid things that could be aversive or harmful. This gives the infant better chances for survival. Our negativity bias helps us avoid potentially harmful objects and events when we don’t know much about them. In a nutshell, it leaves us with an innate fear of the unknown.
We Tend to Focus on the Negative
Unfortunately, our negativity bias makes us process information in a highly unbalanced and one-sided manner. Psychologists have noted that we perceive negative and positive occurrences differently, where negative events elicit more rapid and greater prominent responses than non-negative ones. As a result, the following can occur:
* We recall and think about insults more than compliments
* We respond more – emotionally and physically – to aversive (harmful) stimuli
* We tend to dwell on unpleasant or traumatic events more than pleasant ones
* We focus our attention more quickly on negative rather than positive information
Overcoming Negative Bias
1. Be Aware
When contemplating a career change the first step is to check in with yourself. Start to recognize any thoughts that are running chaotically through your mind. Be aware of both the helpful and unhelpful ones. It’s important to become more attuned to your own emotions. Are you experiencing negative emotions such as anxiety, frustration, nervousness or worry? Being more mindful and incorporating mindfulness strategies are good ways to deal with negative emotions. By employing practices such as meditation, reflection and other mindfulness interventions, you can start to observe your feelings and thoughts more objectively. When you are more aware, you can adapt your view of negative experiences or events by taking a more balanced and positive perspective on them, instead of catastrophizing. You will also be able to tackle these head on, challenging negative feelings and thoughts, replacing them with more useful ones. By examining your reactions to stressors and anxiety-provoking events, you will start to recognize patterns in your thinking.
2. Challenge Your Language and Thoughts
During stressful moments, you will need to learn how to slow down your mind, challenging the automatic thoughts that you might have. This will allow you to replace them with more rational and realistic thinking, leading to more effective behavior. What you say to yourself during your thoughts is termed ‘self-talk’, and it matters. When self-talk focuses on thriving, it can provide essential motivation. Positive self-talk can help a person broaden their perspective and attitudes, which is essential during immediate moments of change, and also for longer-term future events. Rather than narrowly focusing on negative thoughts and threats that can increase a person’s doubts, fears and insecurities, it can promote self-assurance, certainty and confidence. However, just as self-talk can be an asset, it can also be a detriment. Over time, giving into negative self-talk can take a toll on one’s confidence, fostering insecurity and limiting personal growth. Challenging your language and thoughts is vital to your success because positive self-talk can aid in reducing your anxiety and improve your self-confidence.
3. Mitigate Real Risk
A vital part of making a successful career transition is to recognize the difference between catastrophic thinking and perceiving real risks. Making a career transition can be challenging, as it takes time, energy, resources and opportunities, while having significant consequences. There are many impacts that can occur during and after a career transition that involve finances, lifestyle, time demands, status and social networks. However, there are many activities that can successfully mitigate the risks during a career change. These include doing extensive career research, initiating a side hustle, taking part-time education and growing networking opportunities. Making a career change involves identifying real risks and negative consequences, not ignoring them.
4. Remember Your Potential
When making career decisions many people forget or don’t believe in one thing: their potential. Many people make new career decisions based on their past. There is a tendency for individuals to examine their prior work experience, skills and interests, and identify new career opportunities through this singular view. Unfortunately, many people repeat activities over and over, hoping to find greater fulfilment but never finding it. As the saying goes, “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result.”
Higher career fulfilment is found in progressively advancing yourself, and this requires a future perspective. True success is forward looking, and it involves your potential. Your potential consists of your passions, talents, outstanding personality traits and core values. These attributes help you to reach and define your highest career potential. When you hold on to a negative bias, you will only be perceiving loss, danger and harm. To have an extremely rewarding and gratifying career it encompasses all of your potential. In the end, overcoming a negativity bias should not be about remaining stuck in past failures and perceiving unrealistic risks. Success is always about keeping in mind what all the amazing possibilities are waiting for you, to reach them.