C4: How to get out of your own way


When you have spent many years specialising in a subject, it can start to feel like you can’t work anywhere else or don’t have anything to offer in a different context. You might start to think of many reasons why you can’t change roles or move to a different career.
When we are making important decisions or life changes, our ‘inner critic’ often steps in to try and sabotage our progress and talk us out of doing something challenging. It is likely that you are telling yourself all sorts of things to make you stay where you are.
This will prevent us from making the best decisions, engaging in planning and taking action.
Take a logical approach and do some myth-busting to make sure you don’t get in your own way of making progress. Be careful to separate out opinions and perspectives from what is 100% true.

Case study quotes

My main advice is to think big: there are no limits to what a PhD can prepare you to do, and what matters most is that you are doing work you find fulfilling and that meets your practical needs, not whether or not your advisors approve or your school sees you as a “success.” Let go of the value of martyrdom; you don’t need to take a soul-sucking, barely-minimum-wage-paying contingent teaching job just so you can say you work in academia. Shaking off the chains of the academia-or-bust mentality is critical, and it can be a slow and painful process. It is worth it in the end, and it allows you to think about how to explain your background, skills, and interests to a variety of different audiences. Alisa Harrison, Beyond the Professoriate career stories

Realize that people in academia have a warped and limited view of what constitutes “success.” Academia has been described as a cult, and when you leave a cult, you have to shake off its values and judgments. Only in academia is working four adjunct jobs for less than 10K a year “success” while working a non-academic job that provides personal satisfaction or a living wage “failure.” A profession that exploits people’s fear to staff its positions is not one to which you owe loyalty. Sarah Kendzior, From PhD to Life case study.

I wish I’d known that you don’t have to slog on in a job you know isn’t a good fit; that leaving academia is not a failure; and that I had loads of things to offer an employer other than my knowledge…….. The most important thing I learnt though is this: nobody cares about your career as much as you do. Nobody. Don't put your career in someone else's hands, and remember that it is okay to put your own interests first. Vitae researcher career stories – Lorna Dargan. 

Further resources and reading

General reading for letting go of your inner critic:

  • Dare Greatly – Dr Brene Brown
  • Feel the fear and do it anyway – Dr Susan Jeffers

Back to C: Decide and plan Return to Career Planning Toolkit Map

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