Having a Minor Career Freak Out?

Are you having a week where you’re experiencing a minor freak out about where your career is going or how you’re going to move forward in your career?

It might sound something like this…

I hate my job but I have no idea how to go about finding another job… I don’t even know what I’m truly interested in doing! Plus, it’s been so long since I’ve looked for a job I have no idea how I’d get another job even if I knew what I wanted! But what if I wake up five years from now even more miserable and still in this position?!

Sound familiar? This is CASS: Career Anxiety Spinning Syndrome. No, that’s not a real scientific term; it’s just one I made up years ago after witnessing a few career freak outs.

You’re experiencing CASS when your anxiety and doubt build up, when questions about your future multiply and spin out of control, and you feel frustrated and upset.

So what do you do about it? How can you stop the spinning?

First things first. If you’re finding yourself in mid-CASS attack, you’ve probably had one before. When was the earliest one you can remember? What happened and how did you get to where you are now? Really, think about it.

I’m guessing you found your way out of a previous situation and were able to get back on track, right? Remind yourself that you’ve been stressed and anxious about your career in the past and you’ve gotten through it to bigger and better places. You will again. The answer might not be crystal clear in front of you, and it might not be possible for you to implement a solution immediately, but stay calm and remember nothing is forever.

And in case you feel like you’re all alone, let me tell you everyone freaks out at some point. Anyone who wants their job to mean something, anyone who wants to succeed, and anyone that wants to enjoy what they do in their work will at some point face anxiety and stress about their career path.

Consistently I’ll be on a call with someone who looks 100% put together on the outside and like they have it all figured out. Then I get to know them, they share how they’re really feeling about their career and I am reminded again how everyone experiences CASS.

But beyond knowing it’s normal and you’ve managed it before, here are a few other potentially helpful tips to get yourself back on track and stop the freak out.

Ground Yourself In Why You’re Here

I remember working with a wonderful colleague years ago that I thought was too smart to be in her current position. When I asked her why she stayed and wasn’t looking to move on she had two or three specific things she was waiting to accomplish or experience before leaving. Her mature, rational approach really stuck with me over the years.

So now one of the questions I always ask people about their current work is, “What were the two or three things you wanted to get out of your current job?

There’s something about being able to understand why you’re there and what you’re working towards that can help stop the spinning. If you’re still working on accomplishing certain things, stay calm and remind yourself why you’re there.

Did you want to make it through to a specific event or conference?
Are you waiting for your 401k plan to vest?
Are you going to get to learn something new in a few months that adds to your experience?

If you find yourself having a CASS attack because you’ve got a few options for future employment take a deep breath and ask yourself, “What are the two or three things you want to get out of this next job?

I recently wrapped up working with one woman who had gotten a job offer that seemed like a good fit for her. I asked her to consider the two or three things she’d like to get out of the job. Her response was that it would allow her to 1) make good money to save for her big, personal project she was working on, 2) gain more experience in a specific field and potentially work towards a promotion, and 3) work with coworkers who she enjoyed.

As she progresses with the new position, she’s grounded in why she took the job, and what she’s working towards. When any CASS moments pop up, she can go back to that list and remind herself of her big picture goals. And when she’s no longer getting those three things out of her job, she’ll know it’s time to move on.

Understand The Freak Out

Ask yourself, “Why am I freaking out right now?”

Is it your day-to-day tasks that drive you crazy? Is it the people you’re working with? Is it the culture of the company or team you work with? Did something happen today that particularly set you off?

If you can break apart the stress and frustration to understand what’s underneath it you may be able to curb its effects on you and potentially even figure out the right solution.

A large part of understanding your anxiety is understanding yourself. A recent Harvard Business Review article noted a study of 150+ leaders that showed that the more self-awareness they have, the more resilient they are in their career and day-to-day work. “The most resilient leaders know themselves well – their strengths, their triggers, and their convictions.”

Are you stressing because you feel insecure? Do you feel like you’re failing? Are you worried about your image? Is the stress of a conflict-heavy work environment causing you to feel exhausted and overwhelmed by the idea of tackling a job search? Did a coworker say something that piled on more negative thoughts?

Dig deeper and understand the specifics of why you’re experiencing CASS. Once you do, there are lots of strategies to push out negative thoughts or actions. Your ability to grow professionally is linked to the development of your self-awareness; the more strategies you come up with to understand yourself and your reactions, the better off you’ll be in navigating your career and thwarting future CASS episodes.

Channel It Into Action

If you’re in mid-CASS episode, you know that it comes with a ramp up in physical and mental energy. (It often ends with a crash and exhaustion.)

While you’re in the energetic phase put on some running shoes, hit the pavement (or the gym), and dedicate some brain space to think through your next steps.

My go-to suggestion for people wanting to channel fear or worry into something positive is to just get started. But that doesn’t mean you start sending out job applications! High anxiety times are not good times to start networking or applying for jobs.

But consider putting a two-hour block on the calendar in the next few days to get to work on your career in whatever stage you’re in. Maybe it’s updating your LinkedIn profile or resume. You could look into networking groups near you and put a few events on your calendar in the next month. Or event grab some friends for dinner who know you well and might offer some good advice. Put a workshop on the calendar, or reach out to a few career coaches to look into your options to help you tackle what’s next.

Whatever you think might help – get your butt in gear and start with a few action items. Mark them on your calendar and start a to-do list. Even if it feels overwhelming, remember each step you take is progress.

Got other suggestions for ways to tame career anxiety, worry, fear or frustration? Leave 'em in the comments below!