Returning To Work After A Career Break?

We all have dreams. Some of us are living their dreams and enjoying work to the fullest.Others are grubbing for money in jobs we detest.

So what stops us? 

I’ll never forget the despair on the face of one of my first career clients. Bob, a rapidly-rising insurance executive, had decided to leave insurance and move into the nonprofit world. His excitement was contagious as he talked about his plans--until the day he sat in my office, sadly staring at the floor. Slowly, he looked up and said, “Do you think I'm just some big loser? Maybe I should just stay put and forget all this."

I was shocked. What had happened that this man (of all people) was thinking he was a loser? 

Fear. Fear cripples and destroys dreams.

We can tolerate misery!

Is anything as frightening as change? It threatens our comfortable world and brings out our latent fears. It doesn’t matter if our comfortable world is a miserable place. We know misery! We can tolerate misery! Change and the unknown, on the other hand, are terrifying.

When we feel this fear, it's easy to justify not pursuing the calling of our hearts. We tell ourselves we would go after our dreams at full speed—if only. If only we were smarter, better looking, richer, younger (or older), or more skilled, or if the world were different.

But life is immediate. It is here and now. There's no second chance. 

If we wait for things to be different, we're just fooling ourselves. Instead of gaining what we lack, we squander what we have.

When fear paralyzes you, remember you are not alone in these feelings. Fear and failure guard the road to success. The biographies of successful people show that when they dared to develop their greatness, they had to wrestle with both--and move past them.

Georgia O'Keefe hid her paintings in her basement, fearing she would be ridiculed. She became one of America’s most beloved artists.

When Martin Luther King helped organize a community meeting to launch the Montgomery bus boycott, he was terrified that no one would show up—just like everyone else who has ever tried to organize such a meeting.

Even Moses cowered when God told him to liberate the Hebrews from the Egyptians. Moses protested repeatedly. "They won't listen to me! Send someone else! I’m not a good speaker--never have been! Oy!"

God finally grew tired of his kvetching. He told Moses, “Take along your brother, if you must. He is a good speaker. But get going!”

OK, but let’s be realistic. Fear can be useful. It sometimes protects us from harm. You could fail. Fear keeps us from leaping off buildings or vaulting over buses on a motorcycle like daredevil Evel Knievel. 

How do you know when you should move forward?

First, you must have a workable plan. 

Have you thought through the market forces? Are you knowledgeable/skilled enough to make the change? Do you need to fortify your skill set? Getting objective feedback is often essential. We are often terrible judges of our own capabilities.

Second, you need support. 

This might be a partner with comparable skills, a coach, family or friends who believe in you. 

Third, are you committed? 

The going could be hard. Pursuing great dreams is not for the faint of heart. Are you willing to confront fear and failure, again and again, for as long as it takes?

Eleanor Roosevelt, perhaps the most active and accomplished first lady ever, said, "You gain strength, courage, and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You are able to say to yourself, ‘I lived through this horror. I can take the next thing that comes along. You must do the thing you think you cannot do."

Refusing to attempt that "thing you think you cannot do" can mean the death of your spirit. It can mean going through life merely tolerating your existence, never demanding the best of yourself. It can mean dying without having risked, or failed, or succeeded.

The movie, "The Wizard of Oz" teaches us an important lesson. The scarecrow thought he wasn't smart enough. The cowardly lion was convinced he wasn't brave enough. The tin man knew he lacked love and feeling. They all went off to see the Wizard to get fixed. But the Wizard of Oz gave them nothing they didn't already have. It was in the trials of their journey that they discovered the strengths that were inside them all along.

By the way, I’m happy to report that Bob moved through his fears and made a move that really works for him. 

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