Big Career Change? What’s the worst thing that could REALLY happen?

by Lydia Johnson, M.S. (Certified Holistic Career Coach)

One of my signature strengths is my creativity.

It’s a superpower that shows up in everything from my artistic hobbies to navigating my own big career change to empowering my clients to solve their big career problems.

Unfortunately, our greatest strengths are nearly always also our greatest weaknesses…

This means I am also very good at coming up with reality-bending answers to that dreadful question:

What’s the worst that can happen? ?????

i love you text on pink and white polka dot background
Photo by Tonik on Unsplash

Historically, I’ve hated that question.

Until now… because I realized I was doing it wrong.

This question is not a creativity test.

You do not have to spin novel-worthy tales of woe and hardship.

So let me reword it for you…

What’s the worst thing that can REALISTCALLY happen?

As Emily Oster taught me: It’s best not to spend our mental energy on bad but very unlikely things. This is also the best parenting advice I’ve ever read.

You know that terrifying thing you’re thinking about?

Switching careers, taking a career break, telling your boss you must cut your workload in half to survive, starting your own business…

What’s the worst thing that can happen if you do it?

The propensity for us to spiral into fantasy tales of woe when we answer this question is what psychologists call catastrophizing.

Catastrophizing is a lie that your brain tells you to try to keep you safe… because your brain is hardwired to keep you safe, not happy.

Instead, train yourself to ask: what is the worst realistic outcome of making that big decision (like a career change)?

Let’s say that you dial back your effort at your job because you can’t continue to stay this stressed and overwhelmed. What’s the worst that will realistically happen?

Maybe you get an average rating instead of an exceeds expectations… Yeah, you’ll have to do some mental gymnastics to separate your sense of identity and self-worth from your career success. But after you do, you realize an average rating is utterly worth enjoying the rest of your life and having good mental health again.

(Pst; My holistic career coaching can help you make this identity shift with your career or navigate a larger career change with ease.)

Okay, but what if you get a BAD performance rating and your boss gives you a “talking too”? [Cue quiet horror music] 

Well, then, you have several good options.

You could better prioritize the work your boss cares about without increasing your overall efforts, thus increasing your perceived performance. You could get a new job that is more sustainable. You could ramp back up your efforts after having enjoyed a respite. AKA, the worst case is you get a better job or go back to where you were in the first place.

What, did you think you would get fired because you reduced your effort?

If you work for a large company, chances are your boss has to have a well-documented record of poor performance before they say goodbye to you. AKA, you’ll have ample warning to turn the ship around. Honestly, your boss is probably too busy to notice that you downgraded your effort from 120% to the 80% nearly everyone else in the company is already giving. 

But let’s entertain your fictional series of unfortunate events and say you get fired… what’s the worst realistic outcome?

Well, congrats, you’d join the club of 40% of people who have been laid off or terminated from a job at some point in their lifetime.

Yes, it’ll be stressful and a blow to your ego. Yes, you may need to take a hard look at your budget (hence the emergency fund, right?) and stop avoiding improving your LinkedIn profile (pst; here’s a handy guide).

But there’s good news.

You’ll probably be in the 70% of people who land a new job within three months (data from 2022).

Your new job might be even better than your current one– a 10-year study found that 91% of executives who had been fired landed a job of similar or greater levels of seniority and pay.

And let’s be honest… If you’re reading this newsletter, chances are you’re incredibly privileged, resourced, educated, and able to bounce back from a minor career setback.

Please: Don’t make the mistakes I made during my career change.

Focusing on the unlikely worst-case scenario kept me in decision paralysis and general dismay about my own career change: quitting my steady corporate job to pursue launching my career coaching business. 

I was so wrapped up in false mental narratives I was petrified to make the leap.

Finally (after much coaching, therapy, and self-reflection), I reframed…

What if I fail? 

To ➡️What if it works out, and I enjoy a more balanced and fulfilling career that truly impacts people’s lives?

What if I can’t make it financially viable?

To ➡️ Worst case scenario, I enjoy the entrepreneurship journey while it lasts. I can always return to a corporate job, likely with a salary increase, by leveraging my expanded network and new skills and experiences.

What if it’s too exhausting?

To ➡️What if I trusted future-me to make decisions prioritizing my mental health and well-being? What if I embrace slow and balanced entrepreneurship because I value my life and health even more than my career?

What if people think this is a bad idea?

To ➡️ Those I care about also care about me; they’ll be my support system through this move. Everyone else? Who cares! You can’t be everybody’s cup of tea. 

