Hey, all — here with a quick tidbit about changing jobs, picking up a new job, or changing careers or fields altogether!
In the course of my travels and talks, I meet a lot of folks who aren’t exactly satisfied with their current employment, but there’s some fear and holdup surrounding making the leap to another position.
Sometimes it’s better the devil you do know than the devil you don’t — “My boss is terrible but it could be worse,” “I dread going to work every day but what if I hate the next job too,” “I’m severely underpaid but what if that’s just my fault,” “Eric is a miserable gossipy twat but at least I know how to keep my head down and deal with him.”
Sometimes the inertia of staying is due to a fear of change — “I know I’m not going to be in this position forever but it pays the bills,” “I’m not happy but I’m satisfied, I guess,” “I have to wait and see how this other thing pans out before I can do anything,” “I’ve been at this job for years,” “I would rather die than open my resume right now.”
Sometimes there’s too much self-deprecation and not enough self-efficacy — “I have no skills,” “Who would hire me,” “I’ve only ever worked minimum wage jobs,” “I’m going to fail at anything I try,” “No one is going to be impressed with my resume,” “I can’t write a cover letter.”
Any of this sound familiar?
When people get to talking about their hopes and dreams, I get the impression that they liken it to talking about some millennial fantasy that’s long-gone like our collective hopes for Portal 3 to come out. But that’s not the case. The career you want is out there. The job you don’t dread going to, exists. Please, take it from me, a jack of all trades who cobbled together a career out of “Well, I like talking about sex.” The hardest part of getting there is standing at the bottom of the staircase and looking up — it’s overwhelming, it’s terrifying, it fills us with dread. And yet, it’s possible.
That said, it’s perfectly healthy to work to live, to not follow some major dream and just subsist and take great pleasure in one’s off time, hobbies, and personal life. So maybe a major dream-chase isn’t for you, but you would like to move to something more stimulating, that pays better, or has a different environment.
Whatever the reason, a main holdup I see in keeping folks where they’re at (ignoring major cultural considerations and factors like capitalism and the economy, but they exist regardless, so let’s put a pin in that for now,) is a lack of self-efficacy which leads them to stagnate.
“Sara, you’ve said self-efficacy twice now, what are you talking about?”
Albert Bandura is a psychologist you’ll learn about in any psych 101 class, and he coined the term in the course of his research over many decades. You can read about it in depth here — basically, self-efficacy refers to one’s own self-judgement about how well one can execute actions to manage a prospective situation. So, self-efficacy refers to your own judgement of your own ability to do stuff, like a self-assessment of your skills and abilities.
How does this relate?
So, say Jan’s always wanted to get into theatre and acting. It’s been an interest for a long time, they’ve dabbled, they did drama club in high school and really just loved being in a theatre environment, but Jan then dropped out of college due to the tragic death of a close loved one. They grabbed a job at the local small-town eatery, and are now feeling stagnant. It’s been a few years and Jan dreads going to work, hates their job, but feels their ultimate career desire is absolutely hopeless, and stays awake at night worrying at the prospect of even trying something different due to well-intentioned financial concerns. Jan comes into my office and says “You can’t expect me to believe I can become a non-starving actor. That would be ludicrous.”
Jan’s right. I don’t want to airily say, “Don’t let your dreams be memes,” and tell them that the only thing standing between them and Broadway is their own self-deprecation. It’s a tad more complicated than that. However, in the course of speaking more, Jan expresses frustration with themself: “I couldn’t even change jobs if I wanted to, I have no skills outside of food service.”
Regarding self-efficacy, Jan likely had negative experiences in the past that shrank down their personal bubble of, “I can do it!” into the state it’s in today. Perhaps they tried something new before and failed. Perhaps they received negative reviews which made them question their own skills. Perhaps their managers were unsupportive and discouraging. Perhaps they compare themselves to others and consistently come up short. Perhaps their feelings of dread at trying something new and failing make them think they just might not have what it takes.
Jan may have fallen into a routine of self-deprecating. “I can’t do things, I don’t have skills, no one would hire me.” Each time this message is repeated, it is reinforced, sapping Jan’s self-efficacy and perceived abilities.
Here’s an area for growth. Is it true, if the zombie apocalypse happened tomorrow, that Jan’s only destiny would be to wait tables? To carry items in a restaurant? To smile in the wake of a customer being mad they got sparkling instead of seltzer? It’s true that Jan has become damn good at their job; they’ve been doing it for years, of course they’re an expert. That said, Jan’s skills are transferable. Memorizing orders. Working with diverse groups of clientele. Multitasking. Providing spectacular customer service. Noticing minute details, when someone is in need of something. Cleaning and sanitizing. Hosting. Prepping. Probably even picked up some cooking skills and tips in the back. Can’t a lot of these skills be applied elsewhere?
