Change is inevitable.

To paraphrase the Greek philosopher, Heraclitus, change is the only thing that doesn’t change. Yet many people resist it, leading to more suffering than is usually necessary. It is the anticipation of ‘what might happen’ that is the cause of our anxiety than the actuality of it.

Anxiety is future focussed. We waste time and energy consumed by events that may (or may not) happen, which we perceive as ‘bad’. It’s the ‘what if’. The unknown.

Change is scary because it’s territory that has not yet been experienced.

In terms of career change, if we didn’t have some sense of fear, then people would be changing jobs without a second thought. In this sense fear protects us; we weigh our options rather than jump the gun. But all too often, fear can take over and turn from protection into inhibition. It’s not the change in and of itself but the experience-not-yet-experienced that is feared. It’s the disturbance of our plans and predictions that throws us.

We are creatures of habit.

We often like things to be just so, keep our safety net neat and tidy and have all our things in order. But with order must come chaos.

In 1977, the chemist Ilya Prigogine – a Russian-born, Belgian national – won the Nobel Peace Prize for his thermodynamic ‘Dissipative Structures Theory’. He demonstrated that rather than chaos and order being opposing forces – being one or the other – they worked in synergy creating a new form of order. In its essence, Prigogine’s theory showed that on any level and within any system (whether that be molecular or global) there must be a disturbance (a form of chaos) of the old to allow for the creation of something new.

In short, in order for things to change and for growth to occur, some form of chaos is necessary.

This concept of disturbance as a necessity for new growth is where we can get stuck. Disturbance is an unknown chaos that we fear we will not be able to handle, or will have no end.

Without any such disturbance in our careers, we stagnate. Obvious examples of disturbance can come in the form of promotion or redundancy. On the surface, it appears that the former is ‘good’ and the latter is ‘bad’. Losing our job unexpectedly can cause chaos in our life, whether in reality due to finances or mentally as our confidence takes a blow and we become consumed with thoughts like, ‘I’ll never find another job’.

However, both promotion and redundancy lead to growth.

Having worked in the States, I have been witness to a process where lay-offs are not uncommon and are carried out with more cut-throat flair than their European counterparts. I can safely say that a promotion does not always lead to a fairy-tale ending and being fired certainly does not mean career catastrophe.

No matter how hard we try to control our environments, our orderly plans, our status quo, there will be points in our lives where things get shaken up, forcing us to look chaos and change hard in the face.

At these chaotic junctions we are faced with hard choices. As Gregg Levoy wrote in his article, Character, Courage and Calling,

“One part of you wants to awaken, one part wants to sleep. One part wants to follow the call, the other wants to run like hell. Courage is joined at the hip with anxiety.”

We are left with the choice to summon up courage or buckle under the pressure of anxiety.

Levoy also makes the analogy of our career being one of the arenas of life (others being relationships, health and so on), in which we spend two-thirds of our waking lives. In Brene Brown’s best-selling book, Daring Greatly, she quotes a passage known as ‘The Man in the Arena’ from Theodore Roosevelt’s most famous speech. It refers to life as a whole being one great arena, an analogy which forms the basis of her inspiring book. An excerpt from the full passage reads:

The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again…if he fails, at least [he] fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”

To be in the arena takes courage. To be in the arena is chaotic and means failing time and again. Failure causes chaos in our lives, makes us question our abilities, decisions and choices. But failure is also a necessary component towards growth. It is unlikely that you will hit the bull’s eye, first time, every time in your career and in life.

It took Thomas Edison hundreds, if not thousands, of failed attempts before he invented the lightbulb. It is written that when asked by a reporter how it felt to fail 1,000 times, Edison replied,

“I didn’t fail 1,000 times. The light bulb was an invention with 1,000 steps.”

He took the ‘chaos’ of each failure as an opportunity for new growth towards his success.

He was in the arena.

But, you don’t need to reinvent the lightbulb. You don’t even need to reinvent you entire career path. It might be that you simply need a shake up of your current situation in order to fall back in love with what you do, or disturb your well-trodden routine in order to make small adjustments to the career you’re currently in.

Whatever change looks like for you, some form of chaos is essential for you to grow and create new order within your career.

If life is feeling chaotic and you’re looking for support around career change and career clarity, get in touch here.


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Hello! I’m Gemma!
I’m a Career Change Coach and I’m here to help you get unstuck, find clarity in your working life and take brave, actionable steps towards fulfilment and purpose through career change.
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