When I resigned my job as a magazine editor in chief to become a freelance writer, I was nearly immobilized by fear. For the several months I stayed at my desk while my successor was wooed and hired, I would look around and think to myself, “You chump.” What kind of fool gives up a job like this with an assistant and an expense account and a corporate jet and a car service. Not to mention hobnobbing with the likes of Jamie Lee Curtis, Sigourney Weaver and Meryl Streep.
I had 20/20 vision for the trimmings and trappings that would no longer be mine. The future? That was a much hazier place. I couldn’t foresee some of the wonderful things that would happen in my new, reimagined career: that I would have the ability to schedule my own time – writing at five a.m. one day, knocking off at mid-afternoon another to play Scrabble with a friend – or that I would travel to so many countries on assignment that I’d have to add a new section of pages to my passport.
If you’re contemplating a career change, whether it’s moving to a new job or a whole new field, don’t let the rear view paralyze you. Instead, take a leaf from the cognitive therapists who advise worriers to write down their concerns and leave them on the bedside table before drifting off to sleep at night.
Write down what you’ll miss about your job.
You don’t have to wait for bedtime; this you can do any time of day. Allocate a week to this task – put your list on your smart phone so you’ll always have it with you — adding to it whenever you notice something you’ll miss.
Play tough love with your list.
Okay, you’ve got 14 things. How many of those really matter? Sure, the car service is nice, but really… Shazam, you’ve halved your list to seven.
Mourn or move on?
Now that you’ve performed triage on your list, there are three things you can do with each of the remaining items: you can continue to anguish over them; you can grieve them briefly and let them go; or – if they’re critical – you can figure out how to fit them into your new working world.
For me, the biggest issue was not having a staff to work with anymore. I knew I’d miss the company, the collaboration, the collegiality. Working solo as a freelance writer, I couldn’t replace it completely. But I could replace some of the elements. When I’m feeling lonely at home, I tote my laptop down to the local coffee shop. When I’m feeling the need for collaboration, I call my friend Sarah, also a freelance writer. I can simply confess my fears and frustrations, or together we can figure out a solution to a work problem. I won’t say I never miss the rough and tumble of a magazine staff, but this is a satisfying substitute.
There are remedies for every problem. Sure the solution may not be ideal, but its imperfections pale in the bright shining light of your new job or new career. You just have to open up your brain to consider them. Step one: look forward, not back.
Susan Crandell is the author of Thinking About Tomorrow: Reinventing Yourself at Midlife.