Years ago, I was having coffee with a friend, catching up and chatting about our lives.
My friend told me he had just returned from a family weekend getaway to Tahoe, where he had been eager to share a boating experience with his wife and their two kids. Unfortunately, his young daughter was less than enthusiastic. She was scared to get into the boat.
He tried reasoning with her, telling her there was nothing to fear. He pleaded with her—she’d love it once she just got in. He practically bribed her, but to no avail. She was stubborn, upset, and stuck. The fear of the unknown was paralyzing her, and there was no budging her.
Or was there?
Exasperated, he confessed to me that he finally just picked her up and jumped into the dinghy, knowing that she would be happier once she was there. And you know what? She was. She relaxed, embraced her new environment, and started to—gasp!—actually enjoy herself. In fact, she liked it so much she asked when they could do it again.
The funny thing is that my friend had been hemming and hawing about a career decision of his own, and used this exact analogy to describe how his little apple didn’t fall far from the tree.
How often have you found yourself stuck in limbo, frustrated yet afraid to take a leap of faith and try something new professionally? You weigh the pros and cons, assess the risk and decide… to hold off on deciding
The hard-to-hear truth is this: There is no growth in the status quo. And the longer you wait to take action, the more stagnant you become.
Here are three ways to muster up the courage to finally jump into your own proverbial dinghy:
First, acknowledge what’s holding you back.
Though you’d like to think the many demands placed upon you, a tough job market, or a tyrannical boss is the reason for this not being the right time to make a move, think again. That procrastination you feel is really cleverly disguised fear. Fear has also been known to masquerade as perfectionism (“I’ll go for that new job once I get my LinkedIn profile just right”), or what I call the “Good Enough” trap, as in, “I’m employed, and my job is good enough for now, so why rock the boat?” When you are aware and upfront about what’s holding you back, you can address—and push past—those fears.
Second, get clear (and realistic) about your expectations.
Any significant career change will require a period of adjustment, particularly if your new reality doesn’t align with your preconceived notions. To smooth the transition, you need to gain clarity around why you want to try something new and what you expect will happen when you do. For instance, though you might aspire to be your company’s CMO, you probably need to make a few leaps from your current role as marketing coordinator before that happens. Mapping out a realistic plan can help you gain clarity and make progress toward a larger goal.
Finally, allow yourself to imagine the worst—and best—thing that could happen when you make the leap.
When venturing outside of your comfort zone, heed the words of one of my good friends and ask yourself: “What’s the worst that could happen?” Chances are the change you’re contemplating isn’t life-threatening, but can feel overwhelming in the moment. Identifying the worst-case scenario will take away some of its power, and give you an opportunity to proactively consider your response. And if that worst case scenario does happen? You’ll be ready for it and can use insights from the experience to make adjustments in your strategy. This will help you continue to move forward, toward your goals.
Conversely, consider the best possible outcome from your actions. What does that look and feel like? Envisioning a best-case scenario can give you the added nudge to go for your dreams and take that professional leap. And remember that sometimes the dinghy only appears after you jump.
Here’s another hard-to-hear truth: You can’t control everything. And you can’t possibly anticipate life’s every nuance. But what you can control is your own action (or inaction). Rather than worry about what will happen if you take that leap, think about the awesomeness you might miss out on if you don’t.