Furthermore, Jan has mentioned that they felt very positively when doing theatre and drama club previously. Perhaps there’s space for Jan to enter this field or one adjacent, gain skills, and see how it feels for them. Perhaps Jan can find positions in food service at a playhouse, in their local theatre district, or at a comedy club. Perhaps Jan can expand their bubble outside of food service too: their attention to detail and zeal for theatre might make them great working with stage lighting and props. Perhaps Jan’s customer service background and skills can lend themselves to a position ushering, marketing, or promoting at local theatres or music venues. Jan might find those skills in memorizing great if they want to fill up their cup by auditioning for some small roles or stand up outside of their working gig. Whatever the case, emboldening Jan, and allowing them to notice their transferable skills and abilities is beneficial to their self-efficacy and to their ability to search out and apply to new roles.
OK, hopefully this case study was helpful. What does this mean for you?
Firstly, it would be beneficial to set aside some time for updating your resume. I know, I know. But I want you to think about, What do I really do in a day? You better believe Jan doesn’t just put “wait tables,” there’s a whole world of tasks they do, and responsibilities they have. Allow yourself some space to jot a bunch of stuff down as it comes up. Allow it to be imperfect, you can fix it up with snappy “resume words” later.
Allow yourself to broaden that bubble of comfort. Stretch a little into the discomfort zone. Ask yourself, How can I use these skills in other positions? Maybe you have one picked out, maybe you just have the faintest idea of a direction you want to head in that’s simply, “Not the place I’m at.” OK, that’s fine.
When you are looking at positions, don’t just close the tab when you see a requirement you don’t meet exactly. Maybe the job says five years experience and you have one and a half. Maybe it requires expert proficiency in excel and you still need to google how to make a pivot table. Maybe it’s a job in education and your entire career history thus far has been in underwater basket weaving. Whatever the case, I’d advise against nerfing yourself right out of the gate. Continue into that stretch zone. How could I bring value to this position? Meeting several criteria for admission is OK, you don’t have to be picture perfect to give it a fair shot.
Look, I love my job, and don’t want to change it up. But you better believe if I had to make another career work, I couldn’t just be like, “My only skill is talking with folks in a counseling setting!” There’s plenty of ways to transfer these skills out, and wrap them up in a bow that looks attractive to prospective employers. And the same can be said for you. Maybe your background’s in STEM because that’s what your parents said would land you a lucrative career but now damn, you want to become a counselor, too. Doesn’t that research mind help you?
More than that, one of the most important things you bring to a job is your personality. Eager, excited, willing to learn, adept and flexible, team player, good communicator, all are great, and all might benefit you more than knowing every powerpoint slide transition (depends on the position).
Sitting down and allowing yourself to stretch and feel what’s happening to you is a good exercise. Maybe something is scary, maybe something is achy, maybe if you try a little more everyday it gets easier (hey, the metaphor holds up). Whatever the case, allow perspective and mindfulness to accompany you on this journey.
Also, applying for jobs involves allowing yourself to take up and occupy space, and take a chance on yourself. Consider that there may have been cultural and societal messages that may impact your ability or readiness to engage in this. For instance, I’ve heard of research that seems to show women may be more apt to devalue themselves when it comes to job hunting.
“While both genders browse jobs similarly, they apply to them differently. Research shows that in order to apply for a job women feel they need to meet 100% of the criteria while men usually apply after meeting about 60%.
LinkedIn behavioral data backs this up — women tend to screen themselves out of the conversation and end up applying to 20% fewer jobs than men. What’s more, women are more hesitant to ask for a referral from somebody they know at the company.
The good news is that when women do apply to a job, they are 16% more likely than men to get hired. In fact, if the role is more senior than their current position, that number goes up to 18%.
While this is an uplifting stat, it does show that women do a very thorough job at vetting roles — sometimes maybe too thorough. If women only apply when they feel extremely qualified, this could also indicate they are not pursuing stretch opportunities.”
(Forgive the gender binary here, research is woefully behind on trans, NB, and GNC identities.) Source.
My tl;dr here is, when you may consider new roles, consider the offered criteria as guidelines. Also consider your own knowledge, skills, and abilities, as well as your ability to learn on the job. Allow yourself space to stretch and consider roles that may feel “out of your league” — you may be presently surprised to find that your “league” occupies a much bigger bubble than that which you surrounded yourself with prior.
Fore more career resources, check out:
“What Color is Your Parachute?” By Richard Bolles