How I cleared my career “brain fog”:
Have you ever had these thoughts?
“Something isn’t right but I can’t put my finger on it”
“I know things have to change/I need to do something but I don’t know what to do”
I’ve been there and done that. It still happens to me, although less often than before.
I remember the first time I started contemplating the possibility that my career track wasn’t right for me anymore.
It was three years ago, I’d finished my PhD funded as a full Clinical post through the Wellcome Trust and had my junior doctor (Specialist Registrar) post in Public Health waiting for me. Many career options were available: academia, government, think tank, intergovernmental (WHO), etc.
Prior to this, I’d always charted a course well in advance, ticked all the boxes, cleared professional exams and connected with all the right people.
I was a doctor and emerging public health specialist with a pretty good brain, a brimful of passion and doing all the right jobs to get to the top of the ladder and make a difference.
It was pretty scary to entertain the thought that I might start another career and reproduce that level of success.
“What if I fail? What if people think I’m ridiculous? Who would take me seriously?”
I wasn’t sure I could take the pressure to succeed in a new field starting again from scratch.
And that led to a lot of brain fog…
REFRAMING THE STORY
If you have brain fog it’s usually because you’re facing a decision that involves some pain.
It was painful for me to think of letting go of a career I’d spent two decades building. It was painful to think that I would be at entry level in a new profession. If it went wrong, could I ever recover from the regret?
The fact is that failure was a definite possibility.
But fear (and more specifically fear of experiencing pain) makes things all seem much worse than they are when you’re starting a new journey.
This is especially true when you’re thinking of getting out of your comfort zone.
What’s more, getting out of your comfort zone as well as going against the grain is sure to trigger all your defence mechanisms and cloud your judgment, making it seem like whatever decision you make is wrong. It’s best to just stay where you are.
Even frustration and confusion are better than taking a risk. At least, you can’t fail there, since you didn’t try…
If you’ve never made a huge career leap before, no matter how much you dream of pursuing a career (or even a passion project on the side of your day job), self-doubt is going to creep in and fog things up.
To deal with these fears and clear the fog, I had to understand how the game was set up.
I had to understand that doing something as self-affirming as taking a career leap rather than sticking to something safe that was culturally and socially sanctioned (in my world at the time) was going to make my fears of rejection and abandonment rear their ugly heads.
I began to see that changing career direction was like leaving the safety of the tribe I knew to explore new land and that my brain was wired to associate that with the possibility of a very painful death at the hand of wild beasts.
I realised that in doing something like this, I had to control my fears and get comfortable with uncertainty, rejection and the possibility of failure.
I started seeing myself as an explorer-pioneer on an adventure with an uncertain outcome. I began to see that courage was required in this and that with every step forward came greater strength, resilience and experience. I also made a commitment to use the process as a learning exercise to get to know myself better.
Of course, I still cared about succeeding in my endeavours, and I wanted to excel at whatever I ended up doing, but I didn’t allow those goals to paralyse me.
This reframing of the story helped me to get on with things, explore various opportunities and have a great time in the process. I knew that the only way to fail was to hide and that I was more likely to find what I was looking for by getting out in the world, taking calculated risks, learning and keep moving forward.
CAREERS ARE CREATED NOT GIVEN
Brain fog is a form of fear that keeps us in our comfort zone
Since that career brain fog phase, I went on to work in global health (becoming one of the rare NHS Consultants in International Public Health for a while) and eventually set up my own coaching practice which I absolutely love.
I still don’t know whether this is the final story of my career. I suspect it isn’t!..
What I’ve learned is that great reward comes with great risk. But that forging a path ahead into the unknown also gives a feeling of aliveness. Some might argue it’s the only way to live, since we are all unique…Overcoming the fears that come up along the way and taking small steps forward clears the fog to reveal the next bit of the story.
I learned that we can’t always wait for the fog to clear to take action.
I also learned that more often than not, if you have a deep yearning to do something, there are people and organisations out there who need what you have to offer.
As a result, I believe that our safety and security comes first from within. Your ability to self-manage fears and work with your creativity to conjure up opportunities and solutions is your entry ticket to the game of life and building a career you love (as well as the key to dispelling brain fog!)
Having worked over the past year with many super-achievers trying to figure out their next steps in their career, I’ve noticed two common big fears regularly come up:
Type 1: Fear of letting go of the achievements, the approval, the family expectations, the life style and so on gained so far. A lot of guilt can come in, here, linked to a sense of ingratitude for the sacrifices made by the previous generation to enable us to succeed..
Type 2: Fear of reconnecting with long lost dreams. Even after we’ve let go, it can be hard to manage the cocktail of feelings that can come up to get back in the game and try new things. It can be frightening to reconnect with interests and passion that have been buried for a long time. This can even bring up grief at having lived without them for so long.
The bitter-sweet thing is that these people have a lot to offer outside their traditional career path, even if they don’t believe it.
People dominated by the first type of fear allow the need for security and safety cloud the obvious. They’ll tend to look all over for an answer thinking that it’s out there somewhere to be found if they could just speak to the right person or read the right book.
People dominated by the second type of fear tend to feel like they have no motivation or passion. They feel lost and like their dreams are out of reach or just non-existent. They might procrastinate about taking steps forward and ignore opportunities that are presented to them because they don’t recognise them as such.
I’ve made it my job as an independent transformational coach and consultant to support these highly talented professionals who want to make a difference in the world through careers that make them come alive. I help them to clear brain fog by understanding and managing their fears; and reconnecting with their values and deepest aspirations to create a career and life they love.
WHAT DO YOU HAVE TO LOSE?
If you’re in brain fog about your career, I suggest you ask yourself this one question:
What would help you feel better about your current career situation right now? (e.g. take a break; drop a project; take up a project that inspires you; have a conversation with your boss about cutting back on overtime, etc)
You may need to cut out noise (news, social media, gossip, any negative or strong influences) and create space for relaxation so you can hear the voice that serves your true interests (I’m assuming that if you’re reading this you’re a professional who knows how to be of service but not necessarily how to look after your own interests).
If you’re trying to get out of brain fog and move towards a work life that lets your soul sing, it’s crucial that you are able to answer this question.
Don’t worry about having the full answer to what you’re going to do with your career. If you’re taking a leap of any kind, you tend to work things out as you step into the unknown. Remember birds don’t know how to fly when they leap out of the nest…
ARE YOU IN BRAIN FOG?
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Until next week,