Career Planning for 2010: The Fear Factor – Part 4 of 4

In this series, we have been addressing ways to move past our fears and proactively develop a career planning process that successfully blends financial return with social impact and environmental responsibility.

As mentioned in my previous posts,  Pain > Fears ==> Career Move

By addressing common fears students and professionals face when attempting a career move, my goal is not to increase your pain, but to help you lower your fears.

In previous posts, the following fears were discussed:

Fear #1:  There are no jobs! – See my take in part 1 of this series.

Fear #2:  How am I going to meet my financial obligations? – See my take in part 2 of this series.

Fear #3:  I have done this for so long, who will hear me for a different type of career? – See my take on passion, transferable skills, and the power of being pleasantly persistent.

In our final post of the Fear Factor series, we will now address Fear #4:  What will my family/spouse/friends/mentors say?

This seems to be the one easiest to address, yet I would argue that in fact it is the hardest one.  Indeed, by re-strategizing your career path, you might feel as though you are betraying your supporters.  They include your family, who supported you emotionally (and often financially) through your education and throughout your professional successes and failures.  Your spouse who may have made sacrifices for you to succeed in your career, maybe tolerated that you spent long hours at the office, has moved to accommodate your career advancement, and has been enjoying the comfortable financial rewards of your current job.  Finally, your friends and mentors among whom you are now recognized for a specific set of skills and experiences.  They might not understand, or even criticize your choice of moving towards a different set of career goals.  Among all your supporters, some of them might have put their reputations on the line for you to succeed in the path we are on now.  You might be afraid of disappointing them if you go in a different direction now that you have come so far.

These emotions and possible consequences might seem like enormous obstacles that prevent you from moving forward.  In his latest book MOJO, Marshall Goldsmith provides an interesting take on how to move past this type of dilemma.  He calls it ‘Refusing to change because of sunk costs’.  Sunk costs have been extensively studied in economics, and explain many of the seemingly irrational decisions that managers and professionals make.   Let’s imagine you live in Maine and you are a big Kobe Bryant’s fan.  You paid $300 to go and see the Celtics/Lakers game in Boston (a three hour drive).  A couple of days before the game, you learn that Kobe got hurt and that he won’t be playing at the Celtics/Lakers game.  Are you still going to drive all the way to Boston and see the game?  Going ahead with your original plan will have added costs (e.g. gas, time).  Or will you kiss your $300 good bye and stay home, watching something else on DVR that night?  Your sunk costs are your $300, you have paid this sum, and you won’t be able to recoup this money.  Given the extra costs of going to the game, a rational model of this decision would predict that you would stay home.  However, evidence has established that sunk costs are extremely hard for us to block out of the decision making process:  it becomes an anchor of decision making, which makes us do (or not do) irrational things.  So despite the fact that the reason why you originally decided to go to the game is no longer a possibility, you would still go ahead and drive to the game.

Applied to your career, your sunk costs are all the sacrifices that you have made along the way.  All of the ‘but I have come that far, I have to keep going’ that keep coming to our mind when contemplating a career change.   They can also take the shape of persisting in error because we cannot come to term with the fact that we made a mistake by choosing this particular career path.  As Mark Albion reminds us in More Than Money ‘Don’t become good at something you don’t like to do!’  As mention in our previous post on transferable skills, chances are that your current career might have equipped you well for your next career move.

How much of your hesitation to have a conversation with your family, spouse, friends, or mentors comes from sunk costs?  By determining where the hesitation comes from, you can find ways to show your supporters that this career move has more upsides than downsides.  At first, I would recommend that you express your interest in socio-eco innovation and ways to integrate this into your current role, asking questions and feedback on whom they might know that works in this area, and might be a contact for you to learn more from.  Then when you make the actual move, let them know how helpful their advice and contacts have been, how grateful you are for their support, and how you look forward to being of help to them in the future.

Some supporters will be happy for you, some will be skeptical and some will be down right telling you that you have lost your mind.  You might not make everyone happy in this process, but at the end of the day, when you have successfully made your transition, you will be happier, and seeing you happier will make your true friends and supporters stick with you.  In this process, you will lose some supporters (temporarily or permanently).  However, you might also gain others that will align with the professional you want to become.

In sum, as you explore your options as a future socio-eco innovator, pay attention to your sunk costs, and move past the fear of having a conversation with your closest supporters about your interest in a triple bottom line career.  Start planting seeds by expressing your interest in learning more through people who currently are socio-eco innovators, and keep reiterating how much you appreciate your supporters’ input and support.  Once you make a move, you will emerge as a stronger leader of your career, and a more authentic one.  This is likely to earn you increased respect of your supporters, as well as new relationships with like-minded professionals and future mentors.

As always, my goal is simple:  Help you amplify your impact and accelerate your learning as you build your career plan as a socio-eco innovator who does Business -  Better. I look forward to receiving your questions and to addressing them in future posts!