Early Career Professionals Corner: Managing Change in Early Career

Kristen J. Alston, Ph.D.
Kristen J. Alston, Ph.D.

By Kristen J. Alston, Ph.D.

From undergrad, to nervously awaiting grad school acceptance letters, to managing the gut-wrenching anxiety of match day and relocating to a new city to start internship, to gathering your things and traveling across country for postdoc, to finally settling into your first job…change and uncertainty have become a constant in our lives. However, regardless of how often we are faced with change or the unknown in our careers, managing these factors can be difficult and unnerving. Sometimes things change and move so quickly that it can feel as though we are on a rollercoaster and want to get off to stand on solid ground for just a moment, only to find that the ground is moving too. Managing change and uncertainty, as we maneuver throughout our careers, can be particularly challenging as an early career professional. Therefore, here are a few tips that I have found helpful in meeting that challenge!

Tame Your Fear of Success – One of my favorite quotes comes from a passage by Marianne Williamson and states, “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.” Often, we let fear or anxiety about change or the unknown stifle our efforts to push ourselves beyond our comfort level. When we push ourselves to excel, fear can be prominent because we do not know what the next level entails. It may be tempting to stay in our comfort zone because it feels “safe.” However, when we challenge ourselves to go beyond the limits, the fear is temporary and quickly subsides, but the growth and empowerment that results from pursuit of our goals are far more rewarding and enduring and are, in themselves, a success. Therefore, to maximize opportunities for growth it can be helpful to set specific career goals and review and update these goals often. However, in setting goals, be sure to include goals that continue to challenge you and contribute to your growing skill set.

Remembering the Why – We all have one reason or another for deciding to enter into a career as a psychologist, and sometimes it can become easy to lose sight of the driving factors that influenced our career path. Taking a moment to reflect on why we do what we do can help to assuage the apprehension that accompanies change and uncertainty. Staying connected to our purpose is such a powerful tool because our “why” can be our point of stability in a world full of chaos. It is our constant in a sea of uncertainty. For example, if we relocate or switch positions within our department, etc., the reason behind “why” we entered the field of psychology remains the same and continues to be our impetus for pushing ourselves forward.

Utilize Your Support System – Our worlds sometimes move and change so quickly that finding solace in our support system can be very helpful as we cope with our ever-evolving careers. Finding the time to connect with those close to us can help to keep us grounded in the present moment and not become carried away with the change and uncertainty surrounding us. Also, obtaining a good mentor while continuing to build an effective support system can play a vital role. Often, there are others who have traveled a similar career path or overcome some of the very obstacles or uncertainties that we may face, and who are willing to be guiding force.

Acceptance – Whether starting a new project, beginning a new position, or relocating, change can by scary, but it is necessary. Therefore, one of the most valuable tools to manage change is acceptance. In order to progress toward acceptance, it is important that we understand that change is constant and inevitable. Change is an evolving process that will continue to shape our lives, and at times we will experience change and uncertainty in multiple areas of our lives as they intersect.  Also important in progressing toward acceptance is the ability to change the lens through which we view change. Often, we associate change or uncertainty with a negative connotation, but it can be more beneficial to view change as growth, an opportunity for learning, and a vital part of career development, as this allows us to be more accepting of the change process. When we are able to accept that change is inevitable, it enables us to face change and uncertainty in a more productive manner and be successful in doing so.