“Yesterday was my birthday. So completely has a whole year passed, with scarcely the fruits of a month. – O Sorrow and Shame…I have done nothing.”
Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s words open a New Yorker article wondering why writers stop writing, one that I came across because I was wondering what was blocking my blogging (I could have been introspective, but surely Google has all of the answers?). The poets, novelists, Nobel and Pulitzer prize winners in the New Yorker article suffered profound and life-changing writer’s block. A fascinating, enlightening article – a valuable contribution to my writing avoidance strategy – but it didn’t get me much further ahead. Self-reflection it is, then. So, I ask myself…
What blocks me (us) from doing things – be it writing (or career planning)?
1. Procrastination – The causes of procrastination are many and complex and in Are you putting off dealing with procrastination? I looked at causes and ways to tackle career planning procrastination.
2. Fear of failure – All of us fail – probably more frequently than we are successful. Even the best baseball players – the highest paid, most sought after batters – fail around two-thirds of the time. Fear is a natural (and good feeling) – but not immobilising fear. Immobilising fear may prevent us from engaging in the sorts of activities that help ours careers – we avoid trying novel situations and challenges, we procrastinate, we self-sabotage – “I’m not good enough.” – until we actually believe it, we don’t attempt to do something until we can do it perfectly. Career planning involves risk and failure (Ask me how many jobs have applied for in my life that I didn’t get?!) – we need to develop strategies to persevere (this resource is good for masters and PhD students).
This article in Forbes has 5 very good suggestions for conquering your fear of failure.
[As an extra, only slightly related bonus Daniel Cohens’ TED talk For Argument’s Sake reveals the benefits of losing arguments.]
3. It’s overwhelming – “Hypervigilance” is the word Janis and Mann (1977) use to describe the stressful condition of being overwhelmed by the need to make a decision but having little time in which to choose from many possible courses of action” (Lock, 2004). Does that feel like you? If you are feeling overwhelmed, that is probably the time to seek support. Talk your ideas through with friends or family, use the resources on the University of Manchester Careers Service postgraduate pages, come into the Careers Service and talk to our information specialists or make an appointment to see a careers consultant for a personal one-to-one support.
4. Making one choice closes the door on any other possibility – making decisions about your career now doesn’t mean that your future is now permanently carved in stone. History and English Literature graduates who have done medicine as a second degree; a retired career soldier who completed undergraduate and masters degrees in Anglo-Saxon; a political science graduate who now owns their own market gardening business; a mature graduate embarking on a successful career as an education administrator in their 50s; PhD graduates starting their own business, selling it and becoming venture capitalists. None of these options may be relevant (or appealing to you) – just to reassure you that stepping through one door doesn’t mean all others are closed to you forever.
Back when I was writing for my own blog my most popular post was Read this if you don’t know what to do after graduation – because students and graduates all over the world were entering ‘what should I do after graduation’ into Google’s search box. There’s a lot of information to be had from Google – but only self-reflection, the motivation for change and the support of people around us (in my case of writer’s block, colleagues bearing cakes), can turn that information into action.
Janis, I.L. and Mann, L. (1977) A psychological analysis of conflict, choice and commitment. New york: Free Press
Lock, R. D. (2004) Taking charge of your career direction: Career planning guide Book 1. Cengage Learning.