Why is it that when we imagine going after the career we desire most we conjure up an image of the worst possible outcome? We imagine a bleak future where the pursuit of a dream ends in utter failure and we end up hopeless and penniless, living in a van down by the river. Or under a bridge somewhere. Or wandering the streets like a vagabond.
One of my coaching mentors, Martha Beck, likes to call these imagined scenarios “bag lady fears.” They go something like this:
I can’t possibly think about quitting my job to pursue something else because that will inevitably fail and I’ll lose all of my money AND my house AND my car and I’ll be forced to live out of a shopping cart on the street corner where all of the people I know will point and laugh at me on their way to work.
Almost anyone who has ever considered a career change has imagined a ridiculous scenario something like this. Crazy, right?
What’s your version of the bag lady story? Maybe you picture your partner leaving you because you don’t bring home the bacon anymore. Maybe it’s your kids having to wear shabby clothes to school because you can’t afford nice ones. Maybe it’s your future self as a penniless old person living off food stamps. Or maybe it really is you losing your house and moving into a van down by the river.
What kind of crazy stories are you telling yourself when you think about going after your dream career? Think about your own bag lady story — the most extreme dystopian future you’ve ever imagined for yourself.
Now, imagine having a conversation with your best friend. She is miserable in her work and wants to make a change. Would you tell her that her future will end up just like the worst-case scenario story you’ve told yourself? I didn’t think so. Why? Because that’s not going to happen.
Pull yourself together, man.
You are an intelligent and talented person. You are not going to up and quit your job tomorrow without putting some kind of plan in place. Yes, there is some risk involved, but you’re a smart cookie and you would never let it come to that. Stop the horror stories, already.
Plus, contrary to popular belief, having more money does not make a person worry about money less. Even the super rich worry about money. There’s a documentary called The Queen of Versailles. It’s about a stinking rich multi-millionaire couple that do nothing but build hundred-million-dollar mansions and worry about money. You want to hate them for being shallow and clueless, but you can’t because they’re so damn human. They live in fear and they don’t know how to fix it.
Clearly the solution to worrying about money is not getting more money. Huh. Who knew? Sometimes the more money you have or make, the more you worry about losing it. It has more control over you. It’s the “golden handcuffs” syndrome.
A friend of mine — I’ll call him Jason — has a steady job working for the government. Great pay. Even better pension. He’s miserable in his job, but he’s afraid he’ll lose too much if he leaves. He has golden handcuffs syndrome, so he’s sticking it out.
Jason is only in his 30s and not even at the halfway point in his career. It’s going to be a long and unhappy road to that pension. It’s sad because there are so many ways to make great money and build security. He just can’t see past his fear and so he’s resigned himself to a miserable life until retirement day.
I get it. We all have money fears. It’s universal. And thinking about a career change stirs up those fears like nothing else. But money fears can paralyze you from going after what you want. In other words, sometimes money fears can get in the way of your happiness.
Don’t let any irrational fears of living in a van down by the river stop you from pursuing the happiness you deserve.
This is an excerpt from Careergasm: A Course for Discovering Your Calling.
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