Ph.D., Gregory Berns, is a neuroecomonist. A what?! He studies and decodes the decision-making systems of the human mind. He wrote an excellent article for the NY Times this week on what happens when fear takes over our brains.
Fear has a grip on many workers today. 500K+ jobs were lost in November. We’d be fools not to experience some initial anxiety over what we see in the news. However, Berns says hanging on to fear not a good thing for our careers:
Everyone I know is scared. Workers’ fear has generalized to their workplace and everything associated with work and money. We are caught in a spiral in which we are so scared of losing our jobs, or our savings, that fear overtakes our brains. And while fear is a deep-seated and adaptive evolutionary drive for self-preservation, it makes it impossible to concentrate on anything but saving our skin by getting out of the box in tact.
We’ve all heard the phrase, “paralyzed with fear” – and that’s exactly what’s going on in most workplaces today. Berns’ research shows how all the energy our brains put into worrying saps us from being able to deal with other tasks. Yet, what I found even more interesting is that it also shows that intense fear causes us to value things we own more highly than everyone else does. In short, when the brain senses pain or anticipates loss, it causes us to hold on more tightly to what we have. He explains:
The most concrete thing that neurosciences tell us is that when the fear system of the brain is active, exploratory activity and risk-taking are turned off.
Which means, if you are a fearful employee, then you aren’t doing the things necessary to advance your career because you are too busy trying to hold on to something that is going to change anyways.
It doesn’t matter what field you are in; almost every profession is going to be profoundly affected by the economic events taking place right now. So, if you are sitting around and hoping that you can ‘ride out the storm’ and get things back to the way they were you are going to be waiting forever. It will never be the same. And the sooner you stop being a fearmonger and start being an action taker, the sooner you’ll refocus your brain back to the more productive use of energy that involves looking for career opportunities. Some of the most successful business endeavors have come out of recessionary times. Careers are no different. Great strides can be made professionally in times when resourcefulness, creativity, positive energy and risk-taking are scarce amongst employees. I was lucky enough to experience the power of this first-hand recently…
This past fall, I worked with 9 talented interns from the University of New Hampshire. Faced with the worst entry-level job rate in decades, saddled with college debt, and realizing that college teaches you everything EXCEPT how to get the job, there assignment was to identify the best way to get exceptional career coaching in the hands of their peers. The problem: historically, it costs hundreds of dollars to work with a career strategist one-on-one, which means, the average college kid can’t afford the private coaching they need. In fact, the average American worker can’t afford private coaching, and thus, often gets stuck in a career rut that they’re never able to overcome. Yet, in spite of this, the team identified a way to alter the traditional career coaching services model and replace it with an inexpensive ‘members-only’ private career coaching network that gives job seekers access to career experts at a fraction of the cost of a private session. I honestly believe they wouldn’t have conceptualized this new tool (which is adding new users daily) if we didn’t get together as a team and say, “Okay, the economy stinks but people still need professional one-on-one career help. How can we give it to them?”
So, I challenge you: what can your business-of-one do right now to create new professional opportunities that can advance your career? To help you get into the right mindset, try answering these questions:
- What can you do to reinvent yourself right now?
- What things are available to you now that aren’t in better timse and how can you take advantage of them?
- What assumptions can you throw out the window now that the economy has tanked?
Start to answer these questions and you will start to find some new professional opportunities that could advance your career during this recession. We’re talking about this daily over at the CAREEREALISM Private Career Network, so if you struggle to find the answers, come join us. If we pull together our collective brain power and focus on moving past our fear, we just might shorten the length of this recession.
Now, post your comments below. Share with readers what you are doing to let go of your fear and focusing your energy on ways to advance your career.