The Biggest Barrier To Career Change And What To Do About It

Stuck in a rut, but petrified of taking the big leap? Trapped by a high salary, strong track record or the expectations of family and friends? You know you want out, but every voice around you (including your own) is telling you that you’d be insane to give up what you have? Or that it would be far harder, if not impossible to earn a decent living, or would be too risky to take another path?

We 21st century humans like to think of ourselves as independent-minded, but like it or not, we’re programmed to think and act as herds. We can’t help it – it’s the result of 1000s of years of evolution.  Survival of our species has been predicated on collaboration with other members – we needed to think and act alike.

And this has HUGE implications for career change.  It means that it’s going to feel immensely scary and stressful to contemplate stepping out of our tribe.

But hang on a minute, surely as a highly educated person, trained in critical thinking, I’m no longer constrained by popular thought? I can think, decide and act rationally and freely, without constraint?

I’m sorry, but I’d argue no. 

Groupthink remains an immensely powerful force – whatever your level of education and intellect.

You only have to pick up a newspaper to find examples abound.  When people feel part of a group, an individual’s judgement becomes partially superseded by that of the group, and ways of thinking and behaving become normalised that otherwise would only occur as isolated incidents.

So what does this mean for career transition? It means if you’re a banker doing million-pound deals on a daily basis and surrounded by colleagues who holiday in the Maldives and drive Maseratis, you probably can’t conceive it’s possible to live on less than a six figure salary. It means if you’ve been in a steady job for the last 20 years, with a reliable salary, surrounded a network of other solid salaried employees, you’ll struggle to believe you can make a living as a freelancer who‘s the master of his own destiny. If you work in an accounting firm, surrounded by those who live by facts and figures, you’re likely to perceive a move towards something more creative to be obscenely self-indulgent.

So if groupthink is a basic human trait, what can I do about it?

Firstly, recognise it. Realise a big chunk of the fears and limiting beliefs holding you back may be attributable to norms within the group that you want to leave. Acknowledge that these forces are powerful and will take courage to overcome.

Secondly, build a new tribe with an alternative worldview. Network outside your traditional circles. Find people who’ve successfully come through challenging transitions. Of course this will include networking within the area you aspire to move to – but also seek to widen your span of contacts more generally. Talk (and listen) to people you don’t know at the tennis club, at church, at the school gate… You’ll no doubt have some boring conversations – but you’ll probably have some amusing, energising and inspiring ones too.  Gradually you’ll realise there are many ways of approaching the world of work beyond the narrow view cultivated within your current workplace.

And just sometimes these seemingly random conversations open the door to interesting new opportunities!

If you are serious about overcoming these barriers to change and committed to building a fulfilling and rewarding career, contact us for a free consultation to discuss how we might be able to help.

About the author
Lucy Watson is a Career Guide with Position Ignition as is passionate about helping people identify and achieve their true potential. Prior to training as a coach, she had a demanding career in strategy, both as a consultant and in senior corporate roles. She sees her work as a career guide as bringing together her coaching and strategic skills to help her clients create their ‘whole life’ strategy.  She is by nature an adventurer who loves exploring the outdoors – although her travels are somewhat constrained these days as mum to a boisterous pre-schooler!