Look, friends…

There is some terrible stuff that can happen in this world (I absolutely acknowledge that many truly terrible things are happening right now).

But the odds are in your favor.

Chances are you will live an average life with average woes that the average person will survive and eventually find average-but-good-enough levels of happiness and peace again.

Yes, sometimes, brutally, terrible, unavoidable things happen, and we can’t do anything about it.

But if we can’t do anything about it, do you really want to live your life always assuming these unlikely terrible things will happen to you?

At risk of being way too existential for a career-focused blog, as John Irving says in my favorite novel, The Hotel New Hampshire… “There are no such things as happy endings.”

You’re not leaving here alive… but our hardships don’t have to devalue (or prevent!) the beautiful experiences we can have between them.

So, in light of that heavy subject…

Is getting an average performance review or pivoting your career in exchange for enjoying your brief 40,000 weeks on earth REALLY THAT BAD?!

This is your official permission slip to be less creative when answering the “what’s the worst case” question… because chances are your worst outcome is still some people’s best outcome. Your worst-case outcome may even be past-you’s best outcome!

Next time you’re in a quandary, you ask yourself an entirely different question…

What’s the best thing that could happen?

Stuck in analysis paralysis about a big career decision? Look, I get it. Like I said, I’ve been there myself! If you’ve been tossing around the same options (or lack of options!) and aren’t making any progress it might be time to call in some back up. Let’s chat: That’s exactly what career coaching is for my friend. 

Celebrating Someone Who Really Did The Super-Scary Career Change Thing

After working together for six months, one of my clients just graduated from my Thriving At Work program.

When we started, she was incredibly burnt out and stuck in a role that she knew was a terrible fit… but she was too paralyzed and unsure to make a change.

Fast forward to today… ????

SHE QUIT HER JOB to go on her bucket-list road trip with her spouse and pivot her career into a new field when she returns!

? WHOOT! ?

She also…

? Decreased her stress by 20% and improved her life fulfillment by 20%
⚒ Has a new suite of tools and resources she’ll “use for years to come”
? Feels “significantly more fulfilled in life overall because of the work we’ve done for work to take up less space, energy, and mental bandwidth.”

I talked to her right after she turned in her notice, and she was basically on cloud nine; just SO excited for what was to come, which was an incredible juxtaposition to her exhaustion and dread on our first call.

This happens in real life.

People do the scary thing.

And they live to tell the happy tale.

Pst; Her graduation has freed up a spot on my calendar! If you (or someone you know!) would like to enjoy some of the same wins she did, check out my website to learn more about my 6-month holistic career coaching program and sign up for a free 30-minute consult call to get a customized plan for you and your goals.

Apply it IRL: Your Homework.

Step One: Create a list of realistic worst-case outcomes of the situation you’re worried about.

Step Two: Now, sit with them. Stew on it. Trash around in your existential angst…

Step Three: Come out the other side, realizing that chances are you’ll be just fine.

Step Four: Make a game plan, newly grounded in reality, to mitigate the bad outcomes and maximize the chances of the good ones.

Step Five: Write down your thought processes or record a voice memo to pull future you who has fallen back into horror-fiction-writing mode into this not-so-bad reality.

Step Six: Go do the still-kinda-scary-but-still-worth-it thing.

Step Seven: Share this with someone who will benefit (JK, you don’t have to. But I’d sure appreciate it if you did!)

Need Personalized Support for Your Career Change?

That’s what I’m here for!

I’m Lydia Johnson, MS; a Dual-certified holistic career coach with a vendetta against burnout and career dissatisfaction. I offer private holistic career coaching to help ultra-busy professionals design a fulfilling, burnout-free career. If you need more time and energy to do what you love and LESS work in your life, let’s chat! I offer a free 30-minute consult call for anyone who is interested in discussing how career coaching can help them with their career.

?Hi, I'm Lydia Johnson, MS

?Hi, I'm Lydia Johnson, MS

Holistic Career Coach & Founder of ThriveCulture Coaching

I’m a dual-certified career coach and Industrial-Organizational Psychology consultant on a mission to banish Sunday Scaries and help you reclaim your life from work stress. I specialize in helping ultra-busy people design a fulfilling and burnout-free career that leaves more space for the rest of your life. Whether you need to overhaul everything, find a new job, or make your current role work better for you, I’m here to help.

You can learn more about my holistic and evidence-based approach on my website or jump on the phone for a FREE 20-minute consult call to learn more about how career coaching can help you finally enjoy a fulfilling, burnout-free career.


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