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Courage in Changing Professional Identity

Our discussion topic in the IARC head office this month has been about ‘courage’. What do we perceive as courage and what do we need it for? Courage by a dictionary definition often means feeling afraid of something yet still choosing to act, or continuing in a situation or with a decision in the face of opposition, or facing suffering with faith. What examples can you think of where you have used courage in your life?

What does courage mean to you and how can we use it to change our career identity?

The use of courage, or self-encouragement, is often needed when changing the course of your career. In the broadest observation possible, we can think about changing a career as changing an identity also. Perhaps to understand how our identity is relevant here we need to think of an example of when we meet someone for the very first time. Commonly, a few minutes after the initial greeting, it is very likely you will ask, or be asked, “What do you do?” By this, we are really trying to place an identity on that person. So when someone asks you “what do you do (for a living)?” …. it is common that you will identify with a particular role and what this central identity means to you. Maybe you are happy with your answer, maybe you are not.

Switching our work-life identity is one of the most daunting transitions in life. Let us consider how this links back to courage and how to deal with career change bravely. Research has enabled us to conceptualise career change as two things – a process and an outcome. The person making the change may not necessarily have attained the skills or knowledge needed for their future role, therefore the intensity of the process of change also requires added self-belief. In radical and non-institutionalised career change, the next step may not always be clear and the position not known, and so the need for self-encouragement becomes even stronger.

Having self-belief in the possibility of change and how things can work out for the better is not always easy. Some helpful tips for finding and using courage can include surrounding yourself with positive people and things. Someone’s own voluntary career change can take a little justification to others or even to themselves – and so even for that, courage is needed! Even if you question your own capabilities, others can give you a few words of encouragement and advice. Also, journaling your experience can help with dealing with the transition stages and therefore you can feel more in control, or less overwhelmed, and so remain courageous and continue making changes!