Go on, what are you afraid of?

One of the worst things about chronic depression isn’t just that you’re sad all the time, although that’s not one of its high points, it’s that your brain works to keep you that way. Ask any chronically depressed person about negative self-talk. It’s your brain taking the things you hate about yourself (and also, strangely, stupid things you said 30 years ago in a conversation the other person has likely forgotten) and magnifying them, then throwing them at you with darts. Eventually you’re prickly like a hedgehog with negative talk and you roll into a ball and stop trying to fight back.

One of the best ways I’ve found for overcoming that negative self-talk is to take the harmful words out of my head and write them down on paper. The first time I did that I looked at the paper and cried at the nasty things I said to myself. And then they lost their power. Astonishingly quickly.

So working from the theory that giving the nasty thing air removes its sting, let’s talk about fear — specifically, what fear is keeping you from looking for a new job if you don’t like the one you have; or better yet, if you don’t like what you’re doing, what fear is keeping you from switching careers?

For the record, I have four brothers so I don’t tend to make my fears public — I’ve had them thrown in my face too many times. And I don’t expect you to tell all your friends (or your big brothers) either. But when you have a quiet moment, get a pen and a paper and write down what you’re afraid of. Be brutally honest with yourself or it won’t work.

A typical fear for women especially is that they’re not good enough. A lot has been written over the years about the difference between the way men and women apply for jobs — men will apply even if they have 25 per cent or less of the required skills. A guy who’s well-known as a first-rate speechwriter told me that he’d never written a speech when he presented himself to a newly elected prime minister as a speechwriter — and got hired. He had a decent background as a journalist, but no proven skills at the job he applied for. A woman would never do that. Or most women wouldn’t, they have to have 80 per cent of the qualifications or better before they’ll apply and even then they’ll dither and moan about it. Google “imposter syndrome” for more information. So you’re not alone if you think you’re not good enough, but chances are good that you, in fact, are good enough.

Another perfectly standard fear is that they won’t like you. And that’s a valid fear, nobody’s hiring any more for straight skills, “cultural fit” is also important these days. No one wants to waste time and energy on-boarding someone who’s going to jump ship because they don’t like the atmosphere. And then there’s the worry that you might be aging out of the job market, especially if you’re anywhere near 50, and extra-especially if you’re older than 50. Ageism is something that you have to be aware of. When it comes to changing careers, the need for more education is often an obstacle, as is money.

In short, there are many things to be afraid of. Write them all down. Think about them. Let them lose a bit of their sting. And then start fighting back. Why are you afraid you’re not good enough? What do you do well? Write that down. Even if you think you’re a complete loser there’s something you do well and you know it. Admit it to yourself, there, in private. The day I admitted to myself that I might not be the world’s worst writer, I gained 10 pounds of self-esteem. I don’t brag about it, I don’t always believe it when other people tell me they think I’m good at it, but deep inside I know that I’m not bad. It’s a candle in a dark room sometimes.

Now, what else do you do well? Write those things down too. Create your little nugget of gold, “these things I know.”

And now start listing things you need to do in order to find a better job, but don’t do as well. And start thinking about how to cross them off your list. Can you take a course? Can you ask for advice from someone who does it well? Taking positive steps for yourself can be a huge boost to your self-esteem and overall mood.

And then make another list of the things that make you happy. Study that list to find patterns and possibilities. Do any of those things look like a job? What if you looked at them sideways? Do some research, talk to career counsellors. I know I’m guilty sometimes of  having a limited imagination when it comes to jobs — I simply can’t imagine that a job might exist, or that there might be a market for it. And then someone goes and does it and … whaddya know?

The moral of the story is: Face your fear to remove its power. Write it down. Then write down your counter-argument. Create a roadmap around — or through — your perceived obstacles. On a professional level at the very least, figure out what you’re good at, what you have enough confidence in to sell to an employer. But spend some time also figuring out what you’d like to do if you weren’t doing this, whatever “this” is. Gaze deep into your navel. The answer might surprise you.