When presented with important career choices, lawyers employ decision criteria to help them reach conclusions and make decisions. For some, these criteria are the product of careful thought, self-analysis, logic…and reason. For others, it’s a subconscious process where feelings and emotions drive the verdict. And yet for another constituency, the path to yes or no is often the product of both head and heart. Regardless of which framework is in play, one of the most common emotions that creep into a decision making process is…Fear.
When confronting key career decisions, fear is an emotion that often rears its ugly head in varying degrees with varying impact. And it almost always steers a professional in the wrong direction. At its worst, it can be paralyzing, debilitating, instill panic and cloud judgment. Yet so many professionals fall prey to its influence-and compromise their career satisfaction.
It isn’t common for lawyers to do…or want to do a deep dive on fears behind the decision-making scenes. But in order to manage a career successfully in today’s legal market, a lawyer must wade through these waters. Trying to prevent feelings of fear altogether isn’t a reasonable objective or goal. It’s what a professional does with those feelings–and how s/he manages them that are important. So what’s the secret sauce?
There is no magic formula or perfect answer to solve all fear-based issues that arise when a professional faces important career decisions. But there is an approach that can help mitigate fear and place it in its proper perspective so the best-informed decision can be made. This approach involves…the Worst Case Scenario: Playing out your worst fears and assessing the potential outcomes–rationally and logically.
The exercise begins by identifying your fears associated with your current career decision. A few common fears include:
• The company/law firm will struggle/fail
• I will fail
• My marketability will suffer if the I/company/law firm fails
• My colleagues will perceive me negatively if I fail
• I won’t be able to handle the workload and I will be viewed as incompetent
• I will be viewed as difficult or greedy if I ask for a raise
• If I’m not outgoing, my colleagues will think I’m unfriendly & I won’t succeed
• I’ll get laid off
• I’ll get fired
• I won’t make partner
• I won’t have security
• If my job doesn’t work out, I’ll be unemployed and won’t be able to find a job.
• Unemployment will taint my career.
• If I make “this choice”, it will kill future opportunities
• If I don’t like my new job, I will be stuck
• If I don’t get promoted, I’ll embarrass myself and my family
• If I don’t make enough money, I won’t be able to pay my expenses.
And the list goes on…and on.
After you’ve identified the fears, play out the Worst Case Scenario. So what if the company/firm fails? You fail? Get laid off? Don’t like your job? Don’t make enough money? Get shut down when asking for a raise? etc.
What are the consequences-in the context of the current market and your personal situation? How do you manage them? What are your options? What are possible solutions? How would you execute? Does this experience still benefit your happiness/career regardless of outcome? If so, how? Walk through the situation step by step covering the different angles. In order to do so effectively, you’ll need market and personal data. Some you’ll have, some you won’t. To fill in the blanks, tap experts, colleagues, and friends-and assess your personal situation: finances, values etc.
By exploring the Worst Case Scenario, a professional will better understand the context of his/her fear and will gain rational insight to either support concerns about a career choice or overcome them. So it’s an invaluable exercise that will increase the likelihood of a right result. And there aren’t many scenarios better than that.