How to Overcome the Fear of Risk in a Daring Career Change
I recently exchanged messages with a good friend. They were stressed out for various reasons, but the one that stuck out was the following:
People think it’s all glamour, but I feel like I’m swimming in deep waters sometimes and it is a lot riskier than some other options back home, for example.
Let’s break this statement down:
People think it’s all glamour
I understand why we all, as humans, care so much about what other people think of us. I really do.
But, I also acknowledge that we have a choice to feel to feel a certain way about it. I found out through various forms of experimentation that people really don’t give a shit about what you do 99% of the time because they are too focused on their own insecurities.
So, when I’m feeling anxious that people will judge me about what I look like (going bald), what I do (career choices), or what I own (or don’t own for that matter), I just think back to when I wore the same shirt every day for a month. No one thought twice about it.
Even if they did judge me, they would go back to focusing on their own problems and trivial issues in a matter of seconds. And, if they didn’t, they are a serious waste of space and someone I want nothing to do with.
As long as I am doing things that are net-positive for the world and align with my core values, I have no shame or fear in judgement behind my actions. Now, if you want to criticize and judge me for things I do that are objectively garbage and net-negative, I welcome constructive criticism with open arms. Everyone needs to be kept in check, at least once in awhile.
If what I do is morally sound and you’re still judging me: let’s talk about it. There is clearly some sort of misalignment in values and we could both learn something by working it out.
But, if you’re critiquing me, simply to bring me down and make yourself feel better by comparison: I don’t care anymore. I know what I am doing has good intent and that is all that matters to me.*
These are the thoughts that immediately came to mind when my friend led with this.
I feel like I’m swimming in deep waters sometimes
If you want to build muscle, you’re going to have to feel some pain. You’re going to have to break down tissue and rebuild it.
If you want to loose weight, you’re going to have to feel hungry. You’re going to have to burn more calories than you eat.
Growth and progress is simple. It’s not easy necessarily, but it’s definitely not complicated. If you want to get rich, the formula is simple: spend less, learn more, and work harder. If you deploy patience and discipline around this, you’ll eventually gain financial freedom and, depending on your definition, get rich.
It’s not rocket science. But, it’s freaking difficult. It’s going to hurt. You have to sacrifice things to get better things. And that means getting outside of your #comfortzone.
But that’s the only way you get better and grow. You have to experience pain and soreness. You have to feel like you’re swimming in deep waters and that you’re going to have to fight for your life to survive.
Nobody ever won a gold medal by only training in the kiddie pool.
It is a lot riskier than some other options
My immediate reaction: riskier how?
Everything in life is relative. Virtually nothing is black or white; it’s shades of gray.
The friend I was speaking with is incredibly intelligent. They have accomplished a lot in their short career and would be an asset to any team.
Yet they view their current path as “risky”. How is this even possible?
Risky is: putting more than you can afford to loose on red in Vegas. Risky is: running with the bulls in Pamplona. Risky is: not wearing protection when engaging in sexual activity. Risky is: climbing Mount Everest.
These things ruin or end people’s lives in an instant, all the time. They are objectively risky.
Risky is not: quitting your job to pursue something you love. Risky is not: putting yourself out there in the dating world. Risky is not: starting that blog or podcast you’ve always wanted to start.
These things are difficult, sure, but they won’t ruin your life, even if you fail. In fact, they will more often than not improve your quality of life, if you can get past the initial discomfort.
Sure my friend’s career path thus far has been different than your average Joe Finance or Engineering that works for a big-box firm and makes $80k+ a year and works 50-hour weeks and lives in Lincoln Park and wears Ralph Lauren shirts to the bar every weekend. But, that’s an asset, in today’s marketplace especially.
I understand that they may have closed the door on some of the more conventional career paths, but I argue that these were pursuits that wouldn’t make them happy in the first place. Having less options always triggers scarcity, but it’s not like they are eliminating optionality of good, qualified jobs. They are doing the hard work of saying no to jobs that would make them miserable from the get-go.
So, when they view their current path as “riskier” than other people’s choices, I think they are objectively right. But, it’s maybe 0.1% riskier, not any significant amount. They are still extremely hirable. If anything, they are in a much better position to land a fulfilling job because: they have richer experiences that developed self-awareness, they’ve showed they can adapt quickly and trust their gut, and (most importantly) they have demonstrated that they aren’t your average schmuck that goes through life on a beaten path.
Any company, in their right mind, would value this above the person who played it safe early in their career and checked the right boxes. If they don’t, that’s a sure-fire way to disqualify a company you want to work for.
If I had to sum this all up into one concrete idea, it would be this: value authenticity and patience above all else. This is easier said than done, but I try to live my life with ruthless discipline to my core values in the micro, day-to-day, and an understanding that greatness is a long journey in the macro, long run.
Because I believe that if your intent is in alignment with what you truly believe, you will win. It may take 5 to 10 to 20 years, but you will win over time. The hard part is that people quit too early, because it’s hard.
Like sticking to a diet when you’re friends are going out and indulging every week, it taxes your willpower. Anything that’s good in the long-term ultimately requires short-term sacrifice. If it were easy from start to finish, we’d all do it. Remember that.
*Obviously, there is nuance here about how having good intent can still lead to bad things happening. In this case, I will always welcome an intelligent discussion.
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D.J. Podgorny is a minimalist, recovering world traveler, and former van dweller living and working in Brussels, Belgium. He loves music, sports, Mexican food, and uncertainty. He once gave a mediocre TEDx talk about how he lived in a van in the eBay parking lot for a year. He’s a work in progress and feels like writing this in third person is super narcissistic.