Facing Our Fears About Career Transition

I was at a conference last week, and during the break, I was talking to one of my marketing colleagues who is relatively new to the financial services industry. As the conversation turned to our roles as marketers, she confessed somewhat sheepishly that she didn't really have a passion for financial planning or financial services, and that, because she entered the industry with no background, she was worried she would not fully grasp the complex concepts we were being asked to communicate to our members.

I was inspired by this for a variety of reasons, not least of which was that, as you probably know from attending conferences or networking events, conversations can range from engagingly rich to excruciatingly painful, and I was not particularly expecting an in-depth discussion over our hurried green bean casserole snack between sessions. I was more impressed and grounded by the vulnerability and honesty she showed in sharing her fears, and that she asked directly for guidance and support. 

What she did may sound like common sense, but I can tell you that it's actually exceedingly rare. I have an opinion on why this may be the case, but that's for a separate post - what I want to do here is provide a few thoughts from my experience both for those who may be feeling these fears upon thinking about entering a new industry, and those in a position to help others going through this type of transition.

Looking at Complexity from a Marketer's Lens

We are all afraid of the unknown to a certain extent, and enough of us are afraid of new things, places, innovations and situations that it's been classified as a phobia. I fall into the camp of believing that this type of fear can actually be a positive indicator in the long term. Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Africa's first democratically elected female head of state, famously said that the size of our dreams must always exceed our current capacity to achieve them, and that if they do not scare us, they are not big enough.

I remember the visceral fear I felt in my first week as an intern at a financial company. As a journalism graduate, I felt I was at a tremendous disadvantage in comparison to the others around me, and that it was only a matter of time until my ineptitude was discovered, and I was frog-marched out of the office in shackles.

Over time, I learned the hard way that, regardless of position or level of authority, many people are actually feeling the exact same way. I still remember the day I realized that one of the people I looked up to and thought to be the most knowledgeable was actually a charlatan desperately upholding a facade, and that my conclusion was simultaneously depressing and empowering. The knowledge that these people are as terrified of being outed as you are can be, unfortunately, one of the most valuable things you learn as an adult. This is not to say that there are not many wonderful and skilled people out there, because there certainly are; my point is only that tenure, experience and role do not always correlate with competence.

When confronting complexity, one of the things that was most helpful to me was to parse out which skills are industry-specific in comparison to those that are transferable. Part of our fear of complexity lies in thinking that we need to understand and internalize every detail of every facet of the industry we have entered, and depending of course on the role in question, I've found this to rarely be the case.

To use my lens, a content marketer needs to know a little bit about a lot of things - when putting together content about a new industry, I need to know enough to write accurately and with vocabulary that shows a certain amount of expertise, but I don't need to know every aspect surrounding how the sausage is made. 

What makes a content marketer valuable is that they have been trained to write in an engaging and articulate way, to take complex information and distill it down into something that makes sense to someone unfamiliar with the industry and to tell interesting stories that make a point and inspire action. These skills are important regardless of the specific industry they are in at any point in time, and I think that goes for many different industries and vocations.

It's important for us to share these types of things with our younger colleagues and our friends and family confronting a new industry or career, as there are few of us who could completely avoid these common and human fears when asked to step into an unfamiliar world and contribute immediately.

You're Not Alone

Again, it may sound like common sense, but sometimes we just need a reminder that we're not alone. I can attest that it's shockingly easy to feel isolated and compartmentalized, even when working in an an office or organization with thousands of staff. This fear can be derived from many things, but one uniting factor is the discrepancy between responsibility and knowledge for someone new to the industry. To use another marketing example, it is difficult to avoid thinking about the negative consequences as your hand hovers over the Tweet button to publish content that could be seen, reviewed and judged by thousands, if not millions. 

Could companies be better when it comes to easing their new employees into their roles, especially when they're new to the industry and coming in at a level where mistakes will be magnified? Definitely. The corporate term for this is "onboarding," and I think you would be hard-pressed to find a company that even believes it's doing this well. That said, the perspective of the individual is more important and impactful.

To use the tweet example, one of the things I tell young marketers is to treat every mistake on a digital platform, especially those that are called out by a user, as another touchpoint with a current or potential client. If you take responsibility for the mistake on the public forum and visibly fix the problem, you've not only provided great customer service to the individual, but shown everyone else watching the feed how your company does business.

It's also important to remember that, while you (in the marketing example) may have the final responsibility for publishing, you can always run content by anyone and everyone for verification when you're first starting out. That's one of the primary reasons why networking and being proactive in taking people out to coffee, lunch or drinks is so important when you start a new job or role. Most people really are happy to help, and a quick "Hey, can you give this a once-over" can save you from embarrassing errors while simultaneously strengthening your new relationships.

As I shared with my colleague last week, it's OK to be vulnerable - as a marketer, you don't need to have specific enthusiasm for or interest in the industry you're a part of; you just need to have a passion for marketing. You don't have to understand the deepest complexities of every aspect of an industry - the basics are often enough. Everyone was new once, and if you just have the courage to ask for help, as she did, you may be surprised at how quickly most people will give it.

Learning Can Be What Separates a Job from a Purpose

My parents have been lawyers for nearly 40 years, and when I asked my Dad how he avoided getting burned out, he told me that, while the fundamental work is the same, with every new case, he gets to learn quite a bit about a new industry or topic, and that this constant education is what keeps the profession engaging and fun. 

I love this sentiment, and have found it's not much different for content marketers (and likely for other industries as well). We get the opportunity to learn and uncover new things every day, and get to use our unique gift to share those things with the world through. Doing the research, finding the angle and sharing the content in an effective way can be difficult work, but if it affects even one person, there's a chance that it's changed that person's life for the better. 

And that mission and purpose, more than anything else, is what keeps me coming back every day.