By Kerry Sulkowicz, M.D.
In part because of my husband's work relocation, I'm entering a new industry. I'm bringing the same skills (in marketing) that made me a success in my previous 10-year career, but I'm having a hard time landing a job and I can't seem to stop worrying. I'm up half the night, thinking that I won't stack up against the competition—or that when I do get a job I won't be successful. The list of anxieties grows as my confidence falters. How can I get control over feeling that I have no control? How can I cope with the uncertainty that comes with embarking on a new career path? — Anonymous, New York
I'M NOT CONVINCEDthat it's simply the new career path that's keeping you up at night, stressful as that challenge can be. There may be more going on deeper down, and I'd like to help you address both levels.
Your first task is to turn your marketing skills on yourself when thinking about applying your talents to the new industry. Remember that marketers who have been successful (like you) can typically promote just about anything. They just have to get up to speed about their products and their customers.
You're not starting from scratch, in other words. In fact, you'll undoubtedly bring valuable perspectives from your previous career into whatever new field you choose.
To be sure, it's normal for your self-esteem to take a hit as you try to break into a new area: You're accustomed to success, after all, not to uncertainty or rejection. It will pay to remind yourself that you can't be a success right away (so don't demand that of yourself) and that this period of relative demotion won't last forever.
AT THE SAME TIME, you might want to consider whether your feelings of loss of control also stem from the degree to which your professional fate depends on your husband's work assignments. This can cause understandable anger—a resentment you may be struggling to suppress, perhaps because your mate had no control over the move he had to make. It's precisely this internal conflict that makes you try to disavow your feelings. And when such emotions go underground, they can reappear in the form of severe anxiety or other behavioral symptoms. Find a way to express your feelings about the move without making your husband feel guilty about the relocation. Getting that on the table may provide just the relief you need as you dive headfirst into your job search.
If you approach your worries as nothing more than a career transition problem, you'll miss these underlying issues. And chances are, that will only intensify your anxiety, making an already challenging transition even more difficult.
Kerry J. Sulkowicz, M.D., a psychoanalyst and founder of the Boswell Group, advises executives on psychological aspects of business. Send him questions at firstname.lastname@example.org