I meet people stuck in their career who have so much fear of the unknown, they would rather stay in a familiar place that brings deep dissatisfaction than enter into the uncertainty around what to do with their career. But they’re missing out on their dream job as a result.
And that makes sense to me. I remember being there myself. I was deeply unsatisfied in my work at one point (before I became a career coach).
But what I didn’t realize was I was living my life around the “worst case scenario” rather than my “most likely scenario.” That is very poor risk management!
To have the things we want, we need to tolerate some amount of risk. But the right kind of risk. The kind we are familiar with because we have given it serious thought. And because we used an ancient Roman negative visualization exercise.
Um, what about that last part?
Before I was a career counselor and coach, I was unhappy with my job. I wish I knew about this exercise back then.
It’s called "premeditatio malorum" (from Stoic philosophy)—the "premeditation of the evils" that could happen. You imagine things that could go wrong and it helps you prepare for life’s inevitable setbacks, whatever they may be. We don’t always get what we want, and not everything is as predictable as we wish it was. Psychologically, we are best suited to live a good life when we prepare ourselves for setbacks to happen.
The unexpected blows of misfortune fall heaviest and most painfully. But lots of future pain is predictable, too. Anxiety can be a tool and something to productively channel in this exercise.
The premeditation of evils/negative visualization is not pessimistic. It is simply a way to self-confident optimism. It invites you to say,
“I’m ready to face anything that happens. And I’m also ready to do the work necessary now to ensure I don’t waste energy on problems that could have been solved in advance.”
Here’s the exercise:
- Write down what you fear happening if you go after an important goal.
- Next to that make a column for how you can prevent that from happening.
- And next to that write another column on what you can do to mitigate if it does happen.
- Sit back, close your eyes, and visualize the actions you could take to prevent the worst from happening.
- Visualize what you can do to mitigate the worst if it does come to pass.
- Assess if you have enough risk management to carry through and take action towards your goal.
If you are feeling stuck in life, it is time to think about if your fear is keeping you there. You could need a career change or just a slight adjustment, but you won’t know until you start getting real with what is really holding you back.
Career anxiety, career uncertainty, and/or thinking, “I hate my job” are all common challenges workers have these days. If what you are doing on your own is not working, career guidance with a career counselor or career coach is the next step to getting unstuck!