Your Career Panic Button
I’ve several attributes that I am not particularly proud of. I have a fondness for a cold Mountain Dew. I can easily watch 10 straight hours of The Gilmore Girls or college basketball. And I am as much a sucker as the next person when it comes to clickbait articles.
Case in point was clicking on this: “Kyra Sedgwick says she isn’t invited back to Tom Cruise’s house.”
I was, indeed, baited. What I learned was that she found and pushed a nondescript object that turned out to be a Panic Button, and that it set off an unfortunate chain of events. To begin with, I pondered what on earth Tom Cruise might have to panic about. Okay. I guess occasionally he might have an unwanted intruder.
Then the concept of having a panic button...began to interest me. Being a career coach™, my mind wandered towards job-related issues. Namely, what if we had a Panic Button that could help us during a professional transition?
When we look for work, which intruders are in our head?
You may well be your own unwanted intruder. I have lost track during thousands of coaching conversations of how many times people bring up their own worst enemies. Their limiting beliefs.
That’s when I have to yell, “THERE IS AN INTRUDER IN YOUR PSYCHOLOGICAL JOB SEARCH BASEMENT.” OK, I only think that. But in the movie version of my coaching sessions, I would yell it.
If it is not you intruding on your own career success, then it could be your family. Or your friends. Statistically, we are most likely to be murdered by someone we know or to whom we are related. And the same goes for our career prospects. Consider that for a moment. And what about our old bosses? The ghosts of negative comments tend to haunt us for a long time.
That is right, job seeker. It is...panic time.
What are the intruders saying?
Before they murder your career prospects, most intruders mutter a few nasty things as they relish the moment. Here are a few snippets gathered from conversations I have had with people quoting their psychological intruders, over the years.
“You are not ever going to be happy.”
“You are not good enough to get work you love.”
“Work is just for money. Suck it up.”
“We never expected you to be successful compared to your vastly more talented sibling.”
“I don’t see you in a leadership role.”
“Someone with your background can’t ________”
“You were never a high performer. I always thought of you as kind of, well...I never really thought of you. At all. Wait, what’s your name again?”
And so on. Shudder.
What are the common reactions to intruders like this?
When you’ve got an intruder in your job-seeking psychological basement, muttering, it can be scary. And there are some common reactions.
- You might get depressed or anxious. You focus on self-destructive feelings rather than address the intruder’s presence, and it costs your well-being.
- You might ignore the intruders, hoping they will go away. Spoiler alert. They don’t.
- Or you might get busy, hoping that if you work frantically, it will override the feelings.
Anyway. These are all understandable reactions, and while I am not a therapist, I am often struck by the difficulty many people experience when it comes to addressing their limiting beliefs during a job search. And there is tremendous value in meditation and visualization as practices that can help quiet the worst of this.
I have found that it is not until the intruders cause a sense of panic—or at the very least, when you can be more mindful of their potentially murderous intent—that you can install a psychological Panic Button and address the danger at hand.
Understanding Your Panic Button
It is time to call in your experts. People who know you, and whom you trust. People who have your best interests at heart, sufficient perspective on you and your professional experiences, and where baggage does not prevent you from hearing them.
Ask yourself, now: Who are your experts? And: How do you engage them quickly?
Let’s say you just got fired. After your romantic partner, AA sponsor, and therapist, assuming you have such people in your life, then who is your next phone call? Create a list of who you can call in a panic who will be able to counter your intrusive beliefs with evidence-based positive and calming thoughts about your positive career prospects.
When you call them be prepared to share what triggered the negative thoughts and what you are now thinking. Then listen. And believe them.
So often I think many people consider job seeking as a lonely activity consigned to browsing online for jobs after a particularly frustrating meeting. But in truth, your career success is a long-term, team activity. And you will need a Panic Button occasionally.
You might also benefit from talking to a professional career coach. Cough cough. But it is just as likely that you will benefit from talking to one of half a dozen people you can trust. Let us write that list, together, now, and you can fold it up and put it in your wallet for the next time the negative thoughts intrude.
—Russ Finkelstein is the opposite of your High School Guidance Counselor. A career coach, social entrepreneur, and advisor to founders, he is currently the Director of Coaching with the Roddenberry Fellowship, Coach-in-Residence with StartingBloc Fellowship, and a Co-Founder of Title8 a Legal Marketplace. He was a founder of the noted careers website Idealist.org and his new book, "Let's Sort Out Your Career Mess, Together..." is forthcoming in 2021.