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February 13, 2018 > Getting over your fear of making a mistake

Getting over your fear of making a mistake

By Anne Chan, PhD, MFT

Most of us have probably made lots of mistakes, from the small to the big and every oops in between. I am willing to admit that I?ve made a mistake almost every day of my life. For me, mistakes are common, and I suspect that most of you would say the same.

Yet, we put inordinate pressure on ourselves to avoid make mistakes. I see this frequently in my clients who are seeking a career change but are terrified of making a mistake. ?What if I spend a lot of time and money to change careers and it doesn?t work out?? or, ?What if I make yet another mistake in my career??

I have been in that position and I know what it feels like to fear mistakes. When I was thinking about making a drastic career change, I worried endlessly about making a mistake. I was so afraid of making a mistake that I could not make a decision, even though I was desperately unhappy with my career. As a result, I stayed stuck for a number of awful years.

I might have stayed stuck (and depressed) forever if not for some encouragement that I got from a psychology professor. We were talking about my career woes and he kindly and gently said, ?You?ve got to make mistakes. It?s okay to make mistakes.? Simple advice, but it was exactly what I needed to hear. In fact, it was the most freeing thing anyone ever said to me.

Released from the burden of having to make a mistake-free choice, I submitted my application to graduate school to pursue a degree in counseling. I have been very happily working as a career counselor since I heeded the professor?s words. It?s not been easy, nor has it been mistake-free, but I have found my calling, thanks to my willingness to make a mistake.

If you?re facing a career decision and are afraid of making a mistake, there are several things you can do to help with your decision:

First, do exhaustive research into the career you want. Start online, then venture into talking to people in the field. As far as possible, visit workplaces so you have a clear picture of what the job is really like. See if you can do some job shadowing.

Next, intern or volunteer to get some exposure to the job. Even if you can?t work directly on the job, try to work closely next to someone who is. Let?s say you want to be an architect and you can?t just practice being an architect. You can, however, volunteer to work in an architect?s office so you can get a feel for what an architect?s life is like.

These two steps will help give you a solid sense of what the job entails and will also help you decide if a career change is right for you. Bear in mind that there is no such thing as a perfect job with no downsides. Every job will have several unpleasant aspects that you will dislike. However, the few negatives might be acceptable if the positives are deeply appealing. For instance, I hate to do paperwork but I?m willing to deal with it in order to enjoy the greater benefit of counseling.

Think of mistakes as opportunities for learning. We are conditioned to think of mistakes in a negative way and we kick ourselves for not getting it ?right;? we are down on ourselves when we do something wrong. Mistakes, nonetheless, are part of learning about ourselves and the work world.

Even if you?ve done all the research in the world, you still might find that you made a mistake. If this is the case, tell yourself that you are still learning and figuring things out; that the only way to learn is through trial and error. There may be many mistakes on the way to success!